Live updates, August 23: MIQ pausing all bookings; nine Auckland schools now linked to outbreak

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 23, with Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch? I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


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What you need to know

7.10pm: Four more AUT students test positive, bringing total to seven

A further four students from AUT university’s Auckland city campus have tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to seven. According to a letter from AUT shared by Debate Magazine, one case has been confirmed by Auckland Regional Public Health while three others notified the university of their positive test results.

One of the students was on campus from August 10 to August 13, but it’s not clear whether the other three attended classes during their infectious periods, or whether they were close contacts of already known cases.

6.50pm: MIQ closing off bookings in response to delta outbreak

According to a tweet from MBIE, MIQ is “temporarily pausing the release of rooms on the Managed Isolation Allocation System due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. This includes cancelled vouchers that are normally re-released. No rooms will be available to book for a few days”.

The decision comes after New Zealanders overseas have spoken out about the impossibility of securing spots in MIQ, even months in advance and with endless refreshing of the booking page, unless they pay for scripts or bots to cheat the system.

All 107 cases in the current community outbreak are isolating in MIQ facilities, and yesterday Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said a hotel with 250 rooms was being set aside for positive cases.

6.35pm: Nine Auckland schools now linked to outbreak as locations of interest top 350

A student at West Auckland’s Green Bay High School has tested positive for Covid-19, while a primary school in Avondale has been added to the Ministry of Health’s locations of interest bringing the number of Auckland schools linked to the current delta outbreak to nine.

Green Bay High School confirmed the case on its Facebook page. “We found out this afternoon that we have a GBHS student who has tested positive for Covid-19,” said the post. “Our thoughts are with our GBHS student and their family.” An attached letter from Auckland Regional Public Health Service said the student was infectious while at school during the week leading up to August 17, the day before the level four lockdown began.

Green Bay High School has not been added to the locations of interest as an exposure site but according to the letter, all students and staff are considered close contacts.

Meanwhile, Rosebank School, a primary school in Avondale, was this evening added to the locations of interest, with the relevant time period listed as 9am-3pm on Tuesday, August 17. Those required to isolate and test have been identified and contacted, and all others should monitor symptoms for 14 days post exposure.

De La Salle College in Māngere East, McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu, Northcote College on the North Shore and Lynfield College in Mount Roskill have all had students test positive for the virus in the past week. Avondale College and Pukekohe High School have both had cases among staff members.

Other locations of interest added as of 6.30pm include the New Zealand School of Tourism and St Patricks Cathedral, both in Auckland CBD, several cafes and restaurants in St Heliers and Mission Bay, and an area of the Sylvia Park mall.

The full list is available here or click here to view The Spinoff’s interactive maps.

5.45pm: Victoria University staff member tests positive

In a message to staff, Victoria University of Wellington has revealed a positive case, a close contact of a known case. It is unclear whether this is one of the two Wellington cases confirmed in today’s 1pm statement.

“Last Friday, we advised you that one of our staff members was a close contact of two confirmed Covid-19 cases in Wellington,” reads the message. “The staff member has now also tested positive for Covid-19. However, Regional Public Health has advised that based on prior negative tests he was not infectious until last Friday, when we were all at alert level four. As a result, there are no locations of interest related to the staff member at the university. We are keeping in close touch with the staff member and providing them with support.”

5.40pm: Auckland lockdown likely ‘for at least several weeks more’ – Hendy

The extension of the level four lockdown for a week in New Zealand’s biggest city was unavoidable, as “it is becoming clear that we are dealing with a cluster that was towards the upper limit of expectations when it was detected in Auckland”, says modelling expert Shaun Hendy.

And prepare for longer still. “This does mean we will likely see alert level four held in place for at least several weeks more in the Auckland region,” he said, in comments via the Science Media Centre.

“For the rest of the country we will have to wait until later in the week to see if they remain clear, in which case, an alert level shift could be considered on Friday. In Wellington, where there are active cases, officials will need to rule out spread within the community to consider an alert level shift.”

