Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 18, bringing you the latest as New Zealand moves back into lockdown. On deck today: Stewart Sowman-Lund and Toby Manhire.
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What you need to know
- The entire country is in level four lockdown until at least 11.59pm Friday.
- Auckland and the Coromandel are expected to remain in lockdown for an additional four days.
- The first community case has been confirmed as the delta variant.
- The outbreak has now grown to 10 people, all linked.
- From midnight, masks will become mandatory for all people over 12 visiting essential businesses.
9.30pm: New locations confirmed – dating back two weeks
The Ministry of Health has revealed several new locations of interest linked to the Auckland delta outbreak, dating as far back as August 3.
Sumthin Dumplin in Auckland Central is the first location connected with the cluster, followed with Lynn Mall on August 6.
Other locations of note: Mexico Britomart on August 9, visits to The Warehouse and Event Cinemas days later and, just last Friday, notorious inner-city club Bar101.
While the significant rise in locations could seem concerning – with the implication being that someone was infectious in the community at least 15 days ago – it may also suggest that health officials have honed in on the source of the new outbreak. We can expect more news throughout tomorrow morning and, of course, at the 1pm update.
The full locations of interest can be found here.
6.45pm: One of new cases has link to border
The Ministry of Health has provided some more information about the three cases confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office just over an hour ago. Two are linked to known cases. The other, and this could be a big deal, has a link to the border.
The three further people who have tested positive are, as described by the ministry:
- A man in his 20s. This man is the partner of a known case who was reported as a positive case this morning.
- A woman in her 60s. Interviews are under way to determine any link to existing cases. This woman has a connection to the border.
- A woman in her 20s. She has a connection with another case reported today.
This could be very encouraging news, if the woman turns out to be the source case and can be linked to one of the previously identified cases. That would mean relatively few unidentified chains of transmission.
6.25pm: Auckland locations of interest updated
A number of new entries have popped up on The Ministry of Health’s locations of interest page. The full list is below, though remember there are also a bunch of places in the Coromandel, most of which were reported yesterday. You can see them here.
5.40pm: Three new cases
Further to Chris Hipkins' remarks earlier this hour (see 5.25pm), the Prime Minister's Office has told us that there are in fact three new cases beyond those already confirmed. No further details were provided, but that puts the total community case count at 10.
5.25pm: 'Several more cases' – Chris Hipkins
New positive cases have emerged since the 1pm update, the minister for the Covid response, Chris Hipkins, has told RNZ. "I don't have details of those cases yet to share," he told Checkpoint. "There have been several more cases, less than 10, but there will almost certainly be more cases overnight as well." He was confident they were contained in the Auckland and Coromandel region but given the possibility of the people concerned having travelled around the country, "I can't give you that with absolute certainty."
Asked whether the case first identified was likely to be the source case, Hipkins said: "It's almost certain they were given Covid-19 by someone else. What we're trying to do is identify how many steps in the chain of transmission were there before we got to the Devonport case."
4.55pm: Auckland cluster: what we know
Technically, the Ministry of Health doesn't call it a cluster till it hits 10 people, but realistically just a matter of time. How are those unfortunate enough to have tested positive so far linked? Here's Toby Morris to help us get our heads around it:
4.35pm: Robertson defends MBIE on essential services questions
MBIE are working through the finer details of what qualifies as an essential service, Grant Robertson says. "We haven't been in level four for a while and people will need a bit of time getting used to what the parameters are," he told media at the Beehive. "Over the next few days it will become a lot clearer for everyone."
On the decision to keep the official cash rate unchanged at o.25% (see 2.10pm), the finance minister said it was "understandable that they've ended up where they ended up today". He noted, however, "indications for the future" from the Monetary Policy Committee, and that a move upwards in the future could be expected.
4.10pm: Western Springs Football Club visited by close contact
We're still waiting on the Ministry of Health for an updated list of locations of interest; Bloomfield warned that there would be a large number of them, including a nightclub, SkyCity casino, a church and a school (see 1.55pm). We can now also add Western Springs Football Club, which is located off Meola Road in Point Chevalier, Auckland. The club has sent members a note saying a close contact of a confirmed case visited the club either side of the weekend:
"We'd like to make you aware that we have been notified that a person who visited Western Springs Football Club on the evenings of Friday August 13 and Monday August 16 has been in a location of interest at the same time as one of the recent positive cases of Covid-19. The Ministry of Health has advised them to self isolate and they will be getting tested. We will continue to keep you informed as and when we are updated."
