Live updates, September 17: Australian travel bubble suspended for two more months; 11 delta cases announced

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 17, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Say hello at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz.


Today’s numbers

  • There are 11 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland.
  • The outbreak total has now passed 1000, although 549 people have recovered.
  • Two of today’s cases remain unlinked and both presented to Middlemore Hospital.
  • There are 14 people in hospital with Covid-19, including three in intensive care.
  • The trans-Tasman travel bubble has been paused for another eight weeks.

Ngā nama o te rā nei

  • I te rā nei, tekau mā tahi ngā kēhi Kowheori-19 hou, ā, kei Tāmaki Makaurau te katoa. 
  • E rua ngā kēhi hou kāore anō kia tūhonotia e ngā mātai tahumaero ki te mate urutā.
  • Tekau mā whā tāngata e pāngia ana e te mate Kowheori-19 kei rō hōhipera, tokotoru kei te wāhanga whāomoomo.

3.40pm: Human Rights Commission to stop considering complaints about te reo

Complaints about the use of te reo Māori or the term Pākehā will no longer be considered by the Human Rights Commission. Instead, a “standard response” will be sent out to any determined complainers.

Commission chief Rebecca Elvy said the use of te reo did not fit the criteria for discrimination under the Human Rights Act. ‘This [decision] aligns with our legislation, and better directs our resources,” she said.

Past complaints inaccurately suggested the use of the word Pākehā was derogatory and that te reo greetings were discriminatory. 

3.00pm: Lorde hit cracks list of greatest songs ever written

The new Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time is not without its controversies.

Dreams is Fleetwood Mac’s top ranked song, Hey Ya by Outkast comes in ahead of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and God Only Knows by the Beach Boys. It’s all a bit mad!

But – one cool thing – Lorde’s hit Royals is placed at number 30 on the list. That’s almost 50 places ahead of Taylor Swift’s highest ranked song All Too Well, and ahead of hits by James Brown, Prince and Michael Jackson.

The top 50 is available here.

2.40pm: The delta outbreak, summarised

Here’s how the delta outbreak is tracking as Auckland heads into another locked down weekend.

2.30pm: The Friday Quiz is back!

A friendly reminder to pop over to The Spinoff’s Instagram story at 3pm this afternoon for round two of our weekly news quiz.

There are no prizes up for grabs but you’ll probably feel great about yourself if you get 10/10 (feel free to let me know your score).

2.00pm: Yesterday’s Covid case number grows due to ‘data lag’

While yesterday’s Ministry of Health update reported 13 new cases, a clarification today confirmed it was actually 15.

“Yesterday we reported 13 community cases, however in today’s reporting of yesterday’s cases who were infectious in the community, we are reporting 15 – this is due to two different data systems and a small lag in data reportage,” said a press statement.

Of yesterday’s 15, nine were infectious in the community while the remaining six were already in managed isolation.

It’s not entirely clear if the two extra cases from yesterday were included in an earlier tally or whether the total number of cases has risen by two.

1.25pm: Australian travel bubble closed for another eight weeks

A pause on quarantine-free travel across the Tasman has been extended for at least another eight weeks, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins has announced

The suspension, which was initially triggered by delta outbreaks in Australia, will be reviewed again in November.

“Uncontrolled community transmission is still occurring in Australia, with case numbers continuing to steadily increase in New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory,” said Hipkins. “A small number of cases also continue to appear intermittently in other states and territories. In New Zealand as well, we’re getting on top of an outbreak in Auckland.”

With the bubble paused for the foreseeable future, those in Australia hoping to travel to New Zealand will need to spend 14 days in managed isolation. A release of 3000 MIQ rooms will take place on Monday morning and Australians will now be able to participate.

“A third red flight from Australia to New Zealand is also planned for those in emergency situations,” said Hipkins. This follows the two red flights that returned stranded Kiwis home to New Zealand on September 5 and 15.”

The costs of flights and MIQ will need to be covered by travellers, and a pre-departure test from an accredited laboratory, also at the traveller’s cost, will be required within 72 hours of travel.

1.00pm: 11 new delta cases, outbreak total crosses 1000

Updated

The director of public health thinks we can now be “cautiously optimistic” the delta outbreak is under control. Just 11 new cases of Covid-19 were reported today, all in the Auckland community. It marks the fifth consecutive day with a drop in new cases following a sudden increase over the weekend.