5.10pm: Where are the contacts across New Zealand?

In making the case for extending the level four lockdown for 72 hours across the country, even to the South Island where there have been no positive tests, Jacinda Ardern produced a heat map showing the locations of known contacts. It showed they were “certainly not isolated to one part of the country”, she said. Here’s the map she held up, provided to us by the prime minister’s office.

 

4.10pm: Lockdown to continue until Friday; Auckland to remain in level four until Tuesday

Updated

The nationwide lockdown will continue for an additional four days, until 11.59pm on Friday August 27. Those in Auckland will have to wait it out a little longer: level four restrictions will continue in the super city for the remainder of the full 14 day cycle, ending no earlier than 11.59pm next Tuesday, August 31.

Cabinet will review the nationwide lockdown this Friday, with Auckland’s alert level restrictions to be reviewed after the weekend.

Speaking at parliament, Ardern said there remain a number of unanswered questions. “More certainty is needed,” she said. “The safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course.”

There has been a record amount of testing for Covid over the past six day period which could give us some confidence, said Ardern. Across New Zealand, 154,439 tests have been taken – or about 3% of the total population. In Auckland alone, about 108,000 tests were taken in that six day period. That was a “good representative amount”, added Ardern.

Although we will continue to see high case numbers in the coming days, the number of tests does provide some reassurance that we are finding cases, said Ardern.

The reproduction number for this outbreak may be six or higher. To stamp the virus out, it needs to be less than one.

“We are still very much in the thick of this outbreak but we remain confident,” added Ardern.

Asked whether there was any chance of Auckland dropping out of level four earlier than next Tuesday, Ardern said there was not. “Aucklanders will know that this two week point is a given,” she said. Bloomfield added: “This Friday will be two weeks since those big exposure events we’re worried about,” referencing events at Auckland’s Spark Arena and Aotea Centre.

Parliament would be suspended for at least the next week. “We’ve asked all ministers to be available to appear before parliament’s select committees, which will continue to meet virtually. That will allow us to balance safety and scrutiny,” said Ardern.

A number of today’s cases are associated with the Assembly of God church service on August 15, confirmed Bloomfield. All the newly emergent cases in Wellington are close contacts of current cases and all bar one have been in isolation, so the picture in Wellington is reassuring at the moment, said Bloomfield.

There was some confusion in the ministry’s initial assessment about Auckland university cases, said Bloomfield. One University of Auckland student travelled to Wellington but another student has also tested positive. One of the students was in a hall of residence, and the other students there have now dispersed around the country.

The number of close contacts is “certainly a stretch on the system”, said Bloomfield. There are now more than 14,000 contacts, the vast majority close contacts. Just over half have been contacted. Of these, more than 100 close contacts are currently isolating in the South Island.

Public health unit surge capacity has been brought on, as well as additional call centre capacity.

One of the Wellington cases has come from an interaction at a healthcare facility that was identified very quickly, said Bloomfield, while the rest were household contacts.

Ardern holds up a heat map of known contacts (Image / livestream)

Planning for boundary options between regions in different alert levels would take place this week, said Ardern.

Ardern said “somewhere in the order of 11” of the current cases had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Seven cases connected to the current outbreak are in hospital, Bloomfield added. No one linked to the outbreak are in the ICU, however the UN worker with Covid-19 who was transferred here from Fiji remained in intensive care.

“For now the elimination strategy is the right thing for New Zealand,” Ardern said, following Australian PM Scott Morrison’s suggestion that this was no longer viable.

Over 50% of the current cases are Pasifika, said Bloomfield.

3.55pm: Watch – Ardern, Bloomfield to reveal lockdown decision

Jacinda Ardern is set to announce whether the country, or any parts of it, will move out of alert level four at 11.59pm tomorrow.

With the growing number of delta Covid-19 cases linked to Auckland and Wellington, it’s likely that lockdown will continue at least for parts of the North Island.

