Live updates, September 23: Modelling on vaccination and fatality risk released; 15 new delta cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 23, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Say hello at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz.


Today’s numbers

  • There are 15 new delta cases in the Auckland community.
  • Of these, three remain unlinked.
  • 10 of yesterday’s cases were infectious while in the community.
  • 8370 tests were taken in Auckland yesterday.
  • Modelling shows even 80% vaccination across the 5+ population risks 7,000 Covid deaths a year.

7.00pm Police release Auckland compliance numbers for yesterday

Aucklanders are being reminded that travel in and out of the borders remains extremely restricted under alert level three, and that drivers must show evidence of their permission to travel if they wish to leave or enter the region.

Of the 21,885 vehicles that were processed by police at the checkpoints yesterday, 952 vehicles were turned away. If you are unsure if your reason for travelling across the boundary is permitted, you can check out the latest requirements here.

6.40pm ‘Unconvincing’ – disagreement on Covid modelling

Modelling by Te Pūnaha Matatini released today suggested that a vaccination of 80% among everyone over the age five could still see 60,000 hospitalisations and 7,000 fatalities as a result of Covid in a year. But another modeller whose work has informed government decisions, the economist Rodney Jones, has expressed doubts about that prognosis. Evidence from other countries with high vaccination rates suggested that was an overestimate, and the government doesn’t “need to scare New Zealanders into getting vaccinated”, he told Stuff. The findings, he argued, were “unconvincing”.

Speaking to RNZ about today’s modelling release  Shaun Hendy has told RNZ that the chances of moving to alert level one before the year is out hang in the balance. “If we don’t eliminate this current outbreak then we’re going to have to stay in something like level two until Christmas,” he said. And the likelihood of stamping out that outbreak? “On a knife edge,” he said.
TPM has published its modelling work here.

5.15pm: How can we reach 90% vaccination? The experts weigh in

Following today’s release of modelling that suggests a 90% vaccination rate and moderate public health measures would end the need for lockdowns, experts are continuing to emphasise how vital it is that as many people as possible get the jab.

Te Pūnaha Matatini’s research found that a vaccination rate of 80% would likely result in thousands of deaths and an overburdened health system (see 1pm update). Via the Science Media Centre, Dr Rawiri Jansen of the National Hauora Coalition said a rate of 90% was achievable – but the health system and health providers needed to be “deliberate, dedicated and relentless” in their campaign. 

Dr Jagadish Thaker of Massey’s communication, journalism and marketing school said the modelling pointed to the need to improve vaccine access. “Our at-risk communities are already facing a disproportionate burden. They shouldn’t suffer inequities in vaccine access.”

Dr Siouxsie Wiles, meanwhile, highlighted the need to combat vaccine misinformation. “The research shows that we are influenced most by people who we love and care for. That means all of us need to reach out to our families and friends, to show empathy and understanding of their distress, and to make sure they have access to the correct information about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”

John Hopkins of the University of Canterbury pointed to how Singapore has driven up vaccination rates by making life for the unvaccinated “increasingly awkward”, with regular testing the alternative if they wish to socialise. “Such policies may be difficult to enforce in New Zealand but the alternative may be strict social restrictions for a long period of time, something that is equally unpalatable to most,” he said.

“Thus the choice may be to discriminate against the unvaccinated, impose strict social restrictions upon the whole population (for the long term) or accept that our vulnerable health system will risk being overwhelmed.”

4.00pm Te pakanga a te rongoā āraimate ki te huaketo (ahakoa nakawhiti, kāore rānei)

As the vaccine rates across Aotearoa have soared, one of the questions some have asked is: Do I need to get vaccinated even if I’m young, fit and healthy?

To address that, and more broadly explain how the vaccine powers up the immune system, Toby and Siouxsie turned to a video game analogy. The resulting video, that accompanied this post has now been translated into te reo Māori, thanks to Tina Ngata, Pohatu Poutu and Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust.

