Live updates, August 24: Auckland to remain at level three until Monday, rest of NZ stays at level two another week

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 24, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and Covid-19 as it returns to the community. Auckland is now in alert level three and the rest of NZ is in level two. More details here. Official information here. Get me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: The day in sum

Auckland will stay in alert level three until the end of the weekend – 11.59pm this Sunday. The supercity will then shift into alert level two, but restrictions on mass gatherings will remain.

The rest of the country will remain in alert level two until at least the end of next week.

Face coverings will be mandatory from next week on all public transport, planes and rideshare services from level two up.

Nine new cases of Covid-19 were announced. Eight are linked to existing Auckland cluster and one is an imported case from overseas.

Sentencing for the Christcurch mosque shooter began today. A summary of facts was heard for the first time in court as well as a number of victim impact statements.

Retail sales fell an historic 15% in the June 2020 quarter, making it the biggest drop on record.

The “Make it 16″ campaign was in the High Court today arguing that the current voting age of 18 is unjustified age discrimination and a breach of human rights.

6.30pm: Christchurch mosque shooter sentencing, day one

On the first day of sentencing for the terrorist who murdered 51 people and injured 40 others on March 15 last year, the Christchurch High Court heard for the first time the summary of facts on how the attacks occurred.

According to RNZ, the shooter was “heavily armed and wearing a full tactical vest with at least seven fully loaded firearms magazines and a bayonet-style knife attached”. More firearms and incendiary devices fashioned from petrol cannisters were also found in his car which he intended to use to burn down the mosques.

He first entered Al Noor Mosque where he opened fire shortly after the beginning of Friday prayers. The court also heard details of the lifesaving actions of Naeem Rashid who charged at the shooter and allowed a number of worshippers to escape. The impact is said to have caused the shooter to go down on one knee and one of his ammunition magazines to fall out from his tactical vest. Rashid was subsequently shot multiple times by the shooter and died, along with 43 other people.

Afterwards, the shooter drove to Linwood Mosque where he killed seven more people. Prosecutor Barnaby Hawes told the court that as the shooter drove away from Al Noor mosque at high speed, he was “talking and laughing about various aspects of what had occurred and what was occurring as a form of commentary”.

The court also heard how the shooter modified a number of high-powered rifles he’d purchased legally and used the internet to find out about prayer times and important dates in the Islamic calendar. In January 2019, he travelled to Christchurch and flew a drone over Al Noor Mosque to record an aerial view of the grounds as well as the positioning of entry and exit doors “to determine likely exit routes fleeing worshippers might utilise”.

Once apprehended by police, the shooter admitted his intent was to kill as many people as he could and that he was on his way to Ashburton Mosque to kill more. He said the attacks were motivated by his ideological beliefs and he intended to instil fear into those he described as “invaders”.

Statements from victims and families

A number of victim impact statements were also read out in court today. Gamal Fouda, Imam of the Al Noor Mosque, was starting a sermon when the gunman had entered. He told the gunman directly in court that he was “misguided and misled” and that his hatred was unnecessary.

“If you have done anything you have brought the community closer together with your evil actions,” said Fouda.

The parents of Ata Elayyan, who was killed at Al Noor Mosque, said they could never forgive the man who took their son’s life. His mother, Maysoon Salama, called on Allah to ensure he would face the most severe punishment in the hereafter.

Saira Patel, who was at the Linwood Mosque, also read out her harrowing account of that day. Her husband, Musa Patel, was among the seven worshippers who died. Despite frantically attempting to save his life with her bare hands, he died at the scene after being shot in the back.

5.30pm: Extension of lockdown ‘another blow’ for hospo

The extension of Auckland’s alert level three restrictions over the weekend is a blow for the hospitality industry, says the Restaurant Association, with already struggling bars and restaurants losing key trading days. The association is also unhappy with the rest of the country staying at level two, with CEO Marisa Bidois calling it “an unnecessary measure” given the localised nature of the current outbreak.

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, confirmed there would be no targeted support for hospitality in this afternoon’s media briefing, a move criticised by Bidois in a press release this afternoon. “The majority of our industry is made up of small owner-operator businesses that cannot sustain these ongoing closures and restrictions,” said Bidois, adding that the association is predicting a closure rate of 10 to 12% of all hospitality businesses as a result.