National, Act, denounce suspension of parliament

Perhaps a spoiler of what’s to come at 4pm: the opposition have denounced a reported suspension of parliament. No official announcement has come from the Beehive but, in a statement, both National’s Judith Collins and Act’s David Seymour said they had been informed of the decision by Ardern. Collins called the move “wrong”.

“I have expressed that a one week suspension of Parliament is all the National Party will support. However, the prime minister has indicated that she expects it will continue longer than that,” said Collins.

“At a time when New Zealanders have the harshest lockdown in the world and have lost our freedoms because of the Government’s failure to vaccinate and secure the border, this move by Jacinda Ardern is unfathomable.”

Both Collins and Seymour called for the opposition-controlled Epidemic Response Committee return. “In the previous Level 4 lockdown, all parties agreed to closing parliament in return for an opposition-led Epidemic Response Committee, this time there will be even less accountability,” Seymour said.

You can watch a livestream below and we’ll have live coverage from 4pm.

3.45pm: Two hour outage for Covid-19 testing database

The system used for digitally recording Covid testing information suffered a two-hour outage early this afternoon. The crash meant that the details of those seeking a nasal swab had to be recorded manually.

With more than 35,000 tests processed nationwide yesterday, the two hour delay could have been costly as contact tracers race to identify roughly 6000 people possibly exposed to Covid-19.

In a statement to The Spinoff, the Ministry of Health confirmed the “eclair system” – the name given to the national testing database – was down from 12.10pm to 2.13pm. It is now up and running again.

“Testing continued where possible,” a spokesperson told The Spinoff. “As it was the automated e-ordering system that was down, the details of people undergoing testing had to be recorded manually or via the previously used electronic system at a number of sites.

The ministry is expecting testing turnaround times to resume.

“We have asked our IT team to provide further details of why the outage occurred and identify what steps, if any need to be taken to prevent this reoccurring,” said the spokesperson.

3.35pm: Vaccinating against Covid-19 on the marae

Ahead of the 4pm update, an extract from a recent piece published on The Spinoff:

When you arrive at the Tuahiwi Marae, north of Christchurch, old-school pop hits greet visitors at the door. The sounds of laughter from the wharekai follow suit. It’s a very different vibe from the clinical white rooms of the traditional vaccination clinics dotted around the country.

Groups of whānau and friends walk through the open doors, all there to get vaccinated and many for their second dose. Familiar faces greet them at the door, like that of Amber Clarke (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāi Tūāhuriri), mana whenua and one of the organisers of the marae clinics, who shares jokes and hugs with almost everyone who walks in.

Read the full piece here

Marama Lyall Barraball receives her vaccine from Dr Maia Melbourne-Wilcox (Photo: Supplied)

3.10pm: Walking your dog at level four – a reminder of the rules

While we wait for the all important 4pm news, I thought I’d take the chance to remind you all about the rules for dog walking during alert level four. A few Spinoffers were wondering whether they could safely let their dogs off leash during level four due to the latest scientific knowledge around how delta is transmitted (i.e. that it primarily spreads through the air and not on surfaces).

Nevertheless, this is from the Auckland Council website and was updated today:

It’s ok to keep exercising your dog, but make sure you’re following all government guidance. 

To avoid coming into close contact with someone else, or other dogs, you should keep your dog on a leash at all times. This includes in off-leash exercise areas.

So, please get some fresh air with your furry friend but – however much they want to play with their friends – keep them on a leash at all times.

2.50pm: First group of New Zealanders return from Afghanistan

The first group of New Zealand citizens, their families and other visa holders evacuated from Afghanistan will arrive in New Zealand this afternoon, defence minister Peeni Henare has announced. “By working alongside our partners, particularly Australia and the United Arab Emirates to whom we are very grateful, we’re able to bring these New Zealanders safely home.

“Their long journey to safety is nearly over, and I can only imagine the relief and joy they feel at being reunited with loved ones here in Aotearoa, once they have completed Managed Isolation and Quarantine.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has been providing consular support to more than 200 New Zealanders in Afghanistan to help them onto flights in dangerous conditions, according to a government press release.