As with all of Toby and Siouxsie’s Covid collaborations it’s free to copy and share under Creative Commons. Check all their work out in the box set.

3.30pm: GDP forecast to rebound, with Covid caveat, says Treasury boss

Reweti Kohere reports:

New Zealand’s gross domestic product for the final quarter of 2021 is expected to strongly rebound, provided Covid-19 is kept under control, the Treasury’s chief executive has said.

Caralee McLeish, the head of the government’s lead economic and financial adviser, told Property Conference 2021 attendees that GDP for the three months to September is expected to fall between 5% and 7% – a forecast the Treasury broadly shared with the market. But an anticipated rebound in the December 2021 quarter depended on how well New Zealand dealt with the delta variant.

GDP in the June 2021 quarter rose 2.8% compared with the preceding three months, with average annual GDP through the year to June increasing a shade over 5%. McLeish said the 2.8% increase confirmed New Zealand had experienced one of the fastest recoveries in the world, 18 months into the pandemic.

No one including the Treasury would have expected the housing market to go from strength to strength as it has done since the pandemic started. And while low mortgage rates were still driving momentum, McLeish said low population growth and a strong pipeline of construction projects would support an anticipated slowdown in house prices.

The country’s high debt levels could be managed, she said. Debt would fall to about 28% of GDP in the next 15 years as economic growth outpaced low interest rates. but future governments would have to decide if repaying debt quicker was more important. McLeish said taking on debt has helped keep workers in jobs and business operating, which helped avoid “long-term scarring”. Net Crown debt in the year to May 2021 was $101.5 billion (31.2% of GDP), or $6b less than the Treasury first forecast.

3.00pm: Contact of Covid case visits Middlemore; staff in self-isolation

There’s been another Covid-19 breach at an Auckland hospital.

On Tuesday, a contact of a case who should have been in self-isolation came into Middlemore Hospital to visit someone in hospital who was also a contact.

Speaking at today’s 1pm briefing, Ashley Bloomfield confirmed four staff and two security guards have now been stood down and are isolating. The person has returned a first negative test.

Earlier this week, a man who later tested positive for the virus sneaked into North Shore Hospital resulting in a number of staff members being forced to stand down.

2.20pm: New MIQ hotel to open in Christchurch

A new managed isolation facility is set to open in Christchurch, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

The Quality Hotel Elms will provide an addition 85 rooms for returnees and brings the number of facilities nationwide up to 32.

“We asked MBIE to find new facilities to help balance the reduced capacity overall due to added protections we have put in place to combat delta,” said Hipkins. “These include cohorting, taking hotels offline to boost their ventilation systems and the conversion of two isolation facilities for quarantine.”

No suitable venues were found in either Hamilton or Wellington, said Hipkins. “Before hotels are added to the network they must meet a rigorous safety, public health and staffing criteria. This includes appropriate ventilation, staff ‘green’ zones, separate entry and exit points, and CCTV capability.”

Earlier this week, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi raised objections over claims a new quarantine facility, for Covid-infected people, would be opening within his electorate of Waiariki. Hipkins said facilities in both Rotorua and Auckland were rejected because of health and MIQ workforce constraints.

1.50pm: How the outbreak’s tracking

New case numbers dropped back to 15 today, with the three-day average showing a slight drop on the second day of Auckland’s stint in alert level three.

This graph and more available on The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker here.

1.30pm: The ‘infectious in the community’ factor

Of yesterday’s 23 Covid-19 cases, 10 were infectious in the community and have generated exposure events. As you can see from the graph below, the number of infectious cases each day is lightly trending upward during Auckland’s first couple of days in alert level three. Getting this number down is key to safely moving Auckland out of lockdown.

Check out more graphs, like the one above, with The Spinoff’s Covid Tracker.

1.05pm: Another 15 new delta cases, all in Auckland; three unlinked

Updated

There are 15 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland, Ashley Bloomfield has announced. More than 860 people from the overall outbreak have now recovered, with the total number of cases 1123.