SkyCity meanwhile has posted on social media saying the case relates to a visit on the evening of Saturday August 14.
3.10pm: Billy TK yet to be charged following lockdown protest
Charges have not yet been laid against conspiracy theorist Billy TK after he was arrested for breaching lockdown rules today.
He was one of four arrested outside TVNZ in Auckland Central, part of a crowd of protestors upset with the nationwide lockdown.
"Those arrested have been taken back to the Auckland Custody Unit and a decision will be made on charges," said police in a statement.
Two other lockdown protests also attracted police attention. Four people were arrested after a demonstration outside the Tauranga Police Station, where around 20 people had gathered. "Police made a number of attempts to engage... however, four were taken into custody when they repeatedly refused to comply with alert level four restrictions," said the statement.
In Nelson, about 20 people were issued a "verbal warning" following a similar gathering outside the police station.
2.35pm: Breaking down the Auckland delta cluster
We've gone from zero to seven community cases of Covid-19 overnight, so I thought it was worth taking stock and breaking down the cases of the new Auckland delta cluster.
Case A: The first confirmed case is a 58-year-old from Devonport, on Auckland's north shore. While their exact job remains a mystery Jacinda Ardern said they were "broadly speaking" a tradesperson and their role involved making house visits.
Case B: A 29-year-old workmate of case A.
Cases C-E: Three flatmates of case B. One is a fully vaccinated 21-year-old nurse from Auckland Hospital. One is a 25-year-old school teacher at Avondale College. These two cases understood to be sisters. The third flatmate has been identified as a 29-year-old male.
Case F: A 21-year-old male linked to the earlier cases.
Case G: A 19-year-old female linked to the earlier cases.
As we can see, all seven cases have been directly linked – but just how case A caught the virus has not been confirmed. We're expecting more information on that this evening.
2.10pm: Official Cash Rate to stay at 0.25% for now
Business editor Michael Andrew reports
The Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee has today agreed to keep the Official Cash Rate (OCR) at 0.25 per cent for now.
The decision follows months of speculation from New Zealand economists and banks that the RBNZ would almost certainly raise the OCR in an attempt to stifle rampant housing demand and house prices.
The committee noted that although New Zealand’s economy has been relatively robust compared with other countries, the current level four lockdown and its inevitable economic effects has shown how rapidly the situation can change.
“They agreed, however, to keep the OCR unchanged at this meeting given the heightened uncertainty with the country in a lockdown,” the committee said.
“Persistent and elevated health risks are promoting ongoing global supply chain disruptions, and are acting to constrain productive capacity and prolong inflationary pressures. Today’s re-introduction of Level four restrictions to activity across New Zealand is a stark example of how unpredictable and disruptive the virus is proving to be.”
While it said it will continue to assess the inflation and employment outlook on an ongoing basis, “employment is currently at or above its maximum sustainable level, and consumer price inflation expectations remain anchored near two percent, the midpoint of the target range”.
Despite the level four lockdown, the committee said it would look to continue reducing the level of monetary stimulus over time so as to keep inflation and employment in check. It made the decision to halt additional government bond purchases under the Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programme in July.
1.55pm: The latest locations of interest
A number of new locations of interest have been confirmed, including Auckland's busy Skycity Casino and the central Auckland Church of Christ in Freeman's Bay. Avondale College – with a roll of more than 2000 students – has also been linked to the outbreak after a teacher tested positive.
While the Ministry of Health has not yet formally listed the Freeman's Bay church as a location of interest, the church has posted the following on its Facebook page: "We have been advised that we have been listed as a location of interest with regards to a close contact that has tested positive. We are working closely with the MOH to follow all directions given to us: isolation, social distancing and testing if/when instructed as of now. If you were a visitor at the Sunday 10am service and you have not already been contacted by us, please advise the Ministry of Health on 0800 358 5453 ASAP."
