blog upd aug 19

PoliticsAugust 19, 2021

Live updates, August 19: Students test positive at two Auckland high schools; locations of interest updated

blog upd aug 19

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 19, compiled today by Stewart Sowman-Lund and Toby Manhire.  

We are doing our utmost to keep you updated on all Covid-19 related coverage. Every dollar our members contribute directly funds our editorial team and is devoted to ensuring we do more. Click here to learn how you can support the team today.

What you need to know

9.05pm: Student at Lynfield College returns positive test

Lynfield College in Mt Roskill is the third Auckland high school hit by the delta outbreak, with a student reportedly receiving a positive Covid test result today. The student is thought to have been infectious on August 16 and 17. Earlier this evening (see below) a student at Northcote College was reported positive, while a teacher at Avondale College was one of the first positive cases identified. All staff and students at the three colleges should self-isolate at least until Tuesday August 31, and monitor for any symptoms.

7.50pm: Student at Northcote College tests positive

A student at Northcote College on Auckland’s north shore has tested positive for Covid-19, according to an email sent to parents. The student is thought to have been infectious on Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 August. All staff and students are considered close contacts and required to stay in isolation for 14 days. “Even if New Zealand’s national alert level changes from the current level four, you must still complete your full, 14-day self-isolation,” is the advice from Auckland public health officials.

Meanwhile, a bunch of new locations have been added to the list of places of interest, including shopping centres, including West City and Onehunga Dress Smart. If you live in Auckland, have a scroll.

6.05pm: Five more lockdown breach arrests

Five more people have been arrested for breaching lockdown rules, police have revealed.

Three arrests were made in Christchurch after a small, 10 person, anti-lockdown protest at the Bridge fo Remembrance.

“Police engaged and encouraged the protestors to comply with alert level four restrictions, however, three were taken into custody when they refused to do so,” said a statement. The trio – two men, aged 46 and 50, and a woman, aged 56 – will appear in Christchurch District Court tomorrow morning.

A similar protest at the same location happened yesterday, with two people issued warnings.

Meanwhile, two people were arrested for refusing to wear a face covering after an “incident” at Pak N Save Kaitaia in the far north. According to police, the 44-year-old man and 23-year-old woman were acting in a disorderly manner toward supermarket staff and other members of the public. The woman was also reportedly behaving in a threatening manner.

Despite the arrests, police said they continue to see a “high level of compliance” with level four rules.

Earlier today, conspiracy theorists Billy TK and Vinny Eastwood appeared in court after holding an anti-lockdown protest outside TVNZ’s Auckland studios yesterday.

5.20pm: Lock down, look up

An astral treat is in store for many of us stuck at home this evening. We asked cosmologist Richard Easther for some tips on how to see the space station as it sails through the skies above us. Here he is:

“Looking for things to do with the whānau at level four? Here’s one. Mask up, take a walk with the crew and find a spot (with plenty of distance from any other bubbles) with a good view of the western sky an hour or so after sunset tonight.

“The bright ‘star’ near the horizon is the planet Venus. For a bit of extra lockdown distraction, Venus was recently paparazzied by two spacecraft, which zipped by the planet as they used the it’s gravity to slingshot themselves onto their long-term destinations — Mercury for Bepi Colombo, while the Solar Orbiter is being nudged into an orbit over the poles of the Sun. Check them out on Twitter here and here.

“And just on 7pm the International Space Station will cross the sky from the northwest to the southeast. We will have a vintage view of humanity’s orbiting home from home. It will take five minutes to cross the sky and is illuminated by the sun for most of that journey but will be dark for us on the ground so it stands a good chance of being visible to keen young skywatchers if the clouds cooperate. The show will be visible across the motu, and if you miss it tonight you can always check out the detailed predictions at Nasa’s Spot the Station site.”

5.05pm: ‘Even one Aucklander is one too many’

In words likely to resonate with millions around the country, the mayor of Whangārei has declared Aucklanders unwelcome. As anecdotal reports circulate about residents of New Zealand’s biggest city skipping town for their baches, Sheryl Mai said, “In the situation facing us, even one Aucklander is one too many.”

She added: “To Aucklanders who think they need to come to their holiday home in Northland, think again. This is our home, you stay in your home. Clearly this week’s new cases are Auckland-based. People coming up here from Auckland may not even know they have been exposed to virus before they left. And I just hope nobody has come up here feeling sick, that’s even worse.”

