Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 22, day five of level four lockdown across Aotearoa. Catherine McGregor is on duty today; get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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4.50pm: Third AUT case, new locations of interest
A third AUT student has tested positive, the Auckland university has announced in the last hour. The student was at AUT’s North campus in Northcote on Monday 16 and at the city campus on Tuesday 17.
AUT had previously announced a positive case on Wednesday and then again on Saturday.
Meanwhile a number of new locations of interest have been added to the health ministry’s list, which now numbers 280. They include the University of Auckland’s Engineering Building City Campus, and both Wellington and Auckland airport domestic terminals.
Following Ashley Bloomfield’s statement earlier today that a cluster is emerging linked to the Samoan Assembly of God church in Māngere, the church has also been listed as a location of interest.
Anyone who was at the church between 9am and 3pm on Sunday August 15 is being asked to isolate at home for 14 days and have a Covid test on day 5 and day 12.
All locations of interest are browsable using our interactive map here.
4.15pm: New update to the locations of interest map
Our indefatigable data guru Harkanwal Singh has updated the interactive maps, and now all New Zealand’s confirmed locations of interest are again ready for your scrolling and searching pleasure. At the time of writing 280 locations across the North Island have been identified, and you can explore them all here.
3.40pm: Ashley Bloomfield is all of us
Please take a moment to enjoy the greatest single eyebrow waggle of the Covid stand-up era:
Keep socially distanced when out spreading your legs pic.twitter.com/EiZP6O05kP
— Geoff (@Jeph1984) August 22, 2021
2.10pm: Another new record high daily case total for NSW
NSW has recorded a new high of 830 new community cases in 24 hours, surpassing yesterday’s previous high of 825. There were three deaths, all people over 60.
The vast majority of the new cases – more than 600 – were recorded in western Sydney, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Nearly 58% of NSW residents have now received one dose of vaccine and almost 31% are fully vaccinated, the state’s health minister said today.
Meanwhile Victoria has recorded 65 new cases in the community, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 440.
The state capital, Melbourne, was the scene of violent confrontations between police and anti-lockdown protestors yesterday. Six police officers were taken to hospital and more than 200 people were arrested during the CBD melee.
1.25pm: Covid-19 record keeping to become mandatory
Using the contact tracing app or signing in will now become mandatory at a number of venues and businesses under all alert levels, according to Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins. The order from cabinet will include cafes, restaurants, gyms, casinos and all venues with large numbers of people.
The new rule will come into effect seven days after the next change in alert levels, to give businesses time to prepare.
Mandatory record keeping is currently required at social gatherings including when visiting a marae, at weddings, funerals, tangihanga and faith-based services, at alert level two. It will now be a requirement for those businesses and events that are permitted at any alert level.
The obligation will be on the person responsible for the place or gathering to ensure people can scan or sign in.
The penalty for non-compliance will be in line with the Public Health Response Act, which puts fines at $300 to $1000 depending on the circumstances. The government is currently reviewing the penalties but no change can be made while parliament is not sitting.
Update: 4.00pm: The government has confirmed to The Spinoff that supermarkets and other retail stores are exempt from the new scanning requirement.
Update on self-isolation
With almost 9000 contacts now identified in the current outbreak, issues around self-isolation are becoming more pressing. The Holiday Inn near Auckland Airport, an MIQ facility with 250 rooms, has now been repurposed for domestic use to house people who test positive within the country and can’t safely isolate, Hipkins said. There are currently more than 200 beds spare.
1.10pm: 21 new cases in the community
There are 21 new cases of Covid-19 in the community, bringing the total number in the current outbreak to 72. Of the new cases, 20 are in Auckland and one is in Wellington. The Wellington case was first reported yesterday, so the total number of cases in the capital remains at six.
Sixty-one of the cases have been linked to the Auckland cluster and the rest are still being tested, but “initial assessment of most cases show an obvious link,” said director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
There are now five people in hospital receiving care after testing positive for Covid-19, none are in ICU.
