Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 21, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Say hello at email@example.com.
- There are 14 new community cases of Covid-19.
- Of these, 13 are in Auckland one is a household contact in upper Hauraki.
- 10 cases remain epidemiologically unlinked (including one case from today).
- More than 50,000 vaccine doses were given out nationwide yesterday.
- Auckland will move to alert level three at 11.59pm tonight.
6.30pm: Level three move riskier for Māori – Henare
Associate health minister Peeni Henare says he accepts that moving Auckland to level three tonight is putting Māori there at greater risk.
In an interview with Lisa Owen on Checkpoint, Henare said he was OK with cabinet’s decision to move Auckland out of full lockdown at 11.59pm tonight, but accepted that on account of their lower vaccination rates, Māori were at greater risk than the wider population.
Henare said currently, around 25.4% of Māori are fully vaccinated, compared to 39% of the general population. “I’m not happy with the numbers,” he said. “We know that the rates are lagging behind, but we’re encouraged that the numbers are picking up and we’ll do everything we can to make sure they continue to rise.”
He said the health ministry had worked with Māori health providers to change its approach, referencing Manurewa marae, which early in the rollout opened a vaccination clinic but found the majority of people who came in to be vaccinated were not Māori. The marae is now operating one of the vaccination buses that goes into communities to deliver the vaccine.
4.20pm: Man arrested after refusing to wear mask at supermarket, punching fellow shopper
Police have arrested a man who was allegedly abusive and threatening towards staff and customers after being asked to wear a mask at a Pukekohe supermarket on Sunday.
He is alleged to have punched a 70-year-old male customer inside the store and threatened staff. The 20-year-old man left the supermarket before police arrived but was located and arrested, and was due to appear in Pukekohe District Court today charged with a number of offences. The victim did not require medical treatment but was shaken, as were other customers and staff, say police.
Meanwhile, people are still trying to cross the Auckland boundary into alert level two without permission, say police. In the early hours of this morning a vehicle was stopped at the Mercer checkpoint trying to travel south. “The driver claimed he was transiting through Auckland to the Waikato region, however after police spoke to him it was found not to be the case,” according to a police statement. “While at the checkpoint, another man was found hiding in the car’s boot.” Both men, aged 25 and 26, were issued with infringement notices.
Police are also reminding travellers of speed restrictions in place at the checkpoints, after issuing a man with several infringement notices despite the fact he had the appropriate documentation after he “accelerated aggressively” and drove at over 90km/h as he left a northern checkpoint.
3.40pm: Confusion over Shaw’s trip to Glasgow
Earlier today we reported comments made by climate change minister James Shaw to media about his upcoming trip to the COP26 conference in Glasgow.
He said: “At the moment I’m waiting to find out if I’ve got a spot [in MIQ] and if I don’t have a spot I won’t be going.” Clarifying that he was roughly 15,000th in the queue, that implied Shaw would be joining the public and trying his best to get a spot in a managed isolation facility.
Since then, the PM Jacinda Ardern has made the waters slightly murkier. At today’s 1pm presser, she implied Shaw and the nine officials travelling with him would be given special treatment on their return – and that’s angered the opposition.
“The prime minister should step in and tell minister Shaw not to travel to COP26 at all or, at the very least, significantly reduce the size of his entourage,” said National’s climate change spokesperson Stuart Smith.
3.25pm: Covid spokespeople go head to head over pace of vaccine rollout
National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop has taken aim at the speed of the government’s rollout again at question time in parliament today, resulting in a heated exchange with Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.
Hipkins accused Bishop of undermining the vaccine campaign and spreading misinformation after the National MP asked if the current lockdown could have been shortened had a higher proportion of people been vaccinated earlier. Bishop pointed to modelling by Shaun Hendy of Te Pūnaha Matatini from June that suggested lockdown length could be halved if 50% of the population was vaccinated compared to 30%.
In August, only 19% of New Zealand’s eligible population was fully vaccinated, said Bishop.
