Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 16, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members. Get in touch at email@example.com.
6.15pm: Update on recent positive cases
The Ministry of Health has confirmed tonight that the initial interview with Covid-positive truck driver has been completed, and that a small number of Auckland locations of interest, including supermarkets and dairies, will be published on their website later this evening.
On the Middlemore patient who tested positive on yesterday, they are continuing to seek links to other pre-existing cases. No other cases have been identified within their household, and the patient is now awaiting transfer to MIQ.
5.30pm: Mobile vaccine buses have first day on the road
This morning saw three mobile vaccination buses hit the road in Auckland, headed for Lincoln Road supermarkets in West Auckland, Countdown Pukekohe and the Papakura train station.
Three more are being kitted out this week, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced this afternoon, in the hopes that 80% of eligible Aucklanders will have received at least one vaccine dose by Monday.
Matt Hannant, COVID-19 vaccination programme director at Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, said the new bus fleet and walk-ins at all community vaccination centres are aimed at removing any remaining barriers that have been stopping Aucklanders getting vaccinated.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get their free COVID-19 vaccine. This includes allowing people to just walk into any of our centres and get a vaccination whenever it suits them, and taking our vaccinations on the road and into local communities.”
As many as 12 buses are expected to be operating in the Auckland region in coming weeks.
4.30pm: Request for empathy towards health workers in Auckland
People in Auckland are being asked to “spare a thought” for essential health workers who are working under pressure in the Covid-19 testing chain, as the region nears its fifth week in lockdown and the number of samples tested tops 400,000.
Terry Taylor, president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science (NZIMLS), described the effort as “monumental” and “a testament to an outstanding and efficient medical laboratory workforce,” but also asked that the public remain empathetic towards everyone from nursing staff doing the testing, to the courier drivers transporting the samples.
“Spare a thought for those in the Auckland medical laboratories who are going above and beyond around the clock to help stop the spread,” he said in a press release earlier today. “Aotearoa is in the fortunate situation of having a cohesive and functional diagnostic laboratory workforce that has once again stepped up to this challenge.”
3.45pm: Chris Bishop calls for rapid antigen testing at Auckland border
After today’s news that a truck driver who passed through the Auckland border has tested positive for Covid-19, National MP Chris Bishop has urged the government to introduce rapid antigen testing at boundary checkpoints.
“Weekly testing for essential workers crossing the Auckland boundary is just not good enough,” he said in a press release this afternoon. “Delta moves so quickly that a worker could spend six days with Covid-19 and infect potentially thousands of people in that time before they have to go and get a nasal PCR or saliva PCR test.”
Earlier today, Bloomfield announced that 100,000 rapid antigen tests had arrived in the country to be used in two pilots – the first for patients arriving at Middlemore’s ED, the second for people arriving at international airports. The tests require a less invasive swab taken from the front of the nose.
3.25pm: Covid response fund gets $7b top-up
An extra $7 billion has been added to the government’s Covid-19 response fund.
Along with an unspent $3 billion still in the purse, that gives the government $10 billion to deal with the impacts of the ongoing delta outbreak.
Finance minister Grant Robertson said the extra funding will be targeted at further economic support as well as building resilience in our health system, supporting the vaccination rollout and border and MIQ provision.
“We are in a strong economic position to protect lives and livelihoods and plan for the gradual and careful opening up of New Zealand to the rest of the world to secure the recovery,” said Robertson. “Our focus remains on keeping New Zealanders safe, accelerating the recovery and dealing with long-standing issues such as climate change, housing and child wellbeing despite the uncertainty and volatility globally around the ongoing impact of Covid-19.”
The government has faced criticism for spending billions from the original fund on matters arguably unrelated to the pandemic. Act’s David Seymour said he hopes that does not happen this time around. “Covid related spending would include things like the wage subsidy and resurgence payment,” he said. “It would not include things like cameras on fishing boats, the Te Papa Spirit Collection and the ballet.”
3.00pm: Man charged after trying to leave Auckland via two different exits
A man turned around by police at the south Auckland checkpoint yesterday then tried his luck at a second exit.
Police say the man was attempting to travel from Auckland to Raglan, despite the alert level four restrictions. He was issued with an infringement notice after his second attempt to leave the city.
Meanwhile, a woman was pinged by police after she drove through the southern checkpoint without stopping. She was subsequently stopped by police shortly after where it was found she was a suspended driver.
Despite these two latest incidents, police said they have been pleased with the actions of most motorists during lockdown.