The Restaurant Association is petitioning the government to launch a subsidised dining out initiative, similar to that running in the UK, where diners get half-price meals during August.

4.30pm: Scientists come out in support of level three extension

While the alert level three extension would’ve been disheartening for many Aucklanders, a number of academics have come out in support of the move, including Dr Siouxsie Wiles who described it as a “pragmatic decision” and Dr Shaun Hendy who noted that seasonal and community factors were important to take into account.

“This outbreak is different in several ways to the one we experienced in March and April. The virus is thought to spread more effectively in winter conditions. It has also affected Auckland’s Pacific population, who are likely more vulnerable to the disease,” said Hendy.

“This is an elusive disease that is very hard to manage as we have seen through some of the infections that occurred before we went to level three. Even something as straightforward as sharing a bus ride or an elevator is a risk. Our modelling suggests that we need more time in alert level three in Auckland before we can be confident the spread is under control.”

4pm: Businesses are ‘carrying the burden for the team of five million’

Reacting to the four-day extension of Auckland’s alert level three lockdown, Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett said that businesses were “carrying the burden for the team of five million” and were fighting to survive. He added that the prolonged lockdown in Auckland would have a harsh impact nationwide on jobs and business continuity, but also people’s mental resilience and wellbeing.

“While we understand the government’s trade-offs to contain the long tail of this incursion and protect public health before the economy, business is taking the brunt of the current elimination strategy and the failure at the border to keep the virus out and consequently keep people in jobs in the community,” said Barnett.

“We’re being told we’ve learned a lot about how to stamp out flare-ups and that draconian lockdowns will not always be necessary. We’re using QR codes apps and good hygiene, and have accelerated the speed and capability to test, track and trace contacts, and still Auckland is shut.”

3.45pm: Peters provides consular assistance to bad boy of Brexit

Foreign minister Winston Peters is in a spot of bother over a request for consular assistance from one of the so-called “Bad Boys of Brexit”. Aaron Banks, an architect of the Brexit campaign, reached out to Peters’ office, to try and get a transit visa from New Zealand to Australia, reports the NZ Herald’s Jason Walls.

National’s foreign affairs spokesperson Simon Bridges says it is “rare and notable” for the foreign minister’s office to have any involvement in a consular assistance request, but a spokesperson for Peters said that Banks was merely referred to where he should go, with Peters’ senior private secretary telling Banks to “let me know how you get on.”

Peters and Banks have been friends for several years, and are possibly campaign colleagues for the election. 

3.00pm: Auckland to remain in alert level three until Monday, rest of NZ stays in level two another week

Updated

Auckland is to remain in alert level three until the end of the weekend – 11.59pm this Sunday – the prime minister has announced.

The supercity will then shift into a modified alert level two from Monday, with the rest of the country retaining the current level two settings for at least a further week. Mass gathering restrictions will remain at 10 (except for funerals and tangi, which will be restricted to 50 people) in Auckland, but businesses will be allowed to open, Jacinda Ardern said.

The new alert levels will be reviewed on Sunday, September 6.

The decision follows a Cabinet meeting today where the latest health advice from the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield was considered.

“Auckland should step its way into level two. Schools, hospitality and retail can all reopen but we will keep a limit on mass gatherings,” Ardern said.

New Zealand is “well equipped” to deal with the outbreak, Ardern added. More than 100,000 Aucklanders have been tested for Covid-19 since the supercity shifted into alert level three, just under a fortnight ago.

“If it weren’t for level three, this cluster would be exponential… this is a contained cluster, but it is our biggest one.

“That means the tail will be long and the cases will keep coming for a while to come,” said Ardern.

In a change to the alert levels, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport (including taxis and rideshare) and planes from level two up, from Monday, Ardern said. “This isn’t a decision we took lightly but we know masks protect you and those around you.” Any type of face covering is acceptable, Ardern said, adding that government was “working now through the orders”.

Regional travel will be allowed at level two, but limits on mass gathering remain: “if we want the economic benefit of regional travel, the trade-off is keeping in place the social distancing and mass gathering limits,” Ardern said. “It’s a finely balanced decision, but the right one I believe”.