Hipkins responded that Covid-19 “hunts out those parts of the community that are unvaccinated”, which tends to be those in lower socioeconomic areas who are often more susceptible to adverse health outcomes from Covid-19. “Setting an arbitrary target isn’t actually the ultimate answer here.”
When Bishop asked if he accepted New Zealand would be in a better position had we not been the slowest to roll out the vaccine in the OECD, Hipkins said he “utterly rejected” that assertion. Referencing earlier suggestions that New Zealand was running out of vaccines, Hipkins said of Bishop, “Instead of undermining the vaccine campaign, perhaps he should get behind it.”
When Bishop asked if Hipkins thought Aucklanders in lockdown would now be reflecting negatively on statements made in the past by ministers to the effect of “it doesn’t matter how fast our vaccine rollout is because other countries need it more”, the minister reacted angrily, saying no such things had been said.
Hipkins said Bishop should “stop spreading misinformation”, and that New Zealanders should “think twice about any of the statements he makes because they don’t stack up”.
3.15pm: Canada’s Trudeau likely to remain prime minister
Political editor and actual Canadian Justin Giovannetti writes:
A quarter of polls are in and prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals seem likely to hold onto power in Canada, according to CBC.
Early results show his party losing a few seats, while the main Conservative opposition and left-wing New Democrats have picked up support. Trudeau has run a minority government since 2019, which means he has to strike a deal with opposition parties to win every vote in parliament.
He called an election last month, years ahead of schedule, when his party was high in the polls and firmly in majority territory. His support bled off during a campaign marked by anti-vaccination protests and a fourth wave of Covid-19. Trudeau’s gamble seems to have failed and many voters made it clear during his time on the hustings that they didn’t appreciate the early election.
While the composition of parliament is unlikely to change, Trudeau will return to Ottawa weakened by the result.
An election ending in a minority government that hangs on every vote in parliament might seem unusual to New Zealanders, who are used to parties forming stable coalitions in the MMP era. Canadians and their politicians have concluded, for better or worse, that coalitions are somehow anti-democratic and they’ve been largely anathema outside of wartime.
3.00pm: Collins pushes Ardern on elimination strategy as question time returns
Parliament’s back and with it question time.
National’s Judith Collins took the opportunity to question whether or not the government’s elimination strategy for Covid-19 was still in play with Auckland set to move to level three overnight. Earlier today, Collins claimed the government had moved to a “suppression strategy”.
In response, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the goal was still very much elimination. “We continue to take a zero tolerance approach” to Covid, she said.
However, the PM would still not answer whether or not another level four lockdown was possible. Ardern has faced questions at the 1pm press conference, on morning media and now in the House about whether she would consider using level four again and has refused to give a definitive answer, calling it hypothetical. “We now have vaccinations available and we are working incredibly hard to make sure everyone who is eligible is vaccinated,” she said.
Collins then asked why we were only now using vaccinations to prevent lockdowns, when just 20% of the eligible population had received their jab at the start of the delta outbreak. “We long signalled that the arrival of our largest orders of doses would be in the latter half of 2021,” said Ardern, to jeers from the opposition.
The debate then descended into some minor chaos over microphone usage which I will not transcribe for you (watch it all unfold here if mic banter is your thing) with even the PM getting a telling off from Trevor Mallard.
2.15pm: Man who breached security to sneak into North Shore Hospital tests positive; staff stood down
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield confirmed that a number of North Shore Hospital staff have been stood down and are being tested after coming into contact with a man who evaded security to get into the hospital, and later tested positive for Covid-19.
An email to Waitematā DHB staff said the man bypassed the front-of-house screening process while staff were assisting another person, then hid from security staff before running into a lift and briefly visiting ward seven and the assessment and diagnostics unit on Thursday last week.
He was confronted by security staff and escorted from the building after spending just under 30 minutes there. He had no direct contact with patients so the risk to them is believed to be very low.
The hospital found out yesterday that the man had tested positive for Covid-19. Bloomfield said CCTV footage was being reviewed to see if processes could be improved.
Up to 20 people may have come into contact with the man, according to the Herald.
1.55pm: How the outbreak looks on the last day of level four
From tomorrow, thousands of Aucklanders will return to work at the city moves to alert level three for an initial two week period. Here’s how the community delta outbreak looks, in chart form.
For more informative charts like this, visit The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker page here.
1.30pm: PM wants rules tightened after man on remand tests positive
Genome sequencing has linked the man on remand who tested positive in Mt Eden prison to what Ardern “broadly defined” as a workplace.
She confirmed health officials had identified the person who passed the virus onto the man, and the date this occurred, but refused to reveal who they were. “We are going to continue working through this… with the health concerns being our major priority,” she said. “We’ll follow through on the rule-breaking as we go.”
It was revealed this morning that the man had visited four locations between leaving prison and arriving at his bail address, despite being required to travel straight there. “Regardless of whether the person was infected by someone in the car or not, we need a set of tight rules that keep the person Covid free until they reach their final destination.”
Ardern has asked the ministers of justice and corrections to work on a set of new rules for this.
1.20pm: Fines for breaching Covid orders to increase
Maximum infringement fees for breaches of Covid orders will rise from $300 to $4000 for individuals and to $12,000 for companies, said Jacinda Ardern.
When imposed by the courts, the maximum will move from $1000 to $12,000 for individuals and up to $15,000 for companies.
Ministers have been working on this change for some time following several people absconding from MIQ, said Ardern, to take into account the social and economic impact of a Covid case getting into the community and as an incentive to play by the rules.
The changes will be in place as early as November, subject to the passing of an amendment bill.
1.00pm: 14 new community Covid-19 cases, including one out of Auckland
There are 14 new community cases of Covid-19, including one in the upper Hauraki region. In good news, just one of today’s cases has not yet been epidemiologically linked to the wider outbreak.
Today’s new cases mark a drop in numbers from the past few days and come on Auckland’s final day in level four.
The fourth Whakatīwai case is a household contact of the three cases already announced. All four were household contacts of a Covid-positive remand prisoner who travelled across the Auckland boundary.
There are now 1,085 cases associated with the outbreak, although 790 have now recovered.
From the past fortnight, 10 cases remain unlinked to the outbreak.
Of yesterday’s 22 cases, nine were infectious in the community while the remaining 11 were already in self-isolation. Four of yesterday’s five unlinked cases have “strong geographical” connections to one another, said Ashley Bloomfield, with the fifth case still under investigation.
There are now 15 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 10 at Middlemore Hospital. Four people remain in intensive care.
Most of today’s cases are household contacts and several others are known close contacts, said Bloomfield. Today’s numbers are encouraging but another 50-60 cases from close contacts are expected over the coming week or two, he said. Nearly 500 swabs were taken at Whakatīwai yesterday, with about 400 negative so far.
On the testing front, more than 8500 tests were taken in Auckland alone yesterday. “It is pleasing to see a lift in testing across Auckland but it’s critical we keep it up,” said Ardern.
Everyone in the Clover Park neighbourhood is being asked to be tested today at a new testing site at the Manukau Sports Bowl.
And with vaccinations, more than 50,000 were given out nationwide yesterday. The PM issued a challenge to Aucklanders while the city is in alert level three. “Let’s see if we can get to 90% [vaccinated in Auckland] by the time cabinet considers those alert level settings in two weeks,” said Ardern. So far, 79% of eligible Aucklanders have had their first dose.
Anyone who was returning to work in Auckland tomorrow should go and get their vaccination this afternoon, said Ardern.
Funeral exemptions to be available at level three
At level three, people will be able to leave Auckland to go to funerals in very limited cases, said Bloomfield. It will require an exemption from the Ministry of Health and will be immediate family only, and will require a negative Covid test.
Meanwhile, Bloomfield said the early results of a trial of using the Pfizer vaccine in children was “promising news”. The trial was focused on children aged 5-11. At the moment, all children over 12 are able to be vaccinated in New Zealand.