2.05pm: The delta outbreak, in summary
We’ve gone from 15, to 14, to 13 new daily cases the past three days. Here’s how the entire outbreak looks, in graph form.
And want to see more like this? Check out The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here.
1.45pm: Auckland MIQ absconder released from quarantine after 10 days
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield have defended the release of an MIQ absconder from quarantine just 10 days after he tested positive.
As Newshub reported last night, the man who escaped from the Novotel in Ellerslie earlier this month was able to leave the facility 10 days after his positive test.
At today’s 1pm presser, Ashley Bloomfield said that was actually the norm. “For over a year, the clinical guideline for releasing a Covid-19 case has been at least 10 days in quarantine and 72 hours symptom-free,” said Bloomfield. But, more recently, that’s been updated to include a move to 14 days.
This was agreed at the end of August, but in Auckland the public health team is still “in the process of implementing” the programme. Auckland is the last one to come on board with the new protocol, said Ardern.
1.30pm: Covid-positive truck driver crossed Auckland border
One of the new cases today is a truck driver who travelled over the Auckland boundary as part of their work, Ashley Bloomfield said.
Public health is interviewing the driver to see if there are any locations of interest. The driver was tested after isolating as a household contact of another case. After 11.59pm, all workers crossing the borders must show proof they’ve been tested in the past seven days.
Bloomfield said the truck driver travelled to Hamilton, Cambridge and Tauranga, but it’s not yet clear whether this was during their infectious period.
However, PM Ardern said the truck driver had previously been tested on August 22.
1.20pm: Alert level one rules to remain the same
No changes will be made to the alert level one rules when the shift eventually occurs, Jacinda Ardern has revealed.
At the moment, Auckland remains in level four while the rest of the country is in a heightened version of level two known as “delta two”.
Speaking at today’s press briefing, Ardern said the level one rules will still involve QR code scanning and mask use on public transport. However: “alert level one has always been for an environment where there is no risk of community transmission.”
Ardern said that if Auckland shifts to level three next week as planned, a few of the level two restrictions may change. “Essentially, as Auckland moves down the rest of New Zealand can ease a little too while remaining on high alert.” This would likely include loosening the gathering restrictions in hospitality venues up to 100 people.
However, while Auckland remains in the higher levels of either three or four the rest of the country will need an added layer of protection, said Ardern.
Meanwhile, despite calls from the hospitality industry, extending the wage subsidy into level two is not something being considered at this time, the finance minister Grant Robertson confirmed.
1.00pm: 13 new community Covid-19 cases, just one unlinked
There are 13 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland. That brings the total of new cases up to 996, although 460 of these have now recovered.
It’s the third consecutive drop in new cases after a spike over the weekend.
Of today’s cases, just one has not yet been epidemiologically linked to the wider outbreak. An earlier press release from the Ministry of Health said it was three. From the past fortnight, 10 cases deemed infectious still remain unlinked.
“The remaining case presented to Middlemore with no symptoms but was swabbed and the result was positive. Interviews are under way with that person,” said Ashley Bloomfield.
Five of yesterday’s cases were infectious in the community, with seven cases already in self-isolation. Considering there were 14 cases, that suggests two remain unaccounted for.
There are now 19 people in hospital with Covid-19, a slight drop on yesterday. Of those, 10 are in Middlemore and four people remain in intensive care.
Yesterday saw a big boost in tests: 17,578 were taken nationwide, with more than 9000 of these in Auckland alone. In addition, Bloomfield announced that 100,000 rapid antigen tests arrived in the country yesterday. These will be used in two pilots – the first for patients arriving at Middlemore’s ED. This will help assess the accuracy and usefulness of the tests, and provide an early indication if someone is positive. The second pilot will be for people arriving at international airports, said Bloomfield.
Samples will be taken from people being swabbed already – it requires another swab at the front of the nose.
On the vaccination front: over 62,000 doses were given out yesterday. Of these, 39,775 were first doses and 23,007 second. So far, about three million first doses have now been given out overall. Jacinda Ardern called this a “significant milestone” but reiterated her plea for people who have not yet been vaccinated to visit a walk-in clinic or rebook for as soon as possible.
More to come
12.55pm: Watch – Ardern and Bloomfield give Covid update
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will front today’s Covid presser. Yesterday saw a drop in new delta cases, with 14 reported – so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for another drop.