MFAT has managed enquiries from Afghan nationals wanting assistance to leave the country and has been “working urgently” with Immigration New Zealand to secure visas for those who worked alongside NZDF, New Zealand Police and aid missions, or materially assisted in the Operation Burnham inquiry.

2.35pm: Wellington petrol station, two Auckland running events among new locations of interest

There are now 334 possible sites of exposure on the Ministry of Health’s locations of interest list, including another location in Wellington – the Mobil petrol station in Johnsonville between 8.20pm and 8.35pm on Tuesday, August 17.

Two Auckland running events have also been added – an Athletics Auckland running event at Cornwall Park on the afternoon of Saturday August 14, and a trail run event at Totara Park the following day.

Several takeaway outlets and restaurants across Auckland are also now on the list, as is the West City Mall in Henderson, a bus route from Glen Eden to Green Bay, and several AUT classes.

As the list of locations continues to swell, The Spinoff’s incoming head of data, Harkanwal Singh, has created several new maps, where you can sort locations by both the dates of interest and the days when added. There’s also a searchable table with all locations.

The full list is available here or click here to view The Spinoff’s interactive maps.

1.35pm: Record day for community testing centres

Yesterday saw 35,766 Covid-19 tests processed across New Zealand.

In Auckland alone, 17,000 swabs were taken with around 11,000 at community testing centres and 6,000 at general practice and urgent care clinics. “This was our biggest day to date at our community testing centres,” said the Ministry of Health.

There are 16 community testing centres available for testing across Auckland this afternoon, including a new site at Pukekohe.

More than 3,850 tests were processed yesterday for Wellington and the Hutt Valley with 11 community testing centres operating, and around 32 GPs open for testing.

Wastewater testing: No Covid-19 found in latest samples

No new Covid-19 results have been detected in the latest round of wastewater tests, said the ministry.

Yesterday saw a positive result at Moa Point in Wellington and in the Auckland region, but samples taken from other sites in Wellington at Porirua, Seaview and Karori, and also from the North Shore at Rosedale and Albany, were negative.

Samples taken on Friday and Saturday returned no other unexpected detections anywhere else in the country.

“ESR continues to test wastewater at 41 sites across the country, covering 3.7 million New Zealanders. Of the 41 current sites, 13 are in Auckland and four are in Wellington. ESR is in the process of adding additional sites,” said the ministry.

ESR is today collecting wastewater samples from sites throughout New Zealand for further testing.

1.25pm: Officials tackle contact tracing backlog – 6,000 yet to be reached

Over 6,000 people linked to Covid-19 locations of interest have not been contacted by health officials.

As of 8am today, the Ministry of Health said it had identified 13,230 individual contacts, the majority of whom are “close contacts” of known cases.

Of these contacts, 6,773 have been contacted by public health staff and are self-isolating, and 42% have had a test. Work is under way to contact the remaining 6,457 contacts.

1.15pm: Delta outbreak grows to 107, with 35 new cases announced

Updated

New Zealand’s outbreak of the delta variant has grown further, with 35 new cases confirmed today. Two of today’s new cases are in Wellington with the remaining 33 in Auckland. There are now 107 cases in the community – 99 in Auckland and eight in the capital

In a statement, the Ministry of Health confirmed that 72 cases in the outbreak have been epidemiologically linked to other community cases.

“Investigations are continuing to determine whether and how the remaining 35 cases are linked to the outbreak, however most have a plausible link on initial assessment,” said the Ministry of Health. “For example, people were at a location of interest. We will continue to release this information and new locations of interest as it becomes available.”

ESR also continues to run whole genome sequencing on cases. Yesterday 29 samples were sequenced and all were confirmed as being linked to the Auckland outbreak.

Ministry: Crowne Plaza investigation ‘continuing’ 

An investigation into the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility in Auckland is continuing, after speculation that a public thoroughfare inside the hotel may have caused Covid-19 to spread.