4.30pm: Billy TK pleads non-guilty

Conspiracy theorist Billy Te Kahika has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from his participation in an anti-lockdown protest yesterday. He and co-accused Vinny Eastwood appeared in the Auckland District Court, each facing two charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act and one charge under the Search and Surveillance Act. Both men, reported the Herald, have been banned from using the internet pending their reappearance in the court.

Te Kahika pleaded not guilty and was bailed to appear again in October, RNZ reported. Eastwood was remanded without plea and bailed to appear next month. The court was told the protest, held outside the TVNZ building in central Auckland, could have led to a “super-spreader” event.

Other charges relating to lockdown gatherings have been laid against a 52-year-old woman, who is due to appear in the Auckland District Court next week, and a 56-year-old woman who will appear in Tauranga District Court on Monday .

4.15pm: Community cases over time

Harkanwal Singh has plotted the Covid-19 cases detected in the community back to the first outbreak.

4.05pm: Children's commissioner backs 12-15-year-old vaccination

Andrew Becroft has applauded the decision to make the Pfizer vaccine available to people aged 12 to 15 years (see here).

“Children have a right to the highest possible standard of health, under article 24 of the UN Children’s Convention,” said the children's commissioner in a statement. “At the moment, that includes being protected from this devastating virus. The best expert advice is that children and young people aged 12 to 15 should get the vaccine, in order to keep themselves safe, and to protect those around them. We urge parents to act responsibly and to emphasise the benefits to their children of being vaccinated against Covid-19."

The assistant Māori commissioner, Glenis Philip-Barbara, urged Māori and Pacific communities to take up the new availability. “Our communities are under-protected at the moment, and this is an opportunity not just to protect our mokopuna, but also to protect our whānau and wider community,” she said.

3.50pm: Two Auckland supermarkets locations of interest from Tuesday night

Among recent additions to the locations of interest, which are based on the activities of those who have tested positive, are two supermarkets in Auckland from Tuesday evening, in the hours before the lockdown kicked in.

Those are:

  • New World Green Bay 64 Godley Road, Green Bay, August 17, 7pm-8pm.
  • New World Mt Roskill 53 May Road, Mt Roskill, August 17, 7pm-7.20pm.

More details are here. We're updating an interactive map with all of the locations of interest as they're added. Check that out here.

3.40pm: Four day-12 positive tests in MIQ

The Ministry of Health has just issued some further details on the six new cases detected in managed isolation and quarantine. It's not specified in the release, but we can assume that the three in the bubble from Australia whose cases were detected on day 12 of their stay are the family who were staying in a neighbouring room at the Crowne Plaza to the case suspected to be the source case for the current outbreak. No doubt they'll be looking into the other day-12er, too, especially after the detection in recent days of a transmission of the virus within the Jet Park quarantine facility.

Here's what the ministry release has to say about the Crowne Plaza transmission: "A bubble of three people in the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday. It was day 12 of their stay in MIQ. These returnees were in a room adjacent to the positive case from NSW under investigation as the index case in the current Auckland community cluster for period that he was at the Crowne Plaza. As a precautionary measure, a hold on some departures at the MIQ Crown Plaza hotel in Auckland was put in place last night.

"Returnees on the same floor who were scheduled to leave, are required to stay while Auckland public health officials investigate this matter, including reviewing CCTV footage and running whole genome sequencing on samples from the three new cases. We appreciate this will be disruptive for those asked to stay and we will support them as much as possible."

Meanwhile, the latest numbers on vaccination show more than 2.61 million doses administered to 11.59pm on August 18. that's comprised of 1.65 million first doses and 954,000 second doses.

3.25pm: Police warn drivers to slow down after lockdown speeding surge

Police in Wellington gave out 111 (no, really) speeding tickets yesterday on the first day of the nationwide lockdown.

One driver was travelling at 160km per hour with several others caught speeding between 130km and 145km per hour.

In a statement, Wade Jennings from Wellington police asked drivers to consider their travel during the alert level four period – and slow down. “People should be isolating at home under Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions but if you need to drive, for essential purposes, slow down and drive to the conditions,” Jennings said.

“Don’t think because there are fewer vehicles on the road that you can speed."

3.05pm: 24-hour extension to travel window for travellers unable to get home

Travellers away from their regular place of residence when the lockdown hit will now have an extra 24 hours to get home.