While you’re waiting, check out our Covid Tracker (more info below) or tune into the presser:
12.45pm: Introducing… The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker
While you wait for the 1pm press conference…
Our incredible new head of data Harkanwal Singh has created the definitive place to get all the info you need to know about the delta outbreak, including some relevant comparisons to New South Wales along with the latest numbers on testing and vaccines.
It’s a vital piece of work that starkly shows how our fight against delta is going and how much further we may have to go.
Importantly, the 14 graphs will all be updated regularly meaning they will remain a live resource for as long as we need them.
Check out the tracker here
12.30pm: National concerned after NZ left out of ‘Aukus’ pact
The National Party is concerned after New Zealand was left out of a new pact between Australia, the US and the UK – Aukus.
In a statement, leader Judith Collins said it raised serious concerns about the “interoperability” of New Zealand’s defence force systems with our traditional allies.
“New Zealand is not interested in the nuclear side of the new partnership, but the deeper integration of technology, artificial intelligence and information sharing as well as security and defence-related science, industrial bases and supply chains are areas we would traditionally be involved in,” she said.
Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the new pact, telling Newshub changed nothing about New Zealand’s ties with the three nations.
“We welcome the increased engagement of the UK and US in the [Pacific] region and reiterate our collective objective needs to be the delivery of peace and stability and the preservation of the international rules based system,” she said.
12.05pm: Pre-delta GDP figures show increase
The latest GDP figures – from the quarter before the return of Covid-19 to the community – show a bump of 2.8%.
According to Stats NZ, the June quarter numbers were 4.3% higher when compared with the December 2019 quarter, the quarter immediately before New Zealand’s first Covid-19 cases.
Of course, the latest data doesn’t take into account the impacts of the latest lockdowns and the ongoing restrictions nationwide.
Finance minister Grant Robertson said the figures bode well for another rebound after this lockdown. “It shows our science and health-led plan has continued to work for the economy,” he said,
“Our quick and decisive response to this outbreak… will also help the economy to rebound quickly again. We do know, however, that the impact has been uneven and we will continue to work with affected sectors to support them in these challenging times.”
GDP figures need to be taken in context – Act
Act’s David Seymour said the latest GDP figures need to be seen in the context of wartime levels of borrowing by the government. “They believe interest rates will be low forever, but if they’re wrong it’s the next generation that will pay,” he said.
“The government is taking on an additional $140 billion on debt without increasing the productive capacity of the economy. Debt can be good if it funds productive assets – if it will pay itself off. Unfortunately, this debt has been a blow out, on money we’ll never see again.”
11.50am: Watch – World’s first all-civilian human spaceflight to take off
We’re about 15 minutes away from the launch of the first all-civilian spaceflight, dubbed Inspiration4. Watch along below!
11.25am: New Gone by Lunchtime alert!
Annabelle, Ben and Toby set their Zoom backgrounds to Wānaka, take on the role of the official opposition, and ask how long Judith Collins can survive – all while defeating delta with nothing but celery and refried beans.
Tune into the unofficial epidemic response committee, below:
11.15am: Silver Scrolls postponed due to delta outbreak
The 2021 Silver Scroll Awards have been bumped from their October 14 slot due to the ongoing delta outbreak. They will now take place, in person, at Auckland’s Spark Arena on November 10.
In a statement, organisers said they wanted to make sure the celebrations could take place safely and in their full form. “We appreciate this postponement will add to the growing list of things due to take place in November, but on the bright side, this should create a wonderful buzz around local music for the month,” a spokesperson said.
10.30am: Middlemore Hospital starts widespread Covid testing
Every patient at Middlemore Hospital is being offered a Covid-19 test so as to rule out transmission of the virus.
The Auckland hospital has been the centre of a few Covid-related scares, including when a man who later tested positive for the virus was left on a surgical ward for several hours.
According to RNZ, new and existing patients – including those with no Covid symptoms – will get tested.
“Although if it is an issue for us if we detect a case, we think it is important we detect all the cases, whether they are in the hospital or the community,” said the hospital’s chief medical officer Pete Watson. “We are really trying to play our part to support the community surveillance for Covid.”
10.10am: Childbirth injuries set to be covered by ACC
ACC will soon cover more injuries caused by childbirth, RNZ has reported. The push for change came from the Green Party who sent an open letter to the minister responsible for ACC, Carmel Sepuloni.