Avondale College has alerted parents to a message from Auckland Regional Public Health Service confirming a staff member has tested positive for Covid-19. "All staff and students of the college are now considered close contacts and must stay in self-isolation at home for 14 days," reads the note. "Even if New Zealand’s national alert level changes from the current level four, you must still complete your full, 14-day self-isolation. Everyone is asked to get tested immediately, on August 23 and on August 29.
The full locations of interest list is here and will continue to be updated
1.45pm: Conspiracy theorists Billy TK, Vinny Eastwood, arrested for breaching lockdown
Billy TK has been arrested in Auckland’s CBD after leading a small anti-lockdown protest of under 100 people outside of TVNZ’s Victoria Street building this afternoon.
In a video posted on Facebook, he informed his followers of his arrest, reminding them to stay calm and not resort to violence.
While being escorted away from the protest, TK can be overheard telling the police officer “hold me, hold me, because they’ll grab me. They’ll think you are dragging me, but hold me.”
TK did not resist arrest and remained cheery throughout. “I’m happy to comply, don’t force me, I will come. It’s fine. No violence. Don’t force me”
Vinny Eastwood, a fellow conspiracy theorist, was also arrested at the event.
Speaking at parliament, Jacinda Ardern called the protest "disappointing" but said she did not want it to reflect on the full "team of five million".
It's not known why the protest took place outside TVNZ; Ardern and Bloomfield are in Wellington and the Covid-19 press conference is broadcast across multiple platforms.
Billy TK at the rally in AKL: "without the media, we wouldn't even KNOW there's a pandemic" truly a revolutionary thinker this one. Smh
— Ana McAllister (@nope_thank_u) August 18, 2021
1.10pm: Covid-19 outbreak grows to seven as link to New South Wales found; mandatory mask rule expanded
There are two new cases of Covid-19 in the community, Ashley Bloomfield has revealed, bringing the total in the cluster to seven.
The first case – case A – is a 58-year-old tradesperson from Auckland. They passed the virus onto case B, a 29-year-old colleague. That person has three flatmates, including one who works at Auckland Hospital. Another is a teacher at Avondale College. The other is a 29-year-old male.
The two newest cases are a 21-year-old female and 19-year-old male from Auckland, both linked to the existing cases. As such, all seven cases in the existing outbreak can be linked.
With a number of new cases in their 20s, "they've been out and about a lot and I'm flagging that there will be a lot of locations of interest", said Bloomfield. New locations of interest confirmed so far include a church and the Sky City casino in the Auckland CBD. The full list will continue to be updated here.
Bloomfield added: "If those [locations of interest] include bars and hospitality places, it's that close, crowded, confined space where the risk is highest."
Modelling seen by Bloomfield at this stage indicated the cluster could grow significantly. "Depending on whether this is a second or third generation case we could expect somewhere between 50 and 120 cases," he said. "The key thing of course is finding those cases as quickly as possible."
The wife of case A, reported yesterday, and who is fully vaccinated, has again returned a negative test result.
Confirmed: Auckland delta outbreak linked to New South Wales
Case A has now been linked to the ongoing New South Wales delta outbreak, Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.
Genomic sequencing has been able to connect the 58-year-old with cases of the delta variant in New South Wales. "Our case has originated in Australia," said Ardern. "And now the job is to work through how and when it got here."
Since July 1, we have had three positive cases of Covid-19 in our managed isolation facilities. "Positive cases from our MIQ facilities are as a matter of course batched and then we genome sequence them weekly," Ardern said. Results are expected later tonight to confirm whether there is a match between one of these cases and the known Auckland cases.
"I can confirm that for every other case we have had at the border... there are no matches to this case."
Explaining the decision to shift the whole country into lockdown, Ardern said that was because due to the mystery source of the outbreak. "One of the reasons we are all in lockdown... is because we haven't yet answered that question of where [the outbreak] started," said Ardern.
The types of locations so far confirmed as exposure sites – such as a church, hospital and school – reiterated the importance of following the level four rules, Ardern said.
Ardern started – and finished – this afternoon's presser with a "huge thank you" to people for their cooperation with the lockdown.
From 11.59pm tonight, everyone over the age of 12 will be legally required to wear a mask when visiting an essential service such as a supermarket. It will also be a requirement for workers at these locations to wear a mask as well.