Of today’s cases, most are household contacts of known cases but three remain unlinked from the wider outbreak. Yesterday’s single unlinked case has now been linked.

There are 15 people in hospital with Covid-19, including three in intensive care.

On the testing front: 19,194 swabs were processed yesterday across the country, while 8370 tests were taken in Auckland – many of them from essential workers.

The suburbs of interest have now changed, said Bloomfield. Mount Eden, Papatoetoe and Massey have been removed from the list, but Mount Wellington has been added. That means all in the suburb are encouraged to get a Covid-19 test even if they have no symptoms. There are pop-up testing centres at the netball centre at Ferguson Drive and at Mt Smart stadium.

777 swabs were taken yesterday in Clover Park, another suburb recently added to the list, meaning 10% of the population of that suburb has been tested in the last two days. 60% of Clover Park residents have already had one Covid vaccination.

Bloomfield also announced a new testing requirement for people who need to travel outside of Auckland for personal reasons that comes in at midnight tonight.

In the upper Hauraki area, every teacher at Mangatangi School has been tested and all but one have returned negative results, said Bloomfield. The remaining test result is outstanding. The Section 70 notice has now lifted, but the region remains under alert level three restrictions – for now. That is being reviewed today and there will be an announcement tomorrow, said Bloomfield.

Addressing the new Covid-19 modelling (see below), Jacinda Ardern said that high vaccination rates mean we can “take alert level four out of our toolbox”. With vaccines we can isolate those who have Covid, rather than everyone, because we have the individual armour of the vaccine, said Ardern. But with delta, vaccines alone aren’t enough, she added.

If more people get vaccinated, we don’t have to live with Covid. “We can vaccinate, we can isolate, we can control it. There is reason for optimism,” said Ardern. Less than 50,000 doses of the vaccine were given out yesterday, however almost 3.2 million first doses have now been administered.

1.00pm: Even 80% vaccination across the 5+ population risks 7,000 Covid deaths a year

Updated

Ahead of today’s press conference, the government has released new modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini. While the rates of vaccination are encouraging, and could potentially reach 90% of the total population if approved for use by children aged five and over, “the modelling tells us that for delta, population immunity is still out of reach by vaccination alone”, says TPM’s Shaun Hendy.

“For example, if we were to only vaccinate 80% of those over five then there could still be 60,000 hospitalisations from Covid-19 and 7,000 fatalities over a one-year period … The message from the modelling is that Covid-19 is going to continue to disrupt our lives for some time yet, but that we can minimise that disruption by ensuring we all get vaccinated.”

A range of other measures will be required even at high levels of vaccination. “Failing to reach these high levels of vaccination would mean we will need to keep relying on lockdowns and tight border restrictions to avoid thousands of fatalities,” said Dr Rachelle Binny. “This could cripple our healthcare system, and Māori and Pacific communities would bear the brunt of this health burden.”

There are scenarios where population immunity is possible with 90% vaccination and moderate public health measures, such as masks, better ventilation, rapid testing and vaccine certificates, said Hendy, as well as effective contact tracing. In those scenarios, the health burden could be less than that of seasonal influenza, with only moderate border restrictions in place. At 80% and those moderate public health measures, our health system wouldn’t cope, he said.

“The message from the modelling is that Covid-19 is going to continue to disrupt our lives for some time yet, but we can minimise that disruption by all getting vaccinated,” said Hendy.

The Te Pūnaha Matatini research has not yet been peer reviewed and does not represent an inevitable outcome for New Zealand, said Jacinda Ardern. Instead, it’s “a contribution to a debate”.

12.50pm: Covid modeller to join PM as new cases to be confirmed

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are back for today’s 1pm briefing. And in a special twist, they’ll today be joined by prominent Covid modeller Shaun Hendy via the magic of the internet. As always, we’ll have the latest numbers and an update on any new mystery cases.