On Tuesday night, the government gave 48 hours notice for anyone away from home to travel. But, earlier today, Air New Zealand reported that around 600 people in Queenstown were unable to make it onto a flight before tonight's deadline for homebound travel.

Similar reports were coming in from those at the top of the South Island with insufficient Interislander sailings.

At today's 1pm briefing, Jacinda Ardern confirmed travellers would now have until midnight tomorrow to make it home.

Both Air New Zealand and the Interislander have arranged for additional trips to help meet demand. "We ask people to visit our website, or ring our call centre, to make travel bookings," said an Interislander spokesperson. "Only people travelling to their home should make bookings and proof of address is required at check in. We expect demand for bookings to increase and there is limited time for people to get home, so it is crucial that only those who have a valid reason for travelling make bookings."

2.50pm: A dispatch from the testing queue

The Spinoff's partnerships editor Alice Webb-Liddall reports on her experience of trying to get a Covid-19 test:

At 8.30am I left my house to get tested. I packed a carry-on luggage for my voyage, a mask, a fully-charged phone, a Nintendo switch, my fiancé and the complete 5-book trilogy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I’ve been slowly chipping away at for, embarrassingly, months.

The line snaking out of the Balmoral Covid-19 testing station was, when we arrived, just starting to creep up the hill towards Mt Eden Road, and having been to get tested just weeks ago at the same place, I considered that not too bad.

At around midday we got a text from a friend (the one who’d conveniently had a night at the casino last Saturday, and the reason we were here) who’d been in the same line since 8am. He was still waiting and had estimated at least a couple more hours for himself. In the time since arriving, I’d read 300 pages, watched numerous Instagram stories and eaten a whole bag of chips that had been left on the footpath 20 metres away by a passing acquaintance.

Two hours later, as we rounded yet another corner we had thought was the last, a passerby out for her daily walk, and inexplicably carrying a block of cheese, told us the line was about four more hours long. “You go around here, down to the end of the road, around again and then snake through the carpark.” I’m not sure what it was that made me trust the cheese lady, but we took her word and left the line.

Five hours after first lining up, we called our GP, who had a spot open up for us to get tested just after 4pm. Now we’re at home, eating leftovers and frantically trying to scramble a day’s work into three hours.

The moral of this story is: call your GP.

2.20pm: A friendly reminder

If you are seeking a test, call your GP first!

They may be able to administer a test and save you a long wait in the car. The queue for a test at the Northcote Community Centre in Auckland currently stretches for 1.5km, with those near the front reporting they’ve been waiting for over five hours.

If you need a test, call your GP. If they’re unable to help, be prepared for a lot of alone time in your car.

2.00pm: Four charged following lockdown protests

Two men, aged 49 and 36, were due to appear in Auckland District Court today, each facing two charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act, and one charge under the Search and Surveillance Act, police have confirmed in a statement. The men, whom the statement does not name, are Billy Te Kahika and Vinny Eastwood. It followed yesterday's protest against lockdown measures in central Auckland.

A 52-year-old woman will appear in the same court next week facing two charges, one under each of the acts. Three of the four people arrested at a protest in Tauranga yesterday have been issued with formal warnings, with one 56-year-old woman scheduled to appear in Tauranga District Court on Monday facing one charge under the Health Act.

"Police reiterate that so far we have seen the overwhelming majority of people doing the right thing, staying at home and keeping themselves, their whānau and communities safe by doing so," said police commissioner Andrew Coster. "Where, however, people engage in activity that endangers public safety during this outbreak, police will respond quickly and decisively to prevent any risk to our communities."

Police had received 684 online breach complaints as of 5pm yesterday, they've announced in a release, with about a third of those in Auckland. That included 322 about a gathering, 320 about a business and 42 about an individual.

They'd also undertaken more than 2,500 "tasks relating to alert level four restrictions". Those included "reassurance visits to essential facilities, patrols, and checks following reports about people, businesses and gatherings potentially in breach".

They were pursuing an "education-first approach" on the new rules on wearing face masks.

1.30pm: Vaccine to be made available for 12-15 year olds

The Pfizer vaccine will be available for 12-15 year olds, Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.

From September 1, people within the age bracket will be able to book in for the jab just like everyone else in group four. And, from tomorrow, parents and caregivers who are already eligible for the jab will be able to book their children in too – or just bring them along to a booking that they have already made.

The decision to widen the vaccine's availability was "not taken lightly", Ardern said.