“Right now, most injuries caused during childbirth aren’t covered by ACC, and data from ACC shows us that over the past few years it has become harder to get birth injuries covered,” the letter said. “It is completely inequitable that ACC cover is readily available for an ACL tear on the rugby field but near impossible to get for a perineal tear after giving birth.”
Currently, the ACC system only compensates for childbirth injuries caused by treatment.
Sepuloni said the government has now considered the issue and an announcement would be made before the end of the month.
9.25am: NZ left out of new ‘Aukus’ agreement
New Zealand has been left out of an international pact between Australia, the UK and the US.
Called “Aukus”, the new defence agreement is aimed at countering the strength of China and was announced jointly by leaders Joe Biden, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson this morning.
“The first initiative under Aukus will be a collaboration on future nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy,” a statement from the United Kingdom said, as reported by Newshub. “This capability will promote stability in the Indo-Pacific and will be deployed in support of our shared values and interests.”
Johnson added that the countries were “natural allies” despite the geographical separation.
A senior US official described the agreement as “a fundamental decision, that binds decisively Australia to the United States and Great Britain for generations”.
Despite Australia set to become the seventh country in the world to receive nuclear submarines, PM Morrison said the country would abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Teams from the three countries will work together over the next 18 months on a plan for the project.
9.00am: Police deny racism after rise in Māori charged for drug use
Police have denied allegations of racism despite new stats showing a surge in the number of Māori charged for drug use or possession since a 2019 law change.
As reported by the NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng, before that law change, Māori were 24% more likely than non-Māori to be charged for drug use or possession. But since then, that’s risen to 41%. The law change saw police given added discretion with parliament warned at the time that it could see biases entrenched.
Police deny the claim of racism and say that prior convictions are the most important factor in whether someone is charged.
Read the whole report here
Meanwhile, RNZ has revealed some startling statistics on the use of name suppression laws. Despite Māori convicted for more crimes, Pākehā are three times more likely to be granted name suppression.
8.00am: ‘Judith’s doing a great job’ – senior National MP backs leader despite crushing poll
A pair of new polls showing the National Party on the decline mean the party has to do better, according to senior MP Chris Bishop.
A UMR poll taken during the third week of the delta outbreak put Labour roughly 20 points ahead of National, 45 to 26. But of even more concern, a poll commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union and undertaken by Curia. That’s National’s own polling company and showed the party on just 21.3%, with Act at 14.9%.
Speaking to RNZ in his capacity as Covid response spokesperson, Bishop said there was no doubt the party had to up its game – but said the election was still a long way off. “Judith’s doing a great job, she took over in very tough circumstances,” he said.
Asked whether a recent stoush with microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles was a good look, Bishop said: “It’s not the sort of language that I tend to use, but I think she was making a valid point around hypocrisy.” Wiles was accused of breaking level four rules, but Ashley Bloomfield defended her actions.
Despite that controversy and yesterday’s slinging match with ex-press secretary Janet Wilson, Bishop called Collins a stabilising figure. “Everyone will be aware of the dramas we had last year. She’s a very experienced figure, she’s been an MP since 2002, [and] she’s been a senior cabinet leader for the better part of nine years,” he said. “She brings stability and experience to the job, and is also someone who tries to bring everyone together as part of a team.”
7.30am: From The Bulletin
Bookings for managed isolation will open again next week with tweaks. Thousands of rooms will be available on Monday morning, a month after bookings were paused. Stuff reports that things will be different this time, with people interested in a MIQ spot being asked to join a lobby and then being randomly selected to enter the system to book. Not everyone will get a room but the lobby is expected to get rid of the bots and automated scripts that were snapping up rooms in a split second and then selling them off for thousands of dollars.
According to RNZ, it’s not all good news. No rooms will be made available for people stuck in Australia, including superannuitants who are having their pension payments suspended because they can’t get home.
The Covid numbers: 14 new community cases were reported yesterday and 19% (3) of the previous day’s cases were active in the community while infectious. All the cases were in Auckland. 983 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak and 456 have recovered. 62,155 people were vaccinated yesterday.
When you can’t meet the deadline, change the rules. The government announced late yesterday that it is going to change the climate change law to give itself another five months to come up with a plan to tackle emissions, Interest reports. The law currently requires the government to produce a plan before the end of the year. However, climate change minister James Shaw blamed Covid-19 in a statement and said consultation on a future plan will start next month. The head of the climate change commission handed in final advice for a plan to Shaw in June and warned then that the government needed to get on with it.
This is part of The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s must-read daily news wrap. To sign up for free, simply enter your email address below