“Now more than ever, a stamp it out strategy is best for our people and our economy,” said Ardern, keeping in line with the “hard and fast” approach this government has taken to tackling Covid-19.

“Even though many of us haven’t been in the city or experienced the second round of level three, we know it’s been tough. I know there are many who have found it harder this time.

“If it feels hard right now, it’s because it is. But let’s also remember that in a world where 2020 has, frankly, been terrible, we are strong, we have been kind, and we are doing really well.”

When questioned on why the rest of the country was remaining at level two, rather than dropping down to level one, Ardern said it was an issue of enforceability: “it becomes very difficult to enforce anyone coming into level one areas and not participating in mass gatherings.

“You wouldn’t want a farcical situation where Aucklanders are able to travel across the country to go to large events and large gatherings, because we do still want to manage that risk in Auckland.”

2.30pm: Watch – PM set to reveal decision on alert levels

Editor Toby Manhire writes:

The decision on changing alert levels is now just half an hour away. The key factors that will have come under consideration are covered here, but an interesting point of comparison is the day a decision on moving from alert level three was announced time around.

On Monday May 11, Jacinda Ardern announced a staggered move into level three across the country, beginning on Thursday May 14.

On May 11, there were three new cases announced, bringing the total to 90 active cases. Today we had nine new cases, bringing the total active cases to 123, with 19 of those imported. Then, however, there were 12 active clusters of Covid-19 around the country; today there is only one.

Compared to 15 weeks ago, however, New Zealand’s capability on contact tracing and testing has grown substantially. As Ashley Bloomfield noted this afternoon they also have the added advantage of genomic sequence analysis, a big help in detecting the provenance of an infection.

2.20pm: BNZ, Kiwibank Auckland branches close due to level three

BNZ and Kiwibank have shut all their Auckland branches as a result of alert level three restrictions. The banks have been open until today. BNZ previously operated limited services from nine of its 35 branches in the city.

Today, the bank posted on social media to say it had not been given an exemption to operate by the Ministry of Health.

“We’re sorry to let you know there will be no Auckland BNZ branches open at level 3,” the company said.

“We were advised this morning by the Ministry of Health that banks do not have an exemption to operate under alert level 3 and have to immediately close the nine branches we had open in Auckland to serve customers during this period.”

Kiwibank also revealed that based on ministry advice, it would need to close its Auckland branches.

1.00pm: Nine new Covid-19 cases, eight linked to cluster

Updated

There are eight new confirmed cases of Covid-19 and one probable, Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed. Eight (including the single probable case) of these are in the community and linked to the Auckland cluster. The final new case is an imported case from overseas.

Four are household contacts of confirmed cases, two are workplace contacts, one is a church contact and one is the person who was on the bus with a confirmed case. New Zealand now has 1,332 confirmed cases, with 351 probable, bringing the combined total to 1,683. There are 123 active cases, 19 of which are imported cases. At 101 cases, the Auckland cluster is now the country’s biggest, overtaking the Bluff wedding (98) and Marist College (96).

These new cases come ahead of this afternoon’s announcement from the prime minister about whether or not Auckland will move out of alert level three, and the rest of the country level two. Bloomfield confirmed he had given his advice to cabinet ahead of the decision, but would not comment further on that advice.

Ten people are in hospital with Covid-19 today, Bloomfield said. Three people are in Auckland City Hospital, four people in Middlemore, two people in North Shore Hospital and one person in Waikato Hospital. The new person in Auckland City Hospital is linked to the community cluster and was transferred from the quarantine facility late on Sunday. Two of those in Middlemore are in the intensive care unit, Bloomfield said.

As of this morning, 2,300 close contacts of the community cases had been identified, 2,239 of whom have been contacted and are self-isolating.

Yesterday, 4,589 tests were processed, Bloomfield said, bringing the total to date to 697,070 – nearly 100,000 of which were processed in the last seven days.

In the Jet Park quarantine facility currently are 151 people linked to the Auckland cluster, comprising 82 positive cases and their whānau members. Two cases are now under investigation and one will be genome sequenced today as no epidemiological link has yet been established. The other case under investigation is a person who arrived in the country in June and did not return a positive test when in managed isolation. Bloomfield said it may be an old infection that for some reason wasn’t picked up in the first test.