There are 265,000 people in this age bracket, Ardern said, and there will be sufficient supply of the Pfizer vaccine to cover everyone.

1.10pm: Cases in Auckland outbreak 'close match' to recent returnee from Sydney; 11 new cases confirmed

There are 11 new positive cases of Covid-19 in the community, bringing the total number in the Auckland cluster up to 21.

Despite a number of locations of interest in Coromandel, all of the 21 cases confirmed been linked to Auckland.

Of these, Ashley Bloomfield confirmed 12 cases have been linked together with, eight under investigation. One of the 21, the air crew member, is confirmed unlikely to be linked to the cluster, and "probably coincidental", said Bloomfield.

Two of the community cases are in North Shore Hospital. One is in their 20s, the other in their 40s. Both are in a stable condition.

Wastewater collected on Monday returned positive results from three locations in Auckland, Bloomfield added. This backed up Bloomfield's assertion that the locations of interest dating back to August 3 were likely precautionary as opposed to a sign that the delta variant has been spreading.

Wastewater testing from a range of other sites across the country have all returned negative.

Bloomfield said almost 16,000 test swabs were collected across Auckland yesterday – one of the busiest days on record. Yesterday was the busiest day for the Healthline number since April last year, said Bloomfield, and a record for the Ministry of Health website.

So far, all staff at Auckland Hospital tested have returned negative results after a fully vaccinated health worker contracted the virus. Bloomfield said that while he had little detail on the new cases, he understood that five of the 11 new cases were a household with a link to Avondale College – the school where an infected person worked.

Source of the outbreak believed to be Sydney returnee

Whole genome sequencing has confirmed a link between the current Auckland delta outbreak and a returnee from Sydney who spent time in managed isolation.

Jacinda Ardern confirmed the individual had received a positive Covid-19 test on August 9 and was transferred to the Jet Park quarantine facility. They then became sick, and were transferred to Middlemore Hospital a week later on August 16.

"Based on timelines, there are minimal – possibly only one or two – between this returnee and cases in this current outbreak," Ardern said. "We can now be fairly certain how and when the virus entered the country."

Primary focus for investigation are staff at the Crowne Plaza and Jet Park hotels and those involved in transportation. There were 208 staff who worked at the Crown Plaza while the positive case was there, with 200 working at the Jet Park during the relevant period.

Ardern confirmed that just one of those 408 staffers are overdue for testing, but by less than 48 hours. A family that was staying adjacent to the likely source case at the Crowne Plaza has also tested positive.

"Today we believe we have uncovered the piece of the puzzle that we were looking for," Ardern added. "This information today gives us a good strong sense that it may not have been long [in the community]."

Bloomfield added: "the focus now remains very much on controlling further spread of the outbreak."

A decision on whether most of the country will move out of level four after the 72 hour period will be made tomorrow morning by ministers and announced at the 1pm update.

Locations of interest pass 100

There are now more than 100 locations of interest linked to the outbreak. While they date back to August 3, Bloomfield said this was likely a precautionary measure and did not necessarily mean 16 days of delta transmission.

This morning, 40 new locations were added to the Ministry of Health website, including supermarkets, bars, cinemas and eateries.

Surge in vaccine bookings during lockdown

Yesterday saw 195,000 vaccine bookings made on the busiest day yet for the booking site.

Ardern said that there was a spike during yesterday's 1pm update with more than 7000 people accessing the site every minute. The website, Ardern said, performed "exceptionally".

12.45pm: Bloomfield and Ardern to reveal new cases as locations of interest surge past 100


Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are about to reveal details of any new Covid-19 cases linked to the growing Auckland cluster.

While no cases have so far been announced today, Bloomfield this morning said he expected the number would rise – especially from household contacts of known cases.

An unconfirmed report from the Herald has suggested the total number of delta Covid-19 cases will jump past 20 today, with two people said to be seriously unwell.

Meanwhile, the number of locations of interest has now passed 100.

Watch below:

12.20pm: Distract yourself during lockdown with all new Gone By Lunchtime

There's 40 minutes until 1pm, just enough time to listen to the new episode of Gone By Lunchtime.

Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas assemble over Zoom for a late night lockdown pod discussing: the inevitable return of Covid in the community, the Skegg report, vaccine hesitancy, Afghanistan, Winston Peters and a snub from Simon Bridges.