12.30pm: Government to receive build-to-rent tax advice by year’s end

Reweti Kohere reports:

Housing minister Megan Woods expects to receive advice on whether property investors can deduct interest from their tax bill on residential build-to-rent developments by year’s end, as the government seeks feedback on a proposal to restrict interest deductibility rules.

Speaking virtually to attendees of the 2021 property industry conference, Woods said officials would advise her “pretty soon actually, by the end of this year is my understanding of when we’ll have that”.

The government in late March started consulting on a proposal to restrict deductions for interest expenses on rental properties from 1 October, gradually phasing out deductions for existing landlords over the next four years while eliminating them entirely for more recent landlords. The changes are still subject to parliament’s approval.

The Property Council of New Zealand has warned in a letter to ministers that not exempting build-to-rent properties would impede efforts to ramp up the pace and scale of such developments and could deter necessary investment in the emerging asset class. Under the proposal, only new builds will attract the interest deductibility exemption.

The minister said the government was making progress on fixing the country’s housing crisis, “but there is so much more to do”.

12.05pm: Amazon to spend big on Auckland data centres

Amazon’s move into New Zealand is set to grow, with the retail giant due to spend $7.5 billion on a group of data centres in Auckland as it hopes to establish a “cloud region”.

According to the Herald, the build will create 1000 jobs and add more than $10 billion to our GDP.

Communications minister David Clark said Amazon was the second major tech provider to invest in establishing a cloud region in New Zealand.

“This will create job opportunities for industries like our construction sector, and bring long term benefits as we see the ICT sector and local innovators significantly grow into the future,” he said. “We may be a small, island nation a long way from traditional markets, but the borderless digital world continues to present us with new innovative economic opportunities.”

11.40am: Netflix buys Roald Dahl estate

Netflix has bought the rights to Roald Dahl’s entire collection of stories.

The Roald Dahl Story Company will now become a division of the streamer and allow for the production of films, television series and more based on the iconic stories.

That includes a Taika Waititi-helmed series based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an adaptation of stage musical Matilda.

“As we bring these timeless tales to more audiences in new formats, we’re committed to maintaining their unique spirit and their universal themes of surprise and kindness, while also sprinkling some fresh magic into the mix,” said Dahl’s grandson, managing director of the story company. 

11.25am: Fonterra records $600m profit

Fonterra’s annual profit has dropped by $60 million compared with the past year. The dairy giant still pulled in just under $600 million in profit after tax for the 12 months through to July 2021.

CEO Miles Hurrell said it marked the end of a three-year reset for the business. “We’ve stuck to our strategy of maximising the value of our New Zealand milk, moved to a customer-led operating model and strengthened our balance sheet,” he said.

“The results and total pay-out we’ve announced today show what we can achieve when we focus on quality execution and an aligned co-op.”

While Fonterra saw a strong sales boost in China, other regions dropped. Earnings were down by almost 30% across Africa, Middle East, Europe, North Asia and the Americas’.

10.15am: Collins denies avoiding the media

National Party leader Judith Collins has taken to social media to gently push back at a suggestion she was avoiding media scrutiny.

Yesterday, Collins pulled out of her scheduled appearance on RNZ’s Morning Report when it became known they would question her on recent staffing changes within the party. She later pulled out of other media (including a post-question time stand-up), but did front for a Stuff livestream and a Herald interview. On Newshub last night, political editor Tova O’Brien said National’s chief press secretary texted Newshub Nation at 1.33am to cancel an interview for this weekend’s show.

On her Instagram, Collins said she had a “busy media day” and that she could not front for all media appearances always.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Hon Judith Collins (@judithcollinsmp)

8.50am: Bespoke MIQ for athletes considered, new documents reveal

The government pushed for bespoke MIQ facilities exclusively for athletes – but scrapped the idea over the risk of public backlash.

Documents released to RNZ show officials looked at locations in Queenstown, Rotorua and Wellington before the idea ultimately fell through. If Queenstown had been chosen, it would have cost more than $4 million per month to run the facility.