Mandatory mask usage an “active discussion” – Bloomfield

Asked about possible changes to alert level one settings, Bloomfield said no consideration had been made to changing the limits on mass gatherings, but suggested the prime minister may have more to say about the use of masks at today’s 3pm press conference. There has been talk in recent days about a possible “alert level 1.5”.

“It’s a very active discussion,” said Bloomfield when asked about mandatory mask use. “I think the prime minister will have some specific comments on this at 3 o’clock.”

Bloomfield said possible “lockdown fatigue” is definitely an issue, if further shutdowns happen again in the future. “I think the data suggests that there’s still a high level of engagement and willingness this time,” he said.

Questioned on the pulled Labour Party ad featuring Bloomfield, the director general wouldn’t comment on whether his appearance in the ad was politicised.

Bloomfield ‘encouraged’ by Covid tracer app uptake

There are now more than 1,770,000 people registered to use the NZ Covid Tracer app, Bloomfield said. This is more than 43% of the population aged 15 and over.

Bloomfield said he’s encouraged by the recent uptake of the app. There have been well over a million scans every day for the past 7 days and 313,119 QR codes have been created.

12.50pm: Watch – Bloomfield to reveal new Covid cases

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will be giving today’s 1pm media briefing on new Covid-19 cases, ahead of the prime minister’s announcement on whether or not we will be dropping alert levels later this week.

Watch here:

12.00pm: Collins calls for health summit

National’s leader Judith Collins would convene a public health summit, if elected prime minister in October.

The summit, Collins said, would review lockdown levels and discuss other public health measures that avoid future lockdowns.

“We need to work out how our economy can flourish when it’s clear Covid-19 will be with us for some time,” Collins said. “It is clear that the levels system needs to be reviewed in light of our experience, with a wide range of perspectives in the room.

“National’s border policy with a single protection agency and greater testing and contact tracing abilities is one step to ensuring the Kiwis remain safe from Covid-19, but if there are future threats as a country, we need certainty and transparency over what the process is if future outbreaks occur.”

11.30am: Historic drop in retail sales for June quarter – Stats NZ

Retail sales fell an historic 15% in the June 2020 quarter, according to new Stats NZ figures. That makes it the biggest drop on record.

Spending on eating out, accommodation away from home, vehicles, and fuel all fell sharply in the June 2020 quarter compared with the June 2019 quarter. This was only partly offset by strong supermarket and grocery sales, Stats NZ said.

“This unprecedented fall in the June quarter was not unexpected, with COVID-19 restrictions significantly limiting retail activity,” retail statistics manager Kathy Hicks said.

“Non-essential businesses closed temporarily for about half of the quarter during alert levels 4 and 3.”

Sales for food and beverage services fell 40 percent or $1.2 billion in the quarter, the largest drop of any industry.

10.30am: Sentencing of Christchurch mosque shooter begins

It’s day one of the sentencing of the man convicted of killing 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in March last year. While a life sentence is all but guaranteed, the question remains whether the Australian national will be the first person in New Zealand to be jailed for life without parole.

Reports this morning out of Christchurch reveal just how tight security is around the courtroom. Stuff reports that police dogs are pacing along the street and snipers are positioned on nearby rooftops. The police eagle helicopter is also circling. For the duration of the sentencing, the gunman will be held at the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct where he can be escorted from a cell below ground to the courtroom. This means he won’t be transported to and from prison each day, lowering the risk of him being attacked in transit.

The majority of the sentencing will be taken up by the 66 victim impact statements, according to the Herald. Some will say their piece in court in front of the gunman, others have been recorded on video and some will be read aloud by lawyers.

The sentencing is expected to last for at least four days, and we’ll bring you everything you need to know here.

This week: Politics in Pubs

A reminder about our upcoming event this week in Wellington. Morgan Godfery hosts an evening with Māori Party co-leader/Te Tai Hauāuru Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahine, Ngā Rauru, Irish). With decades of experience in grassroots activism and politics, Debbie will be discussing the key issues facing Māori this election year.

If our previous Politics in Pubs events are anything to go off (see: here), this will be an amazing night out.

All the info you need is right here

9.10am: Court to hear that current voting age is ‘discrimination’

The “Make it 16″ campaign is in the High Court today arguing that the current voting age of 18 is unjustified age discrimination and a breