Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 18, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Auckland is now at step one of the alert level three pathway, Northland and parts of Waikato are in regular level three. Reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Today’s announcements in summary
- Auckland remains in current level three settings for at least two weeks.
- Parts of Waikato to stay in level three, to be reviewed on Friday.
- Northland moves to level two end of Tuesday.
- New system with vaccination targets to be outlined on Friday.
- There are 60 new community cases of Covid-19.
7.30pm: Alleged North Shore party organiser arrested
Police have arrested a 28-year-old man alleged to have held a party at a property in Redvale on the North Shore at the weekend in breach of Covid-19 restrictions. Footage of the party was shared on social media and prompted an angry response from locked down Aucklanders.
According to a police statement, the man has been charged with failing to comply with a Covid-19 public health response order, and is scheduled to appear in North Shore District Court on October 22.
“Police will not tolerate this type of breach of alert level restrictions and would like to thank those members of the public who reported the matter to us,” said the statement.
Inquiries are ongoing and police are not ruling out enforcement action against other people, said the statement.
Read Mad Chapman’s review of the party, which she did not attend, here
6.20pm: MediaWorks to introduce mandatory vaccination
MediaWorks, the parent company of a number of New Zealand radio stations including The Edge, Mai, The Rock, The Breeze and Magic Talk, has become the first media company in Aotearoa to put in place a mandatory vaccination order.
From December 1, the company, which also has an outdoor advertising branch, will require anyone entering its offices across the country to be fully vaccinated, including staff, visitors and on-air guests.
The decision was relaid to staff in an email from chief executive Cam Wallace this evening. “The executive team has been thinking deeply about how we best keep our people and our workplace safe, while also acknowledging that vaccination isn’t something which is mandatory for our sector,” said the email. “Balancing these two things is difficult, but we believe we have reached a solution around the best way forward.”
Wallace said the company is working on the best way to collect vaccination information from staff. People visiting the offices will be asked to “let their MediaWorks contact know of their vaccination status”.
“We are aware that there are some people who are not able to get the Covid-19 vaccine for health or other reasons and these people will need to have a discussion with their manager around the best way to carry out their work,” said the email.
6pm: 90% double vax for level two, says Baker
Jacinda Ardern has this afternoon indicated that vaccination “goals” will be put in place in Auckland and elsewhere as part of a new system to be introduced on Friday. What freedoms might 90% double-vaccination (among those eligible) afford Aucklanders? Asked this question by Lisa Owen on RNZ, epidemiologist Michael Baker said: “We could definitely move down to alert level two, which puts very few barriers in the way of the virus, in practice. And in addition we could have the schools open again … In level two people are back at work and in school, but they are following some limitations on indoor gatherings, and hopefully mask use.”
What about the Auckland boundary: might that come down by Christmas? “Potentially, if we have uniformly high vaccine coverage in New Zealand,” said Baker. “I think we do need to look at the level for Maori and Pasifika … We do also run the risk of this becoming a very unequal outbreak.”
Earlier on the programme, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins spent most of his interview refusing to offer any detail on the plans for the “traffic light” system to be unveiled on Friday, or on schools reopening. The furthest he went on schools was to say, “Our secondary school students have been a key priority … in the planning we’re doing.”
5.15pm: Basement Theatre shuts doors for rest of year
Hopes for live events in Auckland before 2022 continue to dwindle, with the city’s Basement Theatre deciding to postpone remaining programmed events until next year.
“Following the update from the government today, the Basement whānau has had to make the decision to not platform any more shows for the remainder of 2021,” supporters have been told in an email. “This was a difficult call for us to make as we were so looking forward to getting back into it with our communities! But in prioritising what’s best for everyone, we feel good about where we have landed. This means that for the rest of the year there will be no incredible new shows, no cult one-off events, and perhaps the most heartbreaking news of all…no end of year Christmas show.”
The postponement of the programme would leave “a massive gap in the artists’ freelance schedules that won’t be able to be filled with work as we remain in lockdown”, and plans were being explored to provide support. They’re also “looking into how vaccination status may impact how we open up again for performances”.
4.45pm: Opposition accuse Ardern of ‘making it up as she goes along’
The prime minister should come clean on what vaccine target will be announced on Friday, Act Party David Seymour said.
Jacinda Ardern signalled that the new “traffic light” system will be unveiled on Friday and include specific vaccine targets. But Seymour said that Aucklanders were already paying the price for uncertainty.
“89% single dose doesn’t cut it, so what does? Ardern is now saying she will announce a long-term plan on Friday, 67 days into an outbreak. She is making it up as she goes,” said Seymour. “Either that, or Jacinda Ardern has the answer but won’t tell. It’s patronising command and control at its worst.”
Seymour called on the PM to announced a “freedom day” when the country can reopen.
Meanwhile, the National Party sent out a press release simply titled: “No plan, no ideas, no hope from government”. Leader Judith Collins said today’s 4pm press conference was an announcement about announcements to come later in the week.
“The government is once again making things up as it goes along,” said Collins. “The government is utterly bereft of ideas, having spent the first six months of this year in self-congratulation mode, happy to have the developed world’s slowest vaccine rollout and spending the Covid Response Fund not on contact tracing, saliva testing and boosting ICU treatment, but on art therapy and cameras on fishing boats.”
4.05pm: Auckland to remain under current restrictions for another two weeks
Auckland will remain under its current alert level three restrictions for at least two more weeks, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced. That means it will be at least another month until Auckland can fully transition to alert level two – three months after first locking down.
Acknowledging calls by a number of respected scientists and epidemiologists for a level four circuit breaker lockdown, Ardern said this was considered by cabinet. However, Ardern said the public health advice, including from Ashley Bloomfield, was that two weeks at level four was unlikely to reduce case numbers significantly.
Ardern stressed that the biggest thing that would make a difference was people complying with the current restrictions, mainly around indoor gatherings.
Ardern announces vaccine goal will be announced on Friday
An announcement on the new “traffic light” system will come this Friday, said Ardern – and it will be coupled with long-awaited vaccine targets. “We know that in the future we cannot ask people to live week by week, not knowing when things will change or how to help things speed up,” said Ardern. “We know that needs to change and we have a plan on how.” It is expected this new framework will replace the existing alert level framework and Ardern said it will include specific vaccine targets.
“We hope this will give Aucklanders as much certainty as possible,” she said. The vaccination goal will be one “we can all rally behind”. The target will be high to give us the greatest confidence possible, Ardern said.
“We’re making great steps forward, and there is a way through. New Zealand can be one of the few countries in the world to get to high rates of vaccination without the human and economic carnage it has inflicted on so many other countries. It is possible, and I know we can do it.”
Bloomfield said Auckland is expected to be at between 80-85% double vaccinated in two weeks’ time. Currently, the city is sitting at just below 90% with first doses.
After hearing feedback from Māori health providers about barriers to vaccination, there have been some changes to data sharing and funding, said Ardern. “We need to remove any barrier that might exists so we can drive up vaccination rates for our Māori community.”
On the fundraising campaign to set up a mobile vaccination clinic in Te Tairāwhiti, Ardern said there should be no need to fundraise, “we just need to make sure the resources are in the right place”.
Associate health minister Peeni Henare has been on the road trying to raise Māori vaccination rates and will be speaking with Ardern at the 1pm update tomorrow.
4.00pm: Waikato remains at level three, Northland to leave lockdown
Jacinda Ardern has announced that the parts of Waikato currently in alert level three will remain under existing restrictions. These settings will be reviewed on Friday.
However, Northland will move out of lockdown and into alert level two at 11.59pm tomorrow night. “All the evidence to date suggests the individuals that tested positive have not spread it further,” said Ardern.
The rest of the country will remain at alert level two.
Speaking about Super Saturday, which saw 130,000 vaccine doses given out, Ardern called it “enormous”. “It reminded us all that we are still a team,” she said. On the party allegedly held on the North Shore at the weekend, Ardern said, “I have not seen the footage, I have had it described to me. The description is enough. Clearly it was a blatant breach of the rules.”
3.55pm: Ardern to reveal alert level decision after 60 new delta cases confirmed
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are set to reveal whether there are any alert level changes in Auckland, Northland, or parts of Waikato. It’s possible we may also get more information on schools reopening in Auckland and additional details about the rumoured “traffic light” framework that will replace out alert levels.
As always, follow along with the livestream or keep this page updated for live coverage.
3.50pm: A special note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive
Before we hear from the prime minister, a note from The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive:
It’s a little overwhelming to be sitting here, a week on from when I wrote my Bernie-esque plea for new members, to write to you about the response. It was instant and humbling. It has been the biggest surge in new sign-ups since the freaky days of April 2020. We also saw many existing members raise their ongoing contributions, which was also hugely impactful.