There are now 1,007 cases associated with the overall outbreak, but 549 have now recovered, Caroline McElnay said.

Nine of today’s cases have been linked to the outbreak epidemiologically, meaning two remain unlinked are being investigated. the two unlinked cases in today’s case count presented to Middlemore hospital last night, said deputy PM Grant Robertson, and are members of one household.  “I believe they were brought in by a family member because they were unwell.”

There are nine epidemiologically linked subclusters within this outbreak, of which two remain active. Seven are contained and one is dormant. There are 10 unlinked subclusters, of which two are active, three are contained and five are dormant.

“This tells us we are closing in on this outbreak and we can be cautiously optimistic,” said McElnay. Sub-clusters are classified either as active, contained, dormant or closed, she said. Active sub-clusters have cases reported in the past 14 days and are not household or other known contacts of previous cases.

The case reported yesterday who presented at Middlemore hospital is yet to be linked to the outbreak. Robertson said public health officials are confident it will be. There was no suggestion that the nine out of yesterday’s reported cases who were infectious in the community were not following the rules, said McElnay.

The number of people in hospital with Covid has dropped to 14, with three people in intensive care.

Covid-positive truckie wore mask, socially distanced

Addressing the Covid-positive truck driver who crossed the Auckland border, McElnay said the man wore a mask while working and maintained social distancing. He was travelling in his capacity as an essential worker.

Further locations of interest in the Waikato for the truck driver case are expected to be announced today. He also visited a number of supermarkets for his work, but they’re not listed as locations as he was in the delivery area, with no contact with the public.

Staff at the relevant supermarkets have been stood down. All Covid-19 protocols were followed, confirmed McElnay. The truck driver is a contact of a known case and was tested as a result of that person having been tested.

Auckland testing numbers stay high; positive wastewater result detected

In Auckland, 7,400 people were tested yesterday. Across the whole week, more than 9200 people from the seven suburbs of interest have been tested, with 58,000 people tested over Auckland this week.

Nationwide, around 15,000 tests were processed yesterday.

Meanwhile, police have been checking whether essential workers have been tested as they cross the borders. A number of vehicles, including heavy freight trucks, were turned around at the checkpoints overnight for not having that evidence.

314 employers covering more than 3,000 employees have signed up for saliva testing. Since the start of September, more than 22,000 essential workers have taken up the opportunity to have asymptomatic testing.

A catchment in east Auckland returned a positive wastewater result for a sample collected on Monday. The results of a follow-up sample taken on Wednesday are expected in the coming days.

McElnay clarified that returnees still must spend at least 14 days in MIQ. Community cases may leave after 10 days if they’ve been asymptomatic for 72 hours. While this is being increased to 14 days, it continues to be the case in level four, when the risk of community is minimal. This clarification comes after a man spoke out after he was released from MIQ just 10 days after testing positive.

12.45pm: Robertson and McElnay on duty for Covid presser

It’s the deputy PM Grant Robertson and director of public health Caroline McElnay on duty for today’s 1pm Covid-19 update.

Along with the latest case numbers  – which will hopefully be lower than yesterday’s 13 – we should get more info on the Covid-positive truckie who crossed the Auckland border earlier in the week. A number of locations of interest outside locked down Auckland have now been confirmed.

As always, watch along below or keep this page nice and refreshed for our live coverage from 1pm.

12.30pm: New non-Auckland locations of interest confirmed

A bunch of new locations of interest linked to a Covid-positive truck driver have been confirmed by the Ministry of Health.

The locations, which are outside of Auckland, include a general store, a pair of petrol stations and a supermarket.

We can expect to hear further information at today’s 1pm briefing.

The full list can be found here or view The Spinoff’s interactive map here

12.05pm: Watch live – Hipkins on decision not to change school holidays

ICYMI: The education minister Chris Hipkins earlier confirmed the upcoming Auckland school holidays would not be changed.

He’s currently fronting a presser from Wellington where he will provide further detail on the decision and answer questions. You can watch here.

11.30am: The Spinoff tops te reo usage in mainstream NZ media

An analysis of nearly a million articles published by more than 20 New Zealand media organisations since 2018 has found The Spinoff is the highest user of te reo Māori words.

Data analytics firm Dot Loves Data undertook the research in the lead-up to Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, using a proprietary natural language processing tool called The Hound to search and process raw text, and the “100 Māori words every New Zealander should know” list from the NZ History site.