12.50pm: Ardern to reveal latest delta cases on Auckland’s last day of level four
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are back for today’s 1pm show. It’s Auckland’s last day in alert level four so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the number of new – and mystery – cases announced. Plus: another batch of test results from northern Hauraki will reveal whether there has been any Covid-19 spread outside of Auckland.
Keep this page nice and refreshed for all the latest from 1pm or follow along with the livestream below.
12.25pm: Auckland man breaches lockdown to pick up caravan
Another day, another alleged lockdown breach from Auckland.
Stuff is reporting a man broke Covid-19 restrictions by travelling to Christchurch to pick up a caravan. He managed to bypass the police checkpoint by using a work exemption, but was arrested in Wellington last night as he was leaving the ferry terminal.
He was reportedly driving back to Auckland with the caravan in tow when picked up by police, but it’s unclear how authorities were made aware of the man’s actions. He has been ordered to return home and will appear in court.
12.05pm: Presented with no context
11.45am: Bunnings ‘lowest prices’ guarantee is fine, says the court
A challenge to Bunnings’ “lowest prices” guarantee has been thrown out by the court.
The Commerce Commission’s case claimed that Bunnings was making “misleading representations” that it offered the lowest prices in the market. The commission alleged that Bunnings’ claim – made in-store and on a well known advertising campaign – was untrue.
The Auckland District Court did not buy into that argument. “Consumers would … consider the [lowest price guarantee] alerted them to the possibility that not every item in Bunnings may be the lowest price but provided a remedy to achieve that,” said judge BA Gibson. Namely, Bunnings provides customers with a 15% discount on any item stocked for a cheaper price elsewhere.
However, Gibson said that businesses must consider how a consumer would interpret advertising “in light of… general knowledge and experience in worldly affairs” and not rely on literal interpretations.
The climate change minister admits he’s not comfortable travelling to an overseas conference during the pandemic – and hasn’t yet secured an MIQ spot for his return.
James Shaw, who is also co-leader of the Greens, is due to attend the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow later this year. He’s set to lead a 14-person delegation but, as Newshub revealed, just one has so far got their managed isolation spot booked in.
“There is a delegation with a number of different categories. It depends how many MIQ spots we’re able to secure. So far only one of the diplomats has got a place,” Shaw said. “At the moment I’m waiting to find out if I’ve got a spot and if I don’t have a spot I won’t be going,” he said.
Shaw said he’s at about 15,000th in the MIQ “virtual lobby” – that’s the new booking system that went live yesterday.
On the criticism of his decision to travel overseas, Shaw admitted it wasn’t his ideal move either. “My preference would be not to go at all, but we weren’t given an option of doing this online,” he said.
“You’d have to ask [trade minister] Damien O’Connor whether it was OK for him to travel to do trade negotiations; you’d have to ask the prime minister whether it’s OK for her to travel to conduct the business of the country as well.”
Earlier today, Act’s David Seymour labelled Shaw “Captain Planet” in a press release scathing of his proposed travel plans.
10.50am: Wharekawa marae springs into action
Leonie Hayden writes:
Yesterday saw a huge turn out for testing in Kaiaua, a small coastal settlement on the Hauraki Plains, after three members of a household tested positive for Covid-19.
At the close of day, Māori health provider Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki had processed 477 tests at Wharekawa Marae, a Ngāti Pāoa and Ngāti Whanaunga marae at the northern end of Kaiaua. The population of the town is estimated at under 800 people.
In early September, Te Korowai Hauora o Hauraki held a clinic at Wharekawa Marae where it vaccinated 80 members of the community. Today, Covid swabbing continues and a mobile vaccination clinic run by Waikato DHB will operate out of Ecoquest across the road from Wharekawa marae. The iwi is encouraging everyone to come along and get vaccinated.
A section 70 notice has been issued by the director-general of health for residents around the Mangatangi area in Waikato – a “bespoke level four” that will require anyone who lives or works in the area, or has visited there since September 8, to stay home until this Friday.