To be blunt, we needed it. And still do, so if you can join up, or have been meaning to, please do so today. We are still a long way from knowing when this period will end, which means our commercial funds remain highly constrained. We remain highly dependent on our members for everything from live updates, to data visualisation to cultural coverage. But we’ve had a really heartening week, and the whole organisation is very grateful for it. So if you are a member, or have donated – please take a moment to feel the immense gratitude radiating out from all of us here.
3.40pm: Police investigating level three breaching house party
Police are investigating a large Auckland house party held over the weekend that breached level three restrictions.
According to footage shared across social media, roughly 50 people were in attendance at the party. Currently, indoor gatherings between bubbles are prohibited in Auckland with outdoor gatherings limited to 10 people across two bubbles.
Inspector Mark Fergus told 1News that police were “disappointed” by the gathering. “This footage is being reviewed and police are looking at enforcement options available for this matter,” Fergus said.
Multiple complaints were made to police about the party, said Fergus.
3.30pm: Breast Assured – new podcast out now
The first episode of our new podcast series Breast Assured, brought to you by The Spinoff Podcast Network together with Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, is out today!
Join host Sarah Gandy and special guests Morgan Penn from The Trainee Sexologist podcast and Arihia Hall from award-winning poetry group Ngā Hinepūkōrero. Together the trio look at the role breasts play in our lives and wider society, and celebrate all the great things boobs have to offer. Tom Sainsbury also joins Sarah for some chest chat to learn more about her boob journey, from a time when she didn’t give them much thought through to her breast cancer diagnosis and beyond.
3.00pm: Auckland Pride announces vaccine mandate
Attendance at Auckland’s 2022 pride festival will require proof of vaccination.
While larger events at the festival will already be covered by the government’s “high risk events” vaccine mandate, festival organisers have today announced they will extend this to all pride events.
“Auckland Pride’s Covid-19 response has always been about keeping our communities safe and protecting the festival from disruptions caused by alert level changes, and high rates of vaccination achieves both” said the festival’s executive director Max Tweedie. “The Covid-19 vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine that will protect our communities from serious illness, safeguard those who cannot yet be vaccinated, and prevent our immunocompromised whānau from being exposed as much as possible.”
Auckland Pride will make further announcements about how this mandate will operate when the government rolls out vaccine certificates late next month.
2.40pm: We’re hiring! Finance manager, The Spinoff
The Spinoff is recruiting a finance manager to work closely with our CFO and an existing finance manager across The Spinoff Group.
The Spinoff finance manager will report directly to the CFO and work closely with another finance manager in our content studio, Daylight Creative, and with the group CFO. This is an exceptional opportunity for someone who wants to grow, develop and be mentored by the CFO, create a career path for themselves and learn all aspects of an integrated media company end to end. We have recently moved to a new accounting platform called Pegasus Systems – training will be provided should you need it.
Want to find out more? Click here.
2.10pm: Auckland needs its schools to reopen. Here’s what must happen first
Today is the first day of term four but, in Auckland, schools remain closed. We’re hoping for more clarity on the situation at today’s 4pm press conference. In the meantime, paediatrician Dr Jin Russell outlines a gold standard plan for safely reopening.
One of the successes of New Zealand’s elimination strategy has been that schools have mostly stayed open. In an elimination state, children do well because they experience little harms from the pandemic. But in a suppression strategy, such as we now appear to have in Auckland, doing our best for children involves protecting them from both the direct harms of Covid-19 – being infected with the virus – and the indirect harms of Covid-19: prolonged school closures, isolation, financial stress, and sick family members and friends.
Firstly, it’s important to summarise how Covid-19 infection affects children. Without good information, many families may be so anxious that they may wish to keep their children home indefinitely leading to absenteeism and educational harm. That’s not a good outcome either.
1.50pm: The ‘mystery case’ count rises
Toby Manhire writes:
The scale of the challenge for contact tracers is starkly illustrated by a glance at the number of “unlinked cases” being dealt with. Since the middle of last month, the Ministry of Health has been reporting the number of positive cases across the previous fortnight for which they’re yet to establish a person-to-person (or epidemiological) link to a known case. Genome sequencing will confirm that they’re part of the same outbreak, but they don’t know the when and where of the infection.
Today that number is 140, and the chart below shows just how sharply the mystery case count is climbing.
1.30pm: Today's key numbers, charted
And here's how the key figures from today's Covid-19 update look in snazzy chart form. These – and a whole lot more – can be found on our Covid Tracker page.
1.00pm: Another 60 community delta cases ahead of impending alert level announcement
There are 60 new community cases today, of which 57 are in Auckland and three are in Waikato.