Masks will continue to be a requirement on public transport and flights, but this will now be extended to include places like bus terminals and taxis.
Vaccine rollout to resume, bookings to reopen
Some vaccinations will resume this afternoon, Ardern confirmed.
From 8am the programme restarts across the country, with new requirements including distancing.
12.50pm: Watch live – Ardern and Bloomfield reveal latest about Auckland delta outbreak
Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield and police commissioner Andy Coster are about to front today's 1pm Covid-19 briefing from parliament.
We're expecting details of any new cases confirmed since this morning, along with more locations of interest linked to the new delta outbreak.
Our reporter in parliament, Justin Giovannetti, said the Beehive theatrette is following strict new rules under level four, with mandatory face mask use, additional social distancing, a limit on the number of people in the room and extra wide space between the podiums and sign language interpreter.
We'll have full coverage from 1pm or else watch along below.
12.40pm: Auckland Hospital remains safe, says DHB
"The public can be assured that if they need our care, they will be safe in our hospitals," is the message in a media statement from the Auckland District Health Board, following the positive test of a (fully vaccinated) nurse who works at the city's central hospital.
Following the test result yesterday, "we immediately activated our plans to prevent the spread of the virus within the hospital. We’ve stopped unnecessary movements between wards, and we’re testing all staff and patients on the ward the staff member worked on. We’re also standing down, testing and isolating staff on the same ward. We’re providing support to any staff members who need it."
Most planned and scheduled appointments will be postponed, they advise, and patients can expect to be contacted to reschedule.
The statement continues: "We’re here to provide essential and urgent medical care. We’re doing everything we can to keep you and our staff safe. We have full confidence in our measures and our staff to manage this situation safely. If you have an emergency, or you go into labour or your child or whānau member is ill, please follow the normal procedures. Dial 111 or our emergency departments will be operating to provide appropriate care. As you usually do, if have a health issue that isn’t an emergency, please call your GP or give Healthline a call."
12.30pm: Questions remain about the rollout of scheduled vaccinations
Leonie Hayden reports:
The Ministry of Health has advised that all vaccination sites, including those based in pharmacies and GPs, will be closed on August 18 and 19 and no vaccines will be administered during that time (although Jacinda Ardern has indicated that those sites could be back up and running earlier).
Anyone scheduled to receive vaccinations on those dates have been asked to reschedule (which they can do here). No new bookings for vaccinations will be available until after September 1.
Two Healthline workers spoken to by The Spinoff confirmed that they had received no information from the Ministry of Health yet on whether appointments scheduled after August 19 would be affected. One advised to call back later in the week, saying individual clinics may remain closed.
Another suggested that distancing may require vaccines to be administered in cars, but neither could confirm those details or when they might have more up to date information.
12.20pm: 60 seconds with Siouxsie
It's been a while since we were last in alert level four. Below, Siouxsie Wiles explains the rules of lockdown.
11.50am: Around the block queues at Auckland testing sites
I've just been down to the Balmoral testing site in Auckland central, where the backlog of cars stretches around the carpark, out onto the street and around the entire block.
The photos below speak for themselves, but my main suggestion to anyone requiring a Covid-19 test is to bring some entertainment. The cars weren't moving fast, with the queue remaining motionless for several minutes at a time.
Meanwhile, motorways around Auckland appear less quiet than at the start of last year's level four lockdown. I travelled on both state highway one and state highway 16 this morning on my commute from Ellerslie into Balmoral and, while less busy than at 11am on a regular Wednesday, I was certainly not alone on the road.
And there are similar scenes on the North Shore of Auckland. Devonport is the epicentre of this latest community outbreak, with the 58-year-old tradesman living in the suburb with his wife. The Spinoff's Mad Chapman reports.
Wardens are stationed at street corners to direct traffic as hundreds queue for tests at the Northcote Community Testing Centre. One man, who was 47 cars from the front of the queue, said he had been waiting two hours.
Over at the pop up testing station in Narrow Neck, near Devonport, the queue stretches for a kilometre. Cars within 300 meters of the beachside station are treated to a partial view of the harbour while they wait.
Meanwhile, after the rush of last night, supermarkets (at least those on the North Shore), appear to have returned to business as usual with no queues outside.