“Public health officials are continuing to investigate those who used the atrium thoroughfare at the Crowne Plaza while the earliest identified case was in the lobby, as there is a possibility of air flow between the two spaces,” said the ministry.

A total of six people walked in the open walkway while the case was in the lobby. “Of those, four have been identified and three have tested negative and one person is in the process of getting a test. There are two people still to be identified, which police are assisting with.”

“The thoroughfare is located inside the Crowne Plaza building and is not the outside walkway which is used to access the Huawei Centre,” added the ministry.

“It has been confirmed the case was indoors while a very small number of people walked in the open walkway, which is well ventilated.”

1.10pm: While we wait for the NZ numbers…

New case numbers are out from New South Wales, with 818 community cases recorded over the past 24 hours.

Thread below:

And, of course, I’ll have the local numbers for you as soon as I possibly can.

12.45pm: Ministry to provide Covid-19 case update

We’re expecting an update from the Ministry of Health via press release around 1pm, with details of any new Covid-19 cases recorded overnight. It’s possible the ministry could run a little late with this but we’ll have everything published in full as soon as it lands.

Currently, there are 72 confirmed cases of Covid-19 – with six of these in Wellington. Locations of interest have now surged past 300.

Keep this page open – and updated – and I’ll have all the details for you ASAP.

12.10pm: Extremely Online – WTF is cryptocurrency? Part two

Last week’s episode of Extremely Online explored the blockchain, this week it’s time to talk about bitcoin. What is it and why, is it the future of money or is it all just a phase? Let the Shit You Should Care About team explain.

11.45am: What will Ardern and cabinet consider today?

Cabinet is meeting today to decide whether or not any parts of the country can shift out of alert level four lockdown at 11.59pm tomorrow.

While we don’t know for sure what criteria the PM will consider today, Ardern had eight considerations that she used during last year’s August outbreak and the move to level three – as Toby Manhire reported at the time.

1. Trends in the transmission of the virus, including the director general’s confidence in the data

The day’s case numbers, typically revealed at 1pm, relate to information compiled up to 9am that morning. Bloomfield and co will have the most up to date data as they go into cabinet, but if it is consistent with recent trends then things are looking promising.

Of course, at this stage, numbers are continuing to grow – but so far most cases have been in Auckland with a light smattering of Covid in Wellington.

2. The capacity and capability of our testing and contact tracing system

Use of the Covid Tracer app was incredibly poor in the weeks/months leading up to the outbreak. According to Newshub, as of 10am on Saturday, just 1604 Covid Tracer app users received location alerts because they scanned in at a location of interest at the relevant time – that’s despite more than 5000 contacts being confirmed.

3. The effectiveness of isolation, quarantine and border measures

We’re now more than a year into the MIQ system and the use of the Jet Park quarantine facility. At this stage, the system appears to be working but with a growing number of cases and contacts it’s still too early to know for sure.

4. Capacity in the health system more generally

There is currently no exceptional pressure on the health system.

5. Effects on local economies

6. Effect on at-risk populations

7. How people have been following the rules

We’ve had a few minor rule breaches, since as last week’s mini protest outside TVNZ in Auckland. But, overall, police say they are happy with lockdown compliance. We certainly haven’t seen Sydney-type scenes yet.

8. The ability to operationalise a new alert level

10.10am: Duncan Garner quits TV3 ‘effective immediately’

Broadcaster Duncan Garner has left TV3 after 20 years at the network, “effective immediately”.

For the past five years, he has hosted the breakfast morning programme The AM Show alongside Mark Richardson and Amanda Gillies. Before that, he co-hosted the short-lived 7pm show Story and had a stint as the network’s political editor.

In a statement, Garner called the job “the best ever” but cited the “brutal hours” as a catalyst for his resignation.

“I am so proud of what we have achieved in all the teams I’ve been a part of and in this tough, hostile business you’re deluded if you think you do it alone,” Garner said.  “Three and now Discovery has the most talented staff and best journos I’ve ever worked with. Their commitment, knowledge, sources, sheer guts and work ethic is legendary and continues to be so.”