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

12.15pm: Casino workers self-isolating after delta scare

240 Skycity Casino workers have entered self-isolation after a delta scare at the venue late on Friday night.

The inner city casino is one of more than 70 locations of interest linked to the new Auckland outbreak and was visited between 1.15am and 3am in the early hours of Saturday.

SkyCity chief executive Michael Ahearne told the Herald that 240 of his staff were working on the main casino gaming floor during this time and all are now in isolation.

"Public health authorities have advised that all customers who were on the main gaming floor at the same time are deemed close contacts and are advised to stay home, watch for symptoms and get tested," he added.

Meanwhile, close to 3000 students and staff from Avondale College have also entered self-isolation after a teacher at the school tested positive for Covid-19.

11.50am: A reminder – what to do if you, or a contact, visited a location of interest

With the list of Covid-19 exposure sites continuing to grow, I thought it was worth recapping the rules for self-isolation.

Under the section 70 order, self-isolation truly means isolation. For 14 days after your last possible exposure to the coronavirus, you are unable to leave your place of residence "except as required to report and submit for testing as directed".

Household contacts of people who have been at a location of interest – or anyone classified as a contact – are expected to do something similar, but for a shorter period of time.

If you fit into this category, but did not visit the location of interest yourself, you must still isolate at home – except as required to report and submit for testing –  until the person who visited the location of interest has received a negative day five test. The only exception to this is if contact between you and the other person has ceased earlier, in which case any negative test from them is acceptable.

It's all a bit confusing but with the rapid rise of locations of interest, and with more cases set to be announced, it's a timely reminder.

Read the full ministry information here

11.00am: New Covid-19 cases expected to be announced as locations of interest grow


A handful more possible Covid-19 exposure sites have been confirmed today, with health officials poised to reveal new cases identified overnight.

Ashley Bloomfield this morning told media that officials would know of any new cases by 9am, with details expected to be revealed after that and possibly ahead of the 1pm update.

The new locations include Countdown in Takapuna and Domino's Pizza in Beach Haven.

The full list is available here and can be seen on the map below:

10.40am: Air NZ asks for extra time to get Queenstown tourists home

Hundreds of travellers are stuck in Queenstown, with Air New Zealand asking the government for extra time to get people out.

Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday night that people had 48 hours to get home for lockdown if they were away from their usual place of residence. Air New Zealand's chief executive Greg Foran told RNZ roughly 5000 customers had been scheduled to travel back from Queenstown between Tuesday night and Sunday – and it was a tough ask to get them all on planes before midnight tonight.

About 600 people still needed to get on a flight, Foran said, asking for an extension from the government to make sure everyone could get back home as soon as possible.

“We’re doing everything we can, and most people are going to get to where they [need to] get to, but I do know we’re probably going to have a bit of a pinch point in Queenstown,” he said.

Air New Zealand flight NZ1942 touches down at Auckland Airport after evacuating almost 200 people from Wuhan, China. (Photo by Dean Purcell-Pool/Getty Images)

10.10am: A dispatch from Rarotonga

The Spinoff's Alice Neville is in cloudy but lockdown-free Rarotonga and wrote this yesterday afternoon:

Greetings from Raro, where we’re in the comparatively chill alert level two (sorry, but if it makes you feel better the weather hasn’t been great), and I’ve just had a Covid test next to some lovely pigs.

A text was sent to Cook Islands numbers overnight announcing the level shift and that Te Marae Ora would be testing everyone who had arrived from New Zealand since Wednesday last week. An email from the secretary of health to our accommodation provider the following day said that those who had been at locations of interest, were symptomatic or had been in the Coromandel were being prioritised.

They must have got through those groups pretty quickly as when we called up the contact tracing number provided, we were told to head to one of four pop-up testing centres on the island that afternoon.

I’m here with my parents, sister, brother-in-law and their kids, and we did two shifts for child-minding purposes (those under 15 don’t have to be tested, to the great relief of my nine-year-old nephew and the disappointment of my six-year-old niece, who has had a Covid test before and enjoyed the street cred it earned her).

The first group had to wait about an hour but when my sister and I turned up at the roadside Black Rock testing centre (next to a pig pen) at about 6pm, we were in and out in about 15 minutes – very efficient! All the centres were staying open till 11pm.

We’ll receive our results within a couple of days and will lay low until then.

