Election Live, September 21: NZ dropping to level one, Auckland to full level two

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 21, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7pm: The day in sum

Auckland will move down to alert level two on Wednesday night. The rest of the country will move down to alert level one from midnight tonight.

No new cases of Covid-19 were announced.

Jacinda Ardern admitted she made a mistake posing for a group photo in Palmerston North that breached her government’s own social distancing rules.

National revealed its $1.29 billion technology policy which would create at least 100,000 technology sector jobs by 2030.

Air New Zealand’s CEO said he was not expecting a “trans-Tasman bubble” for at least another six months.

3.10pm: ‘Two weeks too long’ at level two, says Business Chamber

The Auckland Business Chamber has criticised the government’s decision to place Auckland into full alert level two for a further fortnight, saying it gives no credit to the level of compliance and vigilance Aucklanders have shown.

“It’s not one for all for the team of five million,” said chamber CEO Michael Barnett. “Why could we not move to a level one and a bit to get back into step with the rest of the country which needs Auckland to get moving?

“Our events, venues and hospitality are left in the cold while limited to a maximum audience of 100,” Barnett said.

Barnett questioned why the government hasn’t accelerated fast turnaround testing and track and trace technologies.

2.15pm: Ardern admits mistake in posing for group photo

The prime minister has admitted she should not have posed for a group photo in Palmerston North, that did not obey her government’s own social distancing rules.

Neither Ardern nor any of the people in the photo were wearing masks or spaced.

The picture has been criticised by National and Act, with David Seymour labelling Ardern “self-serving”.

Speaking to reporters this morning, National leader Judith Collins said she was shocked.

“I was staggered to see the prime minister clearly not socially distancing with no mask just the other day in Palmerston North in a level 2 lockdown,” she said.

Jacinda Ardern has said she made a mistake and she should have tried harder to obey the rules.

1.10pm: Auckland to move to level two on Wednesday night

Updated

Auckland is shifting down to full alert level two arrangements from 11.59pm on Wednesday night, Jacinda Ardern confirmed.  This means gatherings of 100 people will be permitted in Auckland, an increase from the current restriction of just 10.

The city will remain under these restrictions for a further 14 days (or one transmission cycle for Covid-19), with the possibility of dropping down alert levels on Wednesday, October 7. Cabinet will be meeting on October 5 to consider the possible move.

The rest of the country will move down to alert level one, as expected, from midnight tonight.

“There is no costless response to Covid, no matter what your strategy is,” Ardern said. However, she said the latest GDP figures are not as severe as some had predicted.

Ardern urged Aucklanders to stay vigilant, staying home if they’re sick, continuing to wear face coverings and scanning in via the Covid Tracer app.

Mandated masks on public transport will remain in Auckland but become optional for the rest of the country. Passengers on flights in and out of Auckland will also have to wear masks, while on other flights it will be encouraged but not mandated.

“These actions are a small price to pay to ensure we can remain these settings for as long as possible,” Ardern said.

Ardern said ministers have agreed to enter into a legally binding agreement for the option to purchase approved Covid vaccines for up to 50% of the population of New Zealand, Tokelau, the Cook Islands and Niue. This is via the Covax facility, which ensures a vaccine will be equitably distributed worldwide.

It will not be the only agreement we enter into, said Ardern, and it’s likely we’ll have purchase agreements with a number of organisations.

1.00pm: No new Covid-19 cases on day of alert level decision

Updated

There are no new Covid-19 cases, Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

However, the director general has provided an update on the case of a man who tested positive for the virus since returning to Auckland, after spending 14-days in managed isolation.

Bloomfield said the best advice still remains to spend two weeks in isolation, with testing on days three and 12.

The man remained aware of his health after leaving managed isolation, Bloomfield said. He was praised for his vigilance after he became unwell. The man isolated himself and called Healthline, who encouraged him to get a test.

Three neighbours of the man are in self-isolation, and their tests have so far been negative. There were 86 people onboard a flight from Christchurch to Auckland who had all finished managed isolation. Those in the nine rows nearest to the man are being tested and are isolating.