Garner has been off-air for at least the past week, with Magic Talk’s Ryan Bridge fronting the morning show. An announcement regarding Garner’s replacement will be made in due course.

A Mediaworks publicity photo of Duncan Garner and his predecessor Paul Henry

9.55am: Is a public walkway the missing Covid-19 link?

Newsroom has this morning speculated that a public walkway next to an Auckland MIQ facility could be the missing link needed to pin down the source of the Covid-19 delta outbreak.

According to the publication’s political editor, Jo Moir, the walkway next to the Crowne Plaza is the only access to a downtown Auckland office block. It passes an exercise area used by possible Covid-19 cases at the MIQ facility.

Speaking on RNZ this morning, associate health minister Ayesha Verrall called the theory a “hypothesis”. Three people were in a public area of facility at the time a returnee from New South Wales was being moved into isolation.

“Contrary to what was said yesterday they weren’t in that public walkway,” Verrall told RNZ. “It’s actually the atrium where the person was entering through.”

She added: “We haven’t got any further leads from yesterday on whether or not those people were affected.”

9.15am: Act proposes ‘Covid Tracer-app lottery’

The Act Party’s proposed a novel way to encourage uptake of the government’s Covid Tracer app.

While scanning in will soon become mandatory, it will be up to store owners or gathering organisers to monitor QR code scanning.

Party leader David Seymour has suggested a weekly lottery draw for users of the app. “Act is proposing a $5.2 million fund. For each scan, the person would go into the draw to win $1000. There would be 100 prizes of $1000 a week,” said Seymour.

“Anyone who scans in at the same place more than once in 15 mins would be ineligible. Some people might try to record their location more often than they need to just to win the prize, great, it will be easier to trace their location if they are infected.”

Seymour said the proposal could see people pinged with a prize rather than just pinged to self-isolate – and called on the government to get “creative” with its thinking.

“The $5.2 million we’re proposing is less than the amount the Government spent from the Covid fund for the Royal NZ Ballet, NZ Symphony Orchestra and Te Papa’s Spirit Collection Area,” Seymour added.

(Getty Images)

8.30am: Locations of interest top 300 in North Island

Another eight locations of interest have been confirmed this morning, with more than 300 now confirmed across the North Island.

The latest possible Covid exposure sites are all in Auckland and include two KFC restaurants – one in Mangere and one in Glenfield – a Countdown in Takanini, and Jets gym in Otahuhu.

So far, no locations of interest have been identified in the South Island but with thousands fleeing Auckland ahead of the lockdown decision last week it’s entirely possible this list will grow.

The full list is available here or click here to view The Spinoff’s interactive map.

The most recent locations (Image / MOH)

8.00am: The day ahead

Today is day six of the nationwide alert level four lockdown. It’s currently set to end at 11.59pm tomorrow but with case numbers predicted to rise again today it’s entirely possibly parts of the country will be spending longer in level four.

Ahead of any lockdown decisions being made, cabinet will meet to consider the most recent information and any advice from the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

So what will be revealed today – and when?

1pm: The latest Covid-19 case information will arrive via press release. We’ll publish all the details, in full, when that statement arrives.

4pm: Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield will front a press conference at parliament. The pair will announce any alert level decisions made by cabinet and provide an update on any new Covid-19 cases.

7.50am: The Bulletin – NZ is preparing for a longer lockdown

Today’s top stories from The Bulletin.

Delta is continuing to spread. At least 72 cases of Covid-19 have now been detected in the community, all in Auckland and Wellington, as the delta cluster continues to grow. Over 10,000 close contacts have been identified across the country at hundreds of locations. Testing centres are also dealing with record volumes. With each passing hour the dragnet is increasing.