As of this morning, 200 tests had been returned – all were negative.
10.20am: I will never resign, says Collins as parliament returns
Parliament resumes today, with MPs from level two areas returning to Wellington. Question time is at 2pm, followed by the second reading of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill. That’s being accelerated through the house under urgency following the Lynn Mall terrorist attack at the start of the month, with the government pledging to get it enacted by the end of the month.
Media attention so far this morning has focused on the National Party, with Judith Collins hosting a press conference. “What is absolutely clear is the government has given up on its elimination approach,” she argued in her opening remarks. Jacinda Ardern was now “scrambling to find new answers”, she said. “The government must admit its elimination plan has failed.”
Questions gravitated, however, towards her own leadership, which has come under considerable pressure in recent weeks. A poll last week published by the Taxpayers Union and conducted by Curia, the company run by longstanding National pollster David Farrar, put National on just 21.3%. “Polls go up and down,” said Collins, “and most pollsters would refuse to poll during a level four lockdown.”
A short transcript from the press conference …
Jason Walls: Will you resign as leader if National goes under 20% in the polls?
Judith Collins: No.
Tova O’Brien: Will you resign ever?
Judith Collins: No.
Simon Bridges, who has arrived at parliament from Tauranga, told reporters that he had “no intention” of challenging Judith Collins for the leadership.
Another Bay of Plenty National MP returning to Wellington is former leader Todd Muller. He’s not returning to caucus, though, having fallen out badly with the current leader over leaks. “It’s happened. I certainly don’t intend to spend the rest of my life seething over what occurred,” he told the Herald. On Collins’ leadership, he said: “I don’t bear her any ill will, but I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that the relationship between her and I has disintegrated. So it serves no purpose me wading in on that issue.”
9.50am: Movements of remand prisoner confirmed – along with how he was infected with Covid-19
More information is now known about the movements of a remand prisoner who was able to leave locked down Auckland to a bail address in level two Waikato.
According to Stuff, the Covid-positive prisoner made four stops on his way to the bail address after being released from the Mount Eden Corrections Facility. Two of these stops were at “private addresses” in Mount Albert and Māngere – both hinted at by the director of public health at a weekend press conference – while another was to a supermarket at Pokeno, and on the road near his bail address in Kaiaua.
A statement from Corrections provided further clarity: “[The prisoner] arrived at the house at 12.28pm, two hours and 19 minutes after leaving the prison. He remained within the boundary of the bail address until 12.47pm on 16 September, when he visited a car park about 250 metres away from the address, and then presented himself to police because his address had become unavailable and the court had revoked his bail and issued a warrant for his arrest. He was then in police custody overnight, before being transported to Mount Eden Corrections Facility on Friday 17 September, arriving at 6.45pm.”
This morning, prime minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that health officials now know who infected the prisoner and investigations were under way to determine whether any rules were broken during his transfer out of Auckland.
9.00am: No new cases linked to remand prisoner after 200 tests
There are so far no new positive cases of Covid-19 linked to the northern Hauraki region, after a remand prisoner and three of their household contacts caught the delta variant over the weekend.
About 200 test results came back overnight – all negative – after those in the area flocked to get tested for Covid-19. Until at least Friday, “bespoke level four” rules are to be in place requiring people who live or work in or have visited the area around Mangatangi to stay at home.
Speaking to RNZ, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said moving Auckland to level three was unrelated to the new lockdown requirements in Mangatangi. “It’s a bespoke lockdown of sorts to make sure that no matter where those people are they are required to isolate,” she said.
8.00am: Bloomfield denies ‘spinning’ for the government as elimination strategy questioned
A tense face-off between Mike Hosking and Ashley Bloomfield on Newstalk ZB this morning saw the director general of health push back at an assertion he was more a politician than a health expert.
Bloomfield, along with the government, is facing criticism that the decision to move Auckland down to alert level three while daily new case numbers are in the 20s could be a mistake. The director general admitted he did “lose a bit of sleep” over each alert level decision, but was comfortable with this week’s move – generally. “It would have been nice if those numbers were a bit lower but most of them are contacts of known cases,” he said.