As of 9am, 8667 individual contacts had been identified. They are nearly all considered close contacts. One-third of them have already returned a test, about half have to be contacted. The overall number is expected to increase more in the coming days. That figure doesn’t include students and other contacts at large events.
Henceforth new locations of interest will be published every two hours. There was a “small glitch” in the table this morning which is being corrected, said Bloomfield (see 12pm update).
The country has a significant stock of PPE on hand, according to Bloomfield, including over 18 million N95 masks that are currently in country, with more on order. There are also 285 million medical masks.
There is a small change to the vaccination programme today, according to Bloomfield. The wait time after a dose is now 15 minutes and not 20 minutes, based on evidence from overseas. After getting his jab this morning, Bloomfield said he was one of the first in the country to enjoy the shorter wait.
1.05pm: More than a million New Zealanders now fully vaccinated
More than 50,000 doses of the vaccine were received yesterday, minister Chris Hipkins has announced, and more than a million New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated. Seventy-three per cent of New Zealanders over 40 have either had one dose or more, or are booked to be vaccinated.
Another Pfizer delivery has been accepted after 382,500 doses arrived in the country yesterday. That means the vaccination programme can speed up further.
12.45pm: Hipkins and Bloomfield to appear at 1pm
It’s a day off from public appearances for the prime minister, with minister Chris Hipkins fronting today’s 1pm press conference alongside director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. We’ll have all the key information, including new cases numbers, as soon as it comes to hand.
12.00pm: Data issue affecting health ministry’s locations of interest page
Some puzzling issues have arisen on the Ministry of Health’s locations of interest page, reports Harkanwal Singh, the creator of The Spinoff’s own map based on the ministry’s data.
While the core functionality has not been affected – all locations of interest are correct – the page is experiencing issues that those using the data to make their own tools will find frustrating.
Locations that were deleted yesterday are now showing up again on the page. In addition, every update on the page is showing as having been added on August 22, so “there is really no way of knowing which are added today,” Singh says.
The page had been broken down by regions which made it easier for people to separate data for Wellington and Auckland. That has been removed as well.
It is understood that the ministry is working on a fix.
11.30am: Fiji now averaging nine deaths a day
Nine people are dying from Covid-19 daily in Fiji, RNZ reports, with the west of the country now surpassing the central division where the outbreak is centred.
In its latest update, the government said the country had a seven-day rolling average of nine Covid deaths per day. Health secretary James Fong said the country averaged 1462 new cases over the past week.
The death toll now stands at 433 – 431 of them from the latest outbreak that began in April.
10.50am: Ashley Bloomfield gets first shot
Meanwhile, in breaking vaccination news, it seems that not even the director general of health likes watching the needle go in.
10.25am: No guarantee cases confined to Auckland and Wellington, says Baker
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker says it’s too early to be confident the outbreak has been confined to Auckland and Wellington.
“I don’t think we can guarantee that,” he told RNZ this morning. “The other known contacts have been distributed all around the country so those people I imagine will be having the tests over the weekend and early next week so the results from those may not be available until Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”
Modelling that this outbreak could peak at between 50 and 120 cases was “still a pretty realistic range”, he said, given the fast move to level four lockdown.
“This is obviously a middle range estimate because it can be easily a lot more if one of those cases when they were infected went to a super spreading kind of event.”
He said mandating masks while inside essential business and services would help move the country out of lockdown faster. “This is not forever. This is just for this period when there is a risk of a circulating virus.”
10.00am: Major outbreak would put ICUs under ‘enormous pressure’ – Hipkins
The Covid response minister, Chris Hipkins, has defended hospitals’ preparedness for a mass outbreak of the delta variant. Pressed by Q&A’s Jack Tame on whether ICUs would have been overrun had the 58-year old Devonport man waited longer to be tested, Hipkins said that while a wide-scale outbreak would put the health system under “enormous pressure”, hospitals were in a much better position than they were at the start of the pandemic.