Just how the man contracted Covid-19 remained to be seen, Bloomfield said. The source of infection was “still under investigation” and they remain “open minded”. CCTV footage of the isolation facility was being examined to see if the man might have contracted Covid from another person there, said Bloomfield.

The 86 people who had completed managed isolation and travelled with the man on a charter flight from Christchurch to Auckland were being contacted and assessed.

“He could’ve been infected in India before departure and had a very long and unusual period of incubation,” said Bloomfield. “He may well have been infected on the flight to New Zealand – there have been eight other cases from that flight and genomic testing has already linked this case to two other cases on the flight.

“He could have become infected on the charter flight from someone else who had left MIQ and was returning to Auckland – we are not ruling out any scenarios.”

Questioned after Bloomfield’s briefing, Jacinda Ardern said she was confident the cause of the case would be identified. She said it was possible a third Covid-19 test could be introduced for those who had left managed isolation.

There are now 40 people in the Auckland quarantine facility, 17 community cases and their family members.

The total number of active cases is 62 – of those, 29 are imported cases in MIQ facilities, and 33 are community cases. The total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remains at 1,464.

There were 3568 tests processed yesterday.

12.55pm: Watch live: Update on Covid cases, alert levels

The prime minister and Ashley Bloomfield are moments away from speaking in Auckland, where an update on new Covid-19 cases as well as our alert levels will be provided.

I’ll have all the latest info for you right here on Election Live, and you can tune in below:

11.45am: Bloomfield joining PM for 1pm update

Ashley Bloomfield will be joining the prime minister in Auckland for today’s Covid-19 briefing at 1pm.

Cabinet has been meeting this morning ahead of Jacinda Ardern’s address, where she will update on any changes to our alert levels. At this stage, the country – except Auckland – is expected to drop down to alert level one at 11.59pm tonight.

10.40am: National reveals billion dollar tech policy

National’s hoping its $1.29 billion technology policy will bring its election campaign back on track, after the weekend’s $4 billion fiscal hole debate.

The party’s announced a plan to create at least 100,000 technology sector jobs by 2030. A new ministerial role would also be created – a minister for technology.

“Doubling the size of the technology sector by 2030 is an ambitious goal, but one that I am serious about achieving,” Judith Collins said.

National’s also promised 1000 tertiary scholarships per year targeted at students from low decile schools to undertake science, technology, engineering and maths degrees.

“National will give Kiwis with world-class skills and experience the chance to flourish right here and help grow our economy, rather than hit them with higher taxes like Labour will,” Collins claimed.

10.30am: Judith Collins defends $4b fiscal hole

It wouldn’t be an election campaign without a fiscal hole. This time, it’s threatening to dismantle National’s run for office.

The $4 billion hole means National’s intention to bring debt down to 35% of GDP by 2034 will now be revised to 36%.

Appearing on RNZ this morning, Collins defended the error, noting that it’s something her party’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith had apologised for.

“I’m not sure that’s going to the biggest issue, frankly, going into this election,” Collins said.

“What we are saying is that we will be borrowing money but we will be having less debt in 10-14 years time than the current Labour forecasts have it.”

The party’s desired tax cuts won’t have to go, Collins confirmed, despite the incorrect numbers.

Collins said the errors in Treasury’s hard copy Prefu documents showed how easy it was to make mistakes. Tresury admitted there were numerous mistakes in the printed version of their pre-election fiscal update, however the online documents were correct.

“When Paul [Goldsmith]’s done the calculations, what he’s done is he hasn’t noted that there was one figure out, and that is one figure actually compared to a Prefu so bad we … ended up having to use the website one, because the printed document had multiple errors in it,” Collins said.

“So one error putting together a budget in two days – it’s not great but it’s not life threatening.”

10.20am: Police admit disclosing Covid-19 patients details

The police have apologised after a report by the Privacy Commissioner revealed they had disclosed the Covid-19 status of six patients to prospective employers.

In a statement, a police spokesperson said they had accepted the findings and apologised to the six people whose information had been shared.

“We are sorry for the release of information and we acknowledge that this should not have happened,” assistant commissioner service Jevon McSkimming said.