It scanned 20+ plus media organisations producing online articles, then focused its search on the 10 outlets publishing the largest amount. The analysis of 907,045 documents showed a 433% increase in the use of te reo across the board.

In the first four weeks of 2018, only one in 423 articles used three or more words listed in the 100-word list. In the four weeks prior to August 21, 2021, however, one in 79 documents had three or more Māori terms. The Spinoff was found to have the highest usage of te reo, with 4%, followed by Radio New Zealand at 2.1% and the NZ Herald at 1.4%. Stuff is a close fourth on 1.3%, but has shown the strongest improvement among all media outlets since it came under New Zealand ownership.

“Our analysis shows that mainstream media organisations are increasingly peppering their writing and stories with Māori words and language, which helps to promote its usage in everyday language at work, school and home,” said Dot Loves Data’s government director Justin Lester.”

The top five:

Outlet           Prevalence (% of docs with 3+ terms used)
1.    The Spinoff       4.0%
2.    RadioNZ           2.1%
3.    NZ Herald        1.4%
4.    Stuff                 1.3%
5.    Scoop               1.0%

11.00am: No change to Auckland school holidays, Hipkins announces

There will be no change to the upcoming school holidays, despite the ongoing delta outbreak and lockdowns, education minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed.

School holidays in Auckland will continue to be held at the same time as the rest of the country, starting from October 2. That means Auckland students may end up spending just a handful of days back in the classroom after weeks of lockdown at home.

“I’ve carefully considered advice on the implications of shifting the dates and concluded that on balance, maintaining the status quo is the best course of action,” Hipkins said in a statement. The decision wasn’t straightforward, he added, saying he was aware of the added pressure on parents and families. “But as education minister, my primary concern has to be the effects on children’s education and wellbeing and on the good running of our schools,” he said.

“Keeping the holidays as they are will avoid disrupting the plans already in place for students, families and educators, including curriculum and activity planning and families planning their holidays, and will reduce anxiety.”

It also means no extension to term four, said Hipkins, when fatigue is already at its highest among students. “It has the added advantage of there being higher vaccination levels among students aged 12 and over when they return to the classroom, which principals have advised is important for student mental health and wellbeing.”

Hipkins will provide further information on this decision at a press conference in about an hour. We’ll have a livestream for you here.

10.15am: A drop in your power bill could be on the way

Roughly three in five households could see their power bills decrease as the government moves to phase out regulations on “low-use” electricity plans.

The five year plan will start in April next year, but households are likely to see a drop in their bill across the period.

Low fixed charge plans were intended to help struggling households but have ended up doing the opposite for some, said energy minister Megan Woods. “They can put more of a financial burden on those who don’t qualify for low fixed charges, particularly larger families and those living in poorly insulated homes who have higher electricity needs and have to pay the much higher standard fixed charge,” she said.

As just under 60% of people are currently on low cost plans, those on standard-use plans are currently charged more to make up the difference. “Ultimately, this will help the industry to more efficiently manage the load on the network during peak times, avoiding costly network upgrades and helping to keep prices lower for consumers,” Woods said.

9.20am: $15 million could save the St James

Chris Schulz reports:

A cash injection from the government towards the restoration of the St James Theatre could save Auckland’s mothballed venue.

That was the outcome of an online hui organised by Green Party member and Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick last night.

Attended by more than 70 people, the event – held via Zoom because of alert level four restrictions – was organised after the publication of The Spinoff story, The St James is running out of time.

Closed since 2016, the Queen Street venue’s restoration stalled in 2017 when funding for an adjacent apartment complex fell through. The venue’s restoration and the apartments are intricately intertwined projects: the 39-storey complex includes room for the toilets, kitchens and elevators needed by the St James to re-open.

But Steve Bielby, the owner of the St James, told attendees his project could be restarted with a $15 million cash injection from the government. That would match $15 million already pledged by Auckland Council and return confidence for those involved in the apartment construction. “We’re asking government to match council’s contribution … dollar for dollar,” Bielby told attendees.

“Once it’s committed it gives the funders the confidence to go ahead on the apartment site. That’s the underlying issue. Once we resolve that, it’s all go … that will get the St James open.”

Bielby estimates two years of work is required to complete earthquake restrengthening and restoration work on the much-loved venue, which opened in 1928 and has been visited multiple times by the Queen. Miles Davis, Kanye West, Dido, Coldplay, the Black Eyed Peas and Limp Bizkit have all performed on its stage.