“We’ve got significantly more ICU capacity now than we did when we first started dealing with Covid-19 a year and a half ago and hospitals have contingency plans in place to convert general wards into facilities to cope with Covid-19 patients if we get to that point,” he said.
He later acknowledged that staffing capacity had not significantly increased. “ICU requires a very very high ratio of staff to patients… you can’t just magic up extra healthcare workers, staffing capacity will continue to be a constraint.”
He noted that DHBs have been upskilling staff to relieve pressure on ICU specialists in the event of a major outbreak.
Asked by Tame whether the rise of delta meant New Zealand’s elimination strategy was in jeopardy, Hipkins said that “delta raises some big questions that we’re going to have to grapple with. Less than 24 hours between someone getting it and passing it on – that’s like nothing we’ve dealt with in the pandemic so far.
“It does change everything. It does mean that all of our existing protections are starting to look less adequate and less robust. So we are looking more closely at what more we can do there.
“But it does raise some pretty big questions about the long-term future of our plans.”
On vaccinations, Hipkins was adamant that no amount of money would have allowed New Zealand to receive its first Pfizer vaccine doses earlier than it did.
“The only way we could have increased the number of vaccines that we were administering earlier would have been to use other vaccines than Pfizer and we made the decision that Pfizer was the best of the options that we had available to us earlier in the year.”
As case numbers continue to rise in Auckland, he said people there should prepare for an extension to the lockdown.
“In Auckland we are still picking up significant numbers of cases, significant numbers of locations of interest. If I was an Aucklander I would certainly be preparing to be at home for a bit longer.”
The situation was less clear in Wellington, he said.
“We’ve still got a relatively low number of locations of interest there, at least one of our cases basically didn’t go anywhere in Wellington. Still a question mark there.”
9.20am: Free childcare for workers in essential services
As with last year’s nationwide lockdown, free childcare will again be made available to workers in alert level four businesses and services.
Workers in essential services with children aged up to 13 can access the free care. A list of 32 providers nationwide will be made available to parents from today.
The scheme is for workers in level four businesses and services, and other exempted services such as fire and emergency and border workers.
It is also only for those workers who do not have childcare in place – parents are expected to use their own private arrangements where possible.
Providers may offer options for childcare either in the child’s home, or in the carer’s home. “We’re aiming to provide as much flexibility as possible for those workers who need it,” said Covid response minister Chris Hipkins in a statement.
All 32 providers are licensed services that usually provide home-based early childhood education and each carer will be limited to caring for children from a total of one family only.
8.50am: Positive cases at two Auckland high schools
A student has tested positive at Western Springs College in Auckland’s inner west, parents were informed last night. The student is understood to have last been in class on Tuesday, August 17, but only until 10am.
Earlier on Saturday Pukekohe High School told parents that a member of staff had tested positive for the virus.
Yesterday’s new cases bring the number of schools with positive cases to seven: the others are De La Salle College, McAuley High School, Avondale College, Northcote College and Lynfield College, all in Auckland. A bus driver for Mt Roskill Intermediate School has also tested positive.
The combined rolls of the schools amounts to around 12,000 students.
A University of Auckland student tested positive on Friday, and yesterday AUT students were informed that a second student had tested positive.
8am: The day ahead
There’ll be a press conference from Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins today at 1pm with the latest case numbers and other developments. We’ll update all the essential details here.
The official case count stands at 51, but there’s every expectation that number will rise today and for some time to come. As Grant Robertson put it yesterday, “we just have to accept that things get worse before they get better”.
Last night Western Springs College announced a student had tested positive, bringing the number of Auckland secondary schools hit by Covid-19 to seven. We’ll have more details on the new case shortly, and on the cases at the other schools, and at Auckland University and AUT, as they come to hand.
The number of cases in Wellington is now six, but few details have emerged so far. We’re hoping that more information about those cases, all linked to the Auckland outbreak, is forthcoming today.
We’ll also check in with Victoria as it starts the first day of its new statewide lockdown, and with NSW, which posted a record case count of 825 yesterday.
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