“There are limited health resources in the Queenstown area and workforce constraints … there are also practical considerations which make Queenstown an unsuitable location,” said MIQ’s allocation and supply policy manager James Johnson back in February, noting that health staff would have needed to be brought in from elsewhere.

Mayor Jim Boult said he was disappointed the plan didn’t go ahead, saying it would have brought more people to the region. “Obviously some activity for restaurants and accommodation properties. Also the possibility of having games in the district would have brought visitors,” Boult said.

Along with costs and logistics, officials cited public perception as another reason against the proposal. “Introducing an additional facility solely dedicated to dealing with inbound sports teams would likely create an adverse response from the public due to the perception of preferential treatment,” said MBIE, the ministry responsible for MIQ.

Read the full report here

8.00am: Former National MP joins board of new national health authority

A former National MP will help lead the new national health authority, Health New Zealand.

The government has this morning announced the “expert group” appointed to lead both the national health system, which will replace the current DHB system, and the Māori Health Authority that will run alongside.

Former Selwyn MP for National, and cabinet minister, Amy Adams has been announced as one member of the new board. She will work under chair Rob Campbell, who has extensive union, public and private sector governance experience.

Sharon Shea and Tipa Mahuta, both currently involved in district health boards, will co-chair the Māori Health Authority. Shea is the current chair of the Bay of Plenty DHB, while Mahuta is deputy chair for the Counties Manukau area. Lady Tureiti Moxon, an experienced leader in the Māori health sector, has also joined the board.

Associate health minister Peeni Henare said the Māori Health Authority would be a “gamechanger” for New Zealand. “It will grow kaupapa Māori services and give Māori a strong voice in a new system focused on improving the disproportionate health outcomes that have long affected our whanau,” he said.

With an operating budget of $20 billion, Health New Zealand will replace the current 20 DHBs under one umbrella organisation. It is expected to launch in mid-next year.

7.45am: ICYMI – Yesterday’s numbers

  • There are 23 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland.
  • Of these, just one has not yet been epidemiologically linked.
  • 80% of eligible Aucklanders have now had at least one vaccine dose.
  • On Tuesday, 54,000 doses were given out nationwide.
  • A bonus 12-16 NCEA credits are up for grabs in Auckland.
  • Another 3000 MIQ rooms will be made available next Tuesday night.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

August might have been the end of no Covid in New Zealand. “We may not get back to zero,” Ashley Bloomfield warned yesterday, according to RNZ. The country can stay the course with the elimination strategy, but new cases could continue to appear in the community going forward. Modelling has shown that delta might have spread too far to get back to zero, as contact tracers will struggle to remain ahead of it. With confusion around the meaning of elimination, Siouxsie Wiles wrote in The Spinoff that the country needs to stick with a strategy based on getting back to zero or near zero in New Zealand.

What is elimination according to the government? “Elimination is zero tolerance for cases when they pop up,” Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins said yesterday.


The Covid numbers: 23 new community cases were reported yesterday in Auckland and 50% (7) of the previous day’s total were in the community while infectious. There are now 273 active cases. 53,721 people were vaccinated on Tuesday.

The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.


A difficult day in Melbourne after one of the strongest earthquakes recorded in Australia. Authorities in Victoria have warned of possible aftershocks in the coming weeks and months after the state was hit by the largest earthquake in its history, ABC reports. The magnitude 5.9 earthquake was also one of the strongest in eastern Australia since Europeans arrived. Hours later, riot police shot rubber bullets at anti-vaccination protestors in the third day of violent clashes in Melbourne.

With police warning that right-wing “professional protestors” have infiltrated what began as a protest by construction workers, The Conversation details how anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and the far-right came together to create a hi-vis mob.

This is part of The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s must-read daily news wrap. To sign up for free, simply enter your email address below

And you can read today’s top story – on James Shaw’s trip to Glasgow – here



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