According to the Ministry of Health, 24 of today's cases remain unlinked, with investigations continuing to help determine their connection to the outbreak.
Two of the three new Waikato cases are unlinked while the third has known connections to existing cases. In addition, investigations are continuing to determine the links of two cases reported last week and two cases from yesterday.
Health officials have also confirmed that a staff member at Remuera Gardens retirement village in Auckland has tested positive for Covid-19. They were at work while infectious. "Public health staff are confident the risk of infection is low but, as a precaution, testing is being arranged for all staff and residents," said the ministry. "Both staff and residents at the village have very high vaccination rates."
Twenty-five of yesterday’s 51 cases were infectious in the community, said the ministry. There are now 30 people in hospital with Covid-19, including five in intensive care.
Finally, on testing and vaccinations. There were 20,809 tests conducted nationwide yesterday including almost 7,500 in Auckland alone. After Super Saturday's vaccine surge, yesterday was something of a subpar Sunday. There were 29,661 doses of vaccine given out, comprising 6,253 first doses and 23,408 second. Auckland is sitting at 89% of its eligible population with one dose.
At 4pm, Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will provide any further updates on today's cases along with revealing whether any changes can be made to current alert level settings.
12.50pm: A special note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive
And while we wait for the 1pm update… a note from The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive:
It's a little overwhelming to be sitting here, a week on from when I wrote my Bernie-esque plea for new members, to write to you about the response. It was instant and humbling. It has been the biggest surge in new sign-ups since the freaky days of April 2020. We also saw many existing members raise their ongoing contributions, which was also hugely impactful.
To be blunt, we needed it. And still do, so if you can join up, or have been meaning to, please do so today. We are still a long way from knowing when this period will end, which means our commercial funds remain highly constrained. We remain highly dependent on our members for everything from live updates, to data visualisation to cultural coverage. But we've had a really heartening week, and the whole organisation is very grateful for it. So if you are a member, or have donated – please take a moment to feel the immense gratitude radiating out from all of us here.
12.40pm: Cost of living up as inflation hits 10-year high
Inflation is at its highest point in more than a decade.
According to newly released stats, annual inflation was 4.9% in the September 2021 quarter when compared with the September 2020 quarter. That's the biggest annual move since the June 2011 quarter which saw a 5.3% boost.
The main drivers were housing-related costs, such as construction of new houses and local authority rates. “Both supply-chain challenges and high demand are pushing up the cost of building houses,” consumer prices manager Aaron Beck said.
“Construction firms reported that it is hard to get many materials needed to build a house, and that there are higher labour and administration costs.”
12.15pm: Collins calls for level four to be re-ruled out
Judith Collins wants clarity on whether a level four lockdown for Auckland is in fact being considered.
It comes after comments made by Ashley Bloomfield this morning in which he said a snap lockdown was one of cabinet's considerations ahead of this afternoon's press conference.
Collins said the PM should rule it out. “Aucklanders are in their ninth week of lockdown with no end in sight and no certainty or reassurance from their missing-in-action prime minister, who clearly has no idea how dire the situation is in Auckland. Ambiguous musings about returning to level four from the director general of health create a huge amount of stress and uncertainty for locked-down Aucklanders," she said.
Ardern needs to visit Auckland herself to see just how bad the situation is, said Collins. “The prime minister is free to travel as an essential worker like police, health officials and other essential workers are already doing. She needs to get up there," Collins said.
Where the other parties stand?
- The Greens believe the move out of alert level four in Auckland came too soon and has put our most vulnerable communities at risk. They would likely support a snap lockdown.
- The Māori Party has called for a return to level four in Auckland and level three around the rest of the country until vaccination rates are much higher.
- Act has announced a five-step plan it believes should be implemented immediately. Part of that includes an end to lockdowns.
12.00pm: Extremely Online – Have you read the terms and conditions?
One of the biggest lies on the internet has to be "I have read and agree to the terms and conditions." And who can blame us when it would take an average of 76 working days to read all the privacy policies we come across on the internet each year? They're long, they're unpleasant on the eye – and they're designed that way. This week’s episode of Extremely Online, from the team at Shit You Should Care About, takes a look.
11.15am: The Block NZ to hold 'virtual' auction after Covid delays
Three has confirmed The Block NZ grand final auction will air this year, despite ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland.
The live finale was put on indefinite hold after Auckland moved into lockdown in August. The auction itself will take place on November 6 and be a "virtual event" conducted by Ray White. The auction outcome and reveal of the winner of The Block NZ 2021 will be broadcast on Three and ThreeNow soon after.