This is a different outbreak. What started with a tradie in Devonport less than a week ago is now a national crisis. Close contacts have been identified from Northland to Bluff, leaving no part of New Zealand unaffected. While recent outbreaks could be circled in a defined area and identified, it’s unclear where the edges of this outbreak rest. There’s no central hub or single school that is the focus of attention. The links between cases have become muddied as the number has quickly grown.

Today. Cabinet will meet this afternoon to try to make sense of the situation. Jacinda Ardern will address a press conference at 4pm with a decision on whether to extend lockdown; as always we’ll have all the details as soon as they’re revealed, in our live updates.

It’s unlikely lockdown will lift. As Claire Trevett (paywalled) reports in the NZ Herald, the question isn’t whether lockdown will be extended beyond Tuesday, but by how much. She suggests that people should prepare themselves for another month to six weeks. Cabinet will be focused on the unknown risks that exist, as a number of potential super spreader events have been identified, including church services, large social events and Auckland schools. The director-general of health advised the cabinet on Friday to extend Auckland’s lockdown beyond Tuesday night.

We might not get back to level one. Rodney Jones, who has advised the government through the pandemic, warned in the NZ Herald that the country likely can’t move back to a situation with few domestic restrictions again. With low vaccination rates and the delta variant circling the world, that would be asking for trouble.

Free childcare is being made available for essential workers. The system is designed to help people who don’t have other childcare options in place, reports Stuff. To keep possible exposure small, a carer is expected to either care for a child at their home or at the carer’s home. The stand up of the scheme doesn’t indicate a likely end to lockdown soon.

The source of the outbreak still isn’t clear. However, according to Newsroom, a public walkway by the exercise space for the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility is considered a possible source. A delta-infected arrival from Sydney, genetically linked to the outbreak, stayed at the facility for two days before moving to quarantine. Three people were possibly in the walkway when the infected person arrived at the hotel, separated by little more than orange cones and cheap fencing.

Masks and scanning will help to contain this. The wearing of masks is now mandatory while using essential services and many New Zealanders have taken to putting them on when leaving their homes. Cabinet has also approved mandatory contact tracing, either through scanning or maintaining a personal record, at many businesses and events. That change, however, won’t take effect until a week after a change in alert levels and won’t apply to many places allowed to be open under alert level four. Retail and supermarkets are exempt.

What about the South Island? Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins mentioned yesterday that there’s a possibility of regional lockdowns and borders. A number of University of Otago experts have endorsed the proposal. It’s an idea that will be in front of the cabinet, but any immediate lowering of alert levels will need to face the real possibility that undetected cases are still out there. Any detection of the virus spreading between cases in lockdown would push a red warning alert to bright and flashing.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Lockdown decision day as case numbers predicted to keep rising

It’s lockdown decision day. Jacinda Ardern will this afternoon reveal whether any parts of the country can safely shift back down the alert levels after a week spent in total lockdown.

Overnight, no new Covid-19 cases have been confirmed. But, speaking to Newstalk ZB, associate health minister Ayesha Verrall said more will be announced. “I think [reducing numbers] could still be a wee way away,” she said. “It could be another five days or so before we see the impact of the transmission that was happening in the community prior to lockdown pass through.”

Verrall would not give any hint on whether lockdown will continue beyond today, but said “there was always a risk” that people exposed to the virus have not yet been identified.

“We get a lot of information in the hours before the decision is made… but one of the things to be aware of is we’re only on day six of this lockdown and one thing on my mind is that in the period between when we had our first case and when we went into lockdown, 10s of thousands of people left Auckland,” said Verrall. Those people were now all around the country, she added.

Asked about the lack of saliva testing, amid reports of day-long queues for nasal swabs, Verrall said it would not be especially useful during this community outbreak. But, she added: “I think we certainly need to have more on the table in terms of what’s in our testing toolkit.” That included the possibility of saliva testing at MIQ but, Verrall said, we also need to be looking at rapid test options for the border.

The latest

  • There are 21 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
  • The total number in the current outbreak has now hit 72.
  • QR code scanning – or signing in – is set to become mandatory.
  • A decision on any lockdown extension is due at 4pm today.



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