8.15am: No trans-Trasman bubble ‘before March’ – Air NZ boss

Hopes of quarantine free travel to Australia in the near future have been dashed by Air New Zealand’s boss Greg Foran, who said he’s not expecting a “trans-Tasman bubble” for at least another six months.

Talk of travel resuming between Australia and New Zealand had been talked about before Victoria’s massive spike in Covid-19 cases and the return of the coronavirus to the Auckland community last month.

“I certainly do not believe we will see anything across the Tasman this calendar year. It’s hard to believe it would be before March next year and could well be longer,” Foran told the Sydney Morning Herald.”If it comes back quicker, we’re going to pop some champagne.”

Foran believed that when international travel does resume it will be “clunkier”, meaning the possibility of rapid Covid-19 tests, along with improved tracking and tracing measures.

“Elimination, which is a worthy thing to go after, is probably not sustainable based on what we’re now learning, which is the vaccine is not going to be 100% effective, not everybody is going to take it, and it’s going to take years to get distributed,” he said.

7.40am: Cabinet reviewing alert levels, decision expected today

Cabinet will today meet to review our alert levels, as officials work to determine the source of a mystery Covid-19 case.

There were two new community cases yesterday, both linked to a man who arrived in Christchurch from India on August 27. He returned two negative tests in hotel isolation in Christchurch then returned to his home in Auckland on September 11. The man tested positive on September 16, meaning he spent five days outside of managed isolation.

Jacinda Ardern will be speaking later this afternoon to announce the latest on our alert levels. It’s expected the country, except Auckland, will drop to alert level one at 11.59pm tonight. Meanwhile, Auckland may have to spend longer in alert level 2.5 as officials scramble to determine the cause of the latest Covid-19 cases.

We’ll be covering off all you need to know here, throughout the day.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

To lead off today, one of the most important single numbers for the rural economy. Fonterra has announced a payout for the season of $7.19 per kg of milk solids for all fully share-backed farmers, who own the cooperative. That is the fourth best price ever achieved in Fonterra’s history, reports Stuff’s John Anthony, and includes a return to paying out dividends of 5c a share. This is at the lower end of the dividend range, but still marks a return to paying dividends, which had to be suspended when the cooperative slumped in previous years. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jamie Gray reports that more asset sales are likely, including businesses in China and Brazil.

How has the return to profit been achieved? The seeds were planted last year, when Fonterra went for a ‘back to basics’ strategy – for more on that, read this piece from former business editor Maria Slade from September 2019. It basically involved Fonterra abandoning plans to become the dominant player in the global dairy industry, and instead focus on the core business of collecting, processing and shipping New Zealand milk. That involved asset sales, but as this report from the NZ Herald shows, going into the shock of Covid-19 in a sounder financial position allowed them to weather it much better.

And why does it matter? Like it or not, dairying income props up huge swathes of the country. There was a quote in Gray’s story from Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard – “A lot of people have been pretty despondent about the last couple of years over what has gone wrong, so there is good, positive momentum going forward,” Hoggard said. “It will lift a lot of people’s spirits.” As Business Desk’s (paywalled) Rebecca Howard wrote the day before the announcement, agriculture has held the line while other sectors in regional New Zealand have been hammered – particularly tourism, accommodation and food service. With any luck, a lot of that milk payout will flow into the towns around the farms too.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.00am: Yesterday’s headlines

There were four new cases of Covid-19 revealed. Two were in the community, but not linked to the “Auckland August cluster”. They are household contacts of a man who recently tested negative twice while in mandatory isolation.

The news came on the eve of a cabinet decision on alert levels, set to be announced at 1pm.

National launched its campaign, virtually, with an event in the Hutt Valley and around the country.

Paul Goldsmith admitted an error in National’s economic plan had overstated the savings from halting Super Fund payments, saying it was “regrettable and irritating”.

That came after Grant Robertson revealed the error, calling it a “basic mistake” to the tune of $4 billion that would never have happened under Key and English.

The Greens announced policy to make at least 30% of New Zealand oceans protected reserves, along with a crackdown on commercial fishing methods.



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