11.30am: Pay gap remains unchanged, median hourly earnings increase – Stats NZ
The gender pay gap in the year to June remained basically unchanged at 9.1%, new Stats NZ figures reveal.
Median hourly earnings for women increased by $0.80 (3.1%) to $26.37, but at the same time earnings for men increased by $0.74 (2.6%) to $29.00.
The gender pay gap has remained relatively flat over the last five years, at 9-10%.The good news comes in the median hourly earnings for the population as a whole.
Thanks in large part to the minimum wage increase in April, median hourly earnings from wages and salaries rose by $0.76 (2.8%) to reach $27.76. The increase was especially pronounced in retail, accommodation, and food services, where hourly earnings increased by $1.62 to $22.00.
Other increases in median hourly earnings, by industry, include wholesale trade, up $2.30 to $29.15 and construction (built) up $1.27 to $28.77.
10.30am: A reminder – what does alert level four mean?
Since midnight, the entire country has shifted into a snap 72-hour lockdown. This is the first time since early last year that the country has been in total lockdown so I thought it was worth revising the official rules.
According to the government's Unite Against Covid-19 website, a move to alert level four means health officials believe the virus has not been contained.
The official rules are:
- Stay at home in your bubble, other than for essential personal movement;
- Safe recreational activity is allowed in local area;
- Travel is severely limited;
- All gatherings cancelled and all public venues closed;
- Businesses closed except for essential services. For example, supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics, petrol stations and lifeline utilities;
- Educational facilities closed;
- Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities possible; and
- Reprioritisation of healthcare services.
Still have questions? Alex Casey attempts to answer them all, here
10.10am: Will the official cash rate hike still happen?
Before the arrival of delta, today was meant to be a relatively quiet news day culminating in a probable rise to the official cash rate.
The OCR has been held at a low 0.25 since last year's level four lockdown. Until yesterday, many were predicting at least a 0.25 increase today after almost 170 days without a new case of Covid-19. That OCR hike may now be in jeopardy, with economists for Westpac and ASB predicting no change.
Here's Bernard Hickey, writing in his newsletter The Kākā:
I always thought a rate hike today would have been premature, given the rest of the world’s concerns about inflation are ebbing away as fast as the delta outbreaks spread in Europe, Asia, America and Australia. In particular, there are reports of delta outbreaks in Chinese cities. The world’s third largest container port at Ningbo has been closed for seven days now and that is already cascading through the global supply system into delays, cancelled port visits and higher shipping rates.
I think the Reserve Bank should respond to continued double-digit house price inflation with tougher lending rules for banks lending to home owners buying already-built homes. It should be ensuring any new credit is going to new builds.
The government should be stepping up with much more fiscal policy loosening to ensure a flood of new, climate friendly houses and infrastructure drives down prices over the next couple of decades.
Both the government and the Reserve Bank also need to revisit their plans for what to do if they need to print money again. The best way to generate inflation and activity in the event of a lockdown is equal cash grants to all residents. More bond buying simply increases the wealth of the already wealthy and parks the cash back in bank accounts.
9.20am: Pausing vaccination drive 'nonsensical' – Seymour
The decision to pause the vaccination rollout for the first 48-hours of lockdown is "nonsensical", said Act Party leader David Seymour.
The brief suspension is to allow for vaccination centres to accommodate the strict level four rules, such as social distancing. Jacinda Ardern said she expected sites would actually be back up in running earlier.
Seymour said the government should have planned for delta to arrive. “We are bottom of the OECD for vaccinations. Our low rates of vaccinations is what has put us most at risk of a Delta outbreak.
“The prime minister acknowledged that an outbreak at some point was inevitable, so why hadn’t she planned for this?"
The population needs to get vaccinated as quick as possible, said Seymour, and putting a hold to this makes no sense.
8.45am: Queues build outside Auckland testing centres as capacity grows
Auckland testing centres have just opened their doors on the first day of the nationwide lockdown.
Newshub's Aziz Al Sa'afin has been outside the Northcote testing site where a queue of cars has snaked around the carpark and out onto the street. Cars had been lined up more than 45 minutes ahead of the centre opening this morning.
Meanwhile, just one pop-up site has been confirmed – in Narrowneck – according to information available on the Auckland Regional Public Health site, but more are expected to open today.