The government has pledged $1.5 million towards restoration. Swarbrick said she would write to the government today to request that money, on the condition that “programming and operation (of the venue) is by the community, for the community”. She asked those attending to write to Carmel Sepuloni, the minister for arts, culture and heritage, and Kiri Allan, who is the associate minister.

Bielby confirmed he remained committed to the project, despite the setbacks. He said the city desperately needs a venue the size of the St James and said its restoration was far cheaper than building a new venue. “In my mind, the St James is cultural infrastructure, it’s irreplaceable,” he said. “You’d never find a council to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll put $120 million into buying some land and building a new 2000-person theatre. I don’t think it would happen.”

St James

A VIP BOX AND THE UPPER LEVES OF AUCKLAND’S ST JAMES THEATRE. PHOTO: SONYA NAGELS

8.30am: Locations of interest linked to truck driver confirmed

A pair of new Covid-19 locations of interest have been confirmed – and they are both outside Auckland.

The new locations are most likely linked to a Covid-positive truck driver who crossed the Auckland border. While the locations of interest are concerning, health officials have not yet confirmed whether or not the truckie was infectious while outside of Auckland.

The new locations are a bakery in Mount Maunganui and a petrol station in Tauranga.

Ps, that bakery looks amazing.

All the locations can be found on The Spinoff’s interactive map here

8.00am: ‘Trajectory of horror’ – What National MPs are saying about their own party

National MPs have started leaking again after a horror few weeks for party leader Judith Collins.

Newshub’s Tova O’Brien has heard from several MPs within National’s caucus who believe Collins could soon be ousted as leader, with one name being tossed around as a potential successor: Simon Bridges. Yep, ex-leader Simon Bridges could be back at the top of the pack.

Some quotes from National MPs include:

  • “Simon Bridges could easily get the numbers”
  • The party’s on a “trajectory of horror”
  • “The pressure is getting to [Collins]”.

Bridges has repeatedly denied he wants to have another go at leading the party, but has undergone something of an image rehabilitation since losing the job after last year’s level four lockdown. As O’Brien notes, there has been a book, appearances in women’s mags and, of course, the yaks.

Collins’ fate seems to have been secured after a pair of disastrous polls this week, including one from the party’s own pollster that put National on just 21%. Writing for the Herald this morning, former National staffer Matthew Hooton notes that the number crashes to just 15% support among voters under 40 and, among women, National is supported by just 16% – with 57% backing Labour. Both Collins and her deputy Shane Reti refused to be interviewed yesterday, but senior MP Chris Bishop appeared on both Newshub and RNZ to defend Collins.

So when could a leadership contest take place? According to O’Brien, nothing will happen while Auckland is stuck in lockdown. “You can’t coup until level two,” she said, suggesting a challenge could take place as early as next month.

Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Move to level one won’t happen while there’s transmission in Auckland. While the city might move down to level three next week, the prime minister has warned that a move to level one for the rest of the country is unlikely, according to Stuff. Experts have warned it could take weeks for transmission to come to fully end in Auckland. Despite that, the NZ Herald reports that the top Covid-19 expert in cabinet, associate health minister Ayesha Verrall, said the delta outbreak is nearly under control.


The Covid numbers: 13 new community cases were reported yesterday and 42% (5) of the previous day’s cases were active in the community while infectious. All the cases were in Auckland. 996 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak and 460 have recovered. 62,782 people were vaccinated yesterday.

Tracking the pandemic. The Spinoff has a new Covid-19 tracker, designed by Harkanwal Singh, our recently appointed head of data. It’s a very useful tool to visualise the pandemic and understand what’s happening across Aotearoa, from case totals to how effective the alert levels are.


A legal threat for asking about the Wānaka couple. A district court judge whose son broke lockdown rules to travel to Wānaka has sent a legal threat to Stuff warning against it investigating the couple. Judge Mary-Beth Sharp put out a statement earlier this week saying she was “appalled” by her son’s actions. When Stuff followed up with a number of questions, the judge did not answer but hired a lawyer who called the questions defamatory and ordered reporters not to question people in Wānaka about the pair. An alternative strategy would have been to say no comment. Hiring a lawyer and sending legal threats won’t help the few voices who had called for sympathy towards the two offenders.

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



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