(Photos / Alice Neville : The Spinoff)

Aside from a historical case in June, the Cook Islands has always been Covid-free, and they want to keep it that way. The rollout of the Pfizer jab began in May and now an impressive 93% of the eligible population is vaccinated. The border is open only to those travelling from New Zealand, of course, and on the plane you’re given multiple forms to fill in, as well as a “CookSafe” card with a unique QR code to be scanned in at participating venues.

Given the easy-to-lose nature of the card and the fact the scanners aren’t everywhere, it’s not quite as user-friendly as the NZ Covid Tracer app, but as news of the Aotearoa outbreak filtered through, businesses have been pretty thorough at directing customers to scan.

There’s a complementary app to download called CookSafe+, which works in the same way as the bluetooth tracing function in the NZ app.

We’re supposed to be leaving Rarotonga on Saturday to arrive home in Auckland on Sunday afternoon, and aren’t sure whether that’s likely to change. When the news first came through, we thought they might turf all recent New Zealand visitors out, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Presumably we’ll be able to come home as planned but if not, well… hopefully The Spinoff will be sweet with me working from Raro?

9.20am: Conspiracy theorists to appear in court over lockdown breach

Conspiracy theorists Billy TK and Vinny Eastwood will appear in court today after hosting an anti-lockdown rally outside TVNZ's Auckland studio yesterday.

According to Newshub, the pair each face three charges after their arrest: two charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act, and one charge under the Search and Surveillance Act.

As reported in our live updates yesterday, TK did not resist arrest and said he was "happy to comply". The full dramatic speech delivered by Eastwood, a fellow anti-lockdown conspiracy theorist, as the police closed in has been transcribed by David Farrier on his Webworm substack. It's well worth the read.

There were another two lockdown protests yesterday, in Tauranga and Nelson.

9.00am: Up to 80 defence force personnel depart for Afghanistan

The C-130 Hercules has departed for the Middle East, bringing with it up to 80 personnel to support the international response.

The deployment was sparked by the Taliban insurgence in Afghanistan that saw the government fall and the president flee.

In a statement, defence minister Peeni Henare said the defence force has prepared to deploy for up to a month. The contingent will include air crew and maintenance staff, a medical team, operational support staff, logistics personnel and force protection, among others.

“We will be working alongside partner militaries, such as our ally Australia, as we respond to this rapidly evolving humanitarian situation. This means that we may see some individuals bound for New Zealand, returned on Australian/partner’s assets, and vice versa, as partners look to cooperate wherever they can to safely expedite the evacuation."

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules is loaded, then takes off for Afghanistan.

8.35am: All the locations of interest on an interactive map

Today we debut a new visualisation showing all the current locations of interest.

It was created by former NZ Herald head of data journalism Harkanwal Singh – and we're very excited to announce that he will soon be joining us as The Spinoff's first head of data. We'll have more on this when he officially starts at the beginning of September, but between now and then he will be creating some very handy charts and maps as we grapple with this new stage of the pandemic.

Read the full post here. On desktop, click and drag to navigate or use ctrl (Windows) / ⌘ (Mac) while scrolling to zoom in and out; hover for name and time stamps for the location. On mobile, drag and pinch to zoom and out, click for name and time stamps.

App users: if the map isn't working, click here to load in-browser.

8.10am: Maskless shoppers won't be turned away from Countdown supermarkets

Countdown supermarkets will allow shoppers to enter without face masks, citing a risk to staff members if they have to keep people out.

But Pak n Save and New World – owned by Foodstuffs – will be keeping maskless shoppers away from their stores.

As of midnight last night, face masks have become mandatory for all people over the age of 12 at essential services such as grocery stores.

Countdown spokesperson Kiri Hannifin told RNZ her staff should not need to become bouncers. "If [customers] refuse or if they become aggressive or violent or angry we're just going to walk away from that conflict, we're not going to engage, I don't want my team to get hurt and where we have to we'll escalate it to the police."

7.55am: The Bulletin – 100 cases could exist as delta cluster spreads

Here is today's top story from The Bulletin

“We’re expecting more.” Auckland’s delta cluster is growing and as the prime minister warned yesterday, more cases will be coming. Early evidence is a mix of positive and concerning. Wastewater testing has shown no sign of a large-scale outbreak, but as RNZ reports, experts say the delta variant linked back to New South Wales could have been spreading for the past two weeks in the community.

Potentially many more. I was struck yesterday by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield’s assertion that up to 120 cases might have existed in the community on Tuesday, when the first case was detected. That number came from expert modeller Shaun Hendy. He told The Bulletin that the estimate has since been revised down to about 100 cases. That’s not the expected final size of the cluster, just where it stood before lockdown.