Where to get tested in Auckland
- Northcote: 16-18 College Road, Northcote.
- Balmoral: 182 Balmoral Road, Mount Eden.
- Henderson: Whānau House, Corner of Edsel St & Catherine St.
- New Lynn: Level 1 Carpark, Totara Health Services, McCrae Way.
- Wiri: 25 Druces Road, Wiri.
- Ōtara: Ōtara Town Centre, 14 Fair Mall, Ōtara
8.00am: The Bulletin – What NZ needs to know about the delta cases
It's been a trial by fire for our new Bulletin editor Justin Giovannetti, covering both the Afghanistan political crisis and a new Covid-19 community outbreak over his first three days in the new gig.
Today's top story is below – read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here.
New Zealand is back at alert level four this morning. While the country has been here before, the delta variant has upended a lot of what we know about Covid-19. It’s a far more infectious and fast-moving virus. Here’s what we’ll be watching for today to know whether this is a short and sharp lockdown, or the beginning of something that could be considerably more painful:
- There are now five known cases, including a nurse at Auckland hospital. How significant are the contacts of these new cases?
- Will an epidemiological link be established to the border? This may indicate how much the virus has spread.
- How will the delta variant, now confirmed, impact transmission? Data has shown people with delta go from infected to infectious in less than two days.
- What is wastewater testing showing? So far nothing, but this is a useful tool to track the spread of the virus.
- How significant are testing levels? There will need to be a balance between long queues and getting swabs to people who need them, either those showing symptoms or possibly exposed.
- How many more locations of interest will appear and what risk of transmission do they pose?
7.45am: Coromandel mayor won't start using Covid Tracer app despite delta scare
We all know the most simple way to help stop the spread of Covid-19 is to use the Tracer app. But, despite that, the Thames-Coromandel district mayor Sandra Goudie has revealed just how infrequently she scans in while out and about in the region.
The Coromandel has been linked to this latest community outbreak of Covid-19, after the index case visited the area while infectious.
Speaking to RNZ's Checkpoint last night, Goudie said she would not normally scan in when visiting locations and the new delta scare would "probably not" inspire her to start. "It's very hit and miss for me," she said. "I'm quite a believer in my credit card tracking everywhere I've been."
Once again, remember:
Auckland's new community case of Covid-19 has been confirmed as the highly transmissible delta variant and it's already been spreading.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has told RNZ that four new community cases have been confirmed – all are linked to the original case.
The first case, announced last night, is a 58-year-old man from the suburb of Devonport. Ardern said he was a tradesperson. He along with his wife had visited the Coromandel over the weekend, while infectious. His wife was fully vaccinated and has so far tested negative for the virus.
One of the four new cases is a workmate of the 58-year-old tradesman. The other three are contacts of this workmate. One of the three contacts is a fully vaccinated nurse who works at Auckland City Hospital and had been working in recent days.
Ardern said that at this stage, health officials have not yet been able to link the case to the border or any other known case. "I'm hoping that at 1pm we can provide a little more information," she said.
"Once we get genome information that then helps us narrow down potential sources," Ardern said. Locating the original source was important, the PM said, as it can help to determine timelines and work out how many people may have been infected in the community.
Case investigations have been occurring overnight and any additional locations of interest will be revealed in due course.
The confirmation of delta meant that moving into level four was the "right decision," said Ardern.
Speaking to Newshub, Ardern responded to criticism – including from the Act Party – about the decision to suspend vaccination clinics for 48 hours. The PM said she did not expect the clinics to be paused for the full two days, but the move was in order to allow them to set up for a level four environment.
For example, Ardern said, most clinics have not been able to socially distance patients due to the vast numbers moving through every day.
The Ministry of Health website has listed 15 locations of interest while Ashley Bloomfield yesterday said there were 23. Ardern confirmed the remaining locations were all private residences visited by the first case and as such would not be posted online.
What we know so far
- The entire country has entered a snap 72-hour level four lockdown.
- Auckland and the Coromandel are “likely” to spend a further four days in level four.
- It follows a positive Covid-19 case being detected in the Auckland community.
- There is no known link between the individual and the border or managed isolation.
- Locations of interest updated.