People only needed to look across the Tasman to see that for a delta outbreak, after five weeks of lockdown, the daily case numbers are actually very low, said Bloomfield. “That’s how it’s working. In both Victoria and New South Wales they’ve both got really significant restrictions and they’ve got numbers in the hundreds or thousands,” he said.
“You sound like you’re doing the government’s bidding,” said Hosking. “You’ve changed your mind on the way it was working because it doesn’t work and now you’re spinning their line.”
“I’m not actually spinning anything,” replied Bloomfield.
The director general admitted that not all his health advice has been taken by the government, suggesting he had pushed to go further with level two restrictions outside of Auckland. He would not, however, disclose exactly what advice had not been followed. “There are aspects of the advice I gave yesterday around the level two settings that weren’t taken at face value,” he said. “My advice is not always taken and that’s fine. It’s like a marriage: you might disagree behind closed doors but you don’t do it in public.”
Pushed on whether elimination was still a viable strategy given the case numbers have not dropped into single digits such as with previous hard lockdowns, Bloomfield said level four had achieved its goal. “With delta we would be in the thousands now if we hadn’t gone to that alert level four,” he said. “We’ve done it from [level] three before – it wasn’t delta – but this time we have vaccination on our side… that’s incredibly helpful.”
Of the five mystery cases announced yesterday, Bloomfield said three were from the same household and geographically close to existing cases which gave him confidence they would soon all be linked to the outbreak. Asked about whether Auckland could spend more than two weeks in level three if case numbers didn’t drop, Bloomfield said “lets cross that bridge when we come to it”.
7.30am: In today’s Bulletin
A prisoner at the centre of the Covid outbreak in Waikato appears to have breached multiple bail conditions. Newshub reports that GPS records from the man’s travel from prison to home show he stopped at private homes and a supermarket. He had to wear a tracker and was picked up from prison by three people. That seems to conflict with a judge’s order that he go straight home without unnecessary stops and with a family member. The man was allowed to travel across the Auckland boundary because his time in prison, where there was no Covid-19, was seen as the equivalent of a stint in border isolation. Health officials say he didn’t have Covid-19 when he left prison and stayed home once he got there, so he likely picked it up on his trip.
The Covid numbers: 22 new community cases were reported yesterday and 25% (6) of the previous day’s cases were active in the community while infectious. 19 of the cases were in Auckland and 3 were in Whakatīwai. 1071 cases have now been detected in the delta outbreak and 694 have recovered. 26,673 people were vaccinated on Saturday.
The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.
The first test of the new MIQ booking system has left few happy. A family in Melbourne has called the system a “joke” after they were randomly put in 17,865th place in a waiting room for about 3000 spots, according to Stuff. The head of the MIQ system has called it a “technical success” after over 30,000 people entered the queue yesterday. According to the prime minister, most of the interest was in rooms around the Christmas period. While it didn’t work out for the Melbourne family, the waiting room seems a minor improvement over spending days clicking refresh on a browser.
New Zealand’s mandatory vaccine orders face a court challenge. RNZ reports a customs worker dismissed from her job for refusing the jab has gone to the High Court to argue that a vaccine order under the Covid-19 act goes beyond the expected scope of the law. While ministers and health officials were given broad powers under the act, the worker’s lawyer says the vaccine order is exceptional. The Wellington court will hear the case again today. While no announcement is expected this week, cabinet is considering introducing wider vaccine mandates in the coming months.
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A summary of the alert level decision
- Auckland will move to alert level three at 11.59pm tonight.
- This will be for an initial period of two weeks and be reviewed by cabinet on October 4.
- “Bespoke level four” restrictions are in place in a small area around Mangatangi, from the road boundary to the east of Maramarua to the southeast of Miranda on the Firth of Thames.
- The rest of NZ will stay at alert level two while Auckland is in level three, but the maximum gathering number will increase to 100.