Handy warned there won’t be a quick exit. While the entire country will be in level four lockdown until the end of Friday at least, the size of the cluster and the infectiousness of the delta variant means an extension is likely. “We’re talking about weeks at alert level four to contain this outbreak,” he said. He was referring only to Auckland at this point “but it might change” if cases are detected elsewhere.

The flat at the centre of the outbreak. A flat of four young professionals have found themselves in the middle of this story. One of the flatmates, a man, works with the 58-year-old tradesperson from Devonport who first tested positive on Tuesday. He also lives with a nurse, a teacher and another man. The two women are sisters and their father shared a number of details with Michael Neilson from the NZ Herald.

The link to the border is, at the moment, unclear. Of the five cases announced yesterday afternoon, health officials said a woman in her 60s tested positive and “has a connection to the border”. It’s not yet known if she has links with the nine prior reported cases. If a firm connection can be made to the border, modelling for the size of the outbreak could be significantly reduced. Uncertainty between when the virus arrived and the first case was detected is one of the reasons the number of possible cases is so high.

Locations of interest now go back to the start of August. The ministry of health is casting a wide net in Auckland covering dozens of locations across the city. If you’ve been in Auckland over the past few weeks, just give them a look.

As the 48 hour deadline looms, planes fill. People have until the end of today to get home before a 48-hour travel window closes. Stuff has the story of one place where thousands are waiting to get home: Queenstown. Air New Zealand is mobilising larger jets than usual in an attempt to fly 5,000 people home before the deadline, but the airline has warned it might not get everyone out. It’s a window into the way this virus continues to disrupt lives, in both small and large ways.

It’s a far cry from a week ago, when the government hosted a reopening forum. The country’s top epidemiologists spoke confidently about the possibility of relaxing border restrictions to a packed Wellington room where no masks were present. On Monday, Sir David Skegg spoke to this newsletter about how masks diminish quality of life. That conversation is no longer theoretical. Yesterday, everyone inside the Beehive was wearing masks and keeping an appropriate distance, while outside, the streets of the capital were largely deserted. At least three anti-lockdown protests were busted by police across the country. The Spinoff’s live updates captured an absolutely wild day.

7.20am: Covid case numbers set to rise as almost 70 locations of interest confirmed

Almost 70 locations of interest have now been confirmed around Auckland and Coromandel with the director general of health warning that more Covid-19 cases will likely be announced today. The first location of interest – an Auckland dumpling restaurant – was visited by a confirmed Covid case more than two weeks ago on August 3.

So far, 10 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the community. All have the highly infectious delta strain of the virus and nine have been directly linked to one another. The 10th, an Air New Zealand crew member, has a link to the border but cannot be connected to the rest of the cluster.

Speaking to RNZ, Ashley Bloomfield said the number of cases will continue to rise. "[In New South Wales] we've seen around 70% of the cases there have been household contacts... so we're fully expecting there to be more cases overnight," he said.

As of 7am this morning, no new cases could be confirmed.

Asked about the Air New Zealand crew member – a woman in her 60s – that tested positive yesterday with a link to the border, Bloomfield said this could be an unrelated case. While the woman has a direct link to the border there has so far been no way to link her with the other nine community cases.

The August 3 location of interest was likely "precautionary", Bloomfield said, and did not necessarily mean the case was infectious when they visited. He expected that regular wastewater testing in Auckland would have revealed any presence of Covid-19 in the community. "It may well be that one of the cases has described symptoms that go back that far" but was not actually infectious, Bloomfield said.

On Newstalk ZB, Bloomfield acknowledged that uptake of the Covid Tracer app has recently been low. But, he said this was just one element of the contact tracing system and it was important people familiarised themselves with the list of locations of interest.

Whether lockdown will be extended will depend on a cabinet decision tomorrow. Depending on the rise in case numbers, there could be a different decision for the South Island, Bloomfield posited. Rumours of confirmed cases in the south were so far unfounded, Bloomfield said.

The full list of locations of interest is available here

7.10am: What we know this morning

  • 10 Covid-19 cases have so far been confirmed in the Auckland community.
  • One of these, a woman in her 60s, has a connection to the border.
  • There are almost 70 locations of interest dating back more than two weeks.
  • Lockdown is currently scheduled to end tomorrow night (except in Auckland and Coromandel)
Keep going!