Filming for the show began in 2020 and was put on hold due to the first nationwide lockdown, resuming earlier this year.
9.50am: Bloomfield claims level four back on the table after it was ruled out
A circuit breaking alert level four lockdown is being "actively considered" for Auckland, says Ashley Bloomfield.
That's despite the government explicitly ruling it out just last week.
"It's something we've actively considered and importantly I've asked for advice from my team, but also from the public health teams on the ground in Tāmaki Makaurau and that's informed our advice to the prime minister," said Bloomfield.
"Cabinet will be considering that this afternoon and the prime minister will be making announcements later in the day."
Jacinda Ardern, joined by Bloomfield, will make that announcement at a 4pm press conference.
8.35am: Alert level replacement to be announced this week
The government is poised to announce the end of our Covid-19 alert level system and the introduction of a new "traffic light" framework.
Ashley Bloomfield told Newstalk ZB this morning that an announcement on the new three-tiered system was imminent. "There's work happening on the framework and the prime minister will let people know this afternoon about the timing."
According to 1News, the green light setting will operate similarly to our existing alert level one. Orange light will limit entry into venues and rely on vaccination status more heavily. And the red light will kick in when there are multiple Covid clusters, restricting travel and gatherings.
Health experts advised on the new system reportedly gave it a thumbs down. The Herald reported those briefed said the traffic light framework wasn't fit for purpose.
While it's expected Jacinda Ardern will announce the system in the very near future, it's likely not to be introduced immediately.
8.00am: Another alert level decision looms after Vaxathon boost
Auckland, Northland and parts of Waikato will be hoping for good news from the prime minister at 4pm today.
It's another alert level decision day and it comes after 130,000 vaccine doses were given out during Saturday's Vaxathon – our largest single day for vaccine doses. However, the number of double doses remains significantly lower and experts are urging caution with daily case numbers still high.
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield signalled that the key milestone for reducing restrictions in Auckland was 90% double vaccinated. "At the moment it's just over 70% fully vaccinated across the Auckland region so that's great progress," he told RNZ. Auckland is due to hit the first dose milestone within the coming days. That would suggest alert level three restrictions could remain for another month at least.
"Over these next three to four weeks on current trends we will hit that fully vaccinated," Bloomfield said. "It's a matter of mapping out that pathway to 90%. It's not just a target, it's a milestone because we don't stop there."
On the case numbers, Bloomfield said health officials will be watching those "very closely" and continuing to "actively and aggressively" contact trace. The R value remains between 1.2 and 1.3, meaning numbers are likely to keep rising.
The next Covid-19 update is due via press release at 1pm with Jacinda Ardern and Bloomfield expected to speak at 4pm.
7.30am: From The Bulletin
Super Saturday was a win for all of us. Instead of focusing on the record-breaking number of vaccinations, Duncan Greive writes in The Spinoff that Super Saturday is a win because it tapped into the country’s resourcefulness. We’re all a little tired, but from large corporations to individuals rolling up their sleeves, the outpouring on Saturday showed a country willing to tackle Covid-19. Forget the 1pm podium, it was individual New Zealanders who beat the first outbreak and they’ve shown that they are still in the fight. We’ll need that tenacity in the coming weeks, according to Rawiri Jansen.
Cabinet’s decision on whether restrictions can be lowered in Auckland, Northland and parts of Waikato will be announced today at 4pm.
The Covid numbers: There are 29 cases in hospital and 5 in ICU/HDU. There are now 623 active cases in New Zealand. 47 new community cases were reported in Auckland yesterday and 4 in Waikato. 130,002 people were vaccinated on Saturday.
The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.
Suspect in the killing of British MP Sir David Amess faces terror charges. Amess, a Conservative MP since 1983, was holding a meeting on Friday with constituents when he was stabbed, according to the BBC. He’s the second British MP killed in recent years after the 2016 murder of Labour's Jo Cox. A 25-year-old Briton is being held under the country’s terrorism act. The BBC reports that the man had been referred to the UK’s deradicalisation programme in the past, but dropped out soon after.
Inflation expected to hit the highest level in a decade. Economists will be on the lookout later today as new inflation data is released, RNZ reports. The forecast is that the annual rate could rise to 4.1%, the highest since 2011. Based on current price spikes in the economy with petrol, housing, shipping and food costs, that wouldn’t be unexpected. Inflation is currently on the rise across the world as consumers are willing to spend big, however from oil to computer chips, the global economy hasn’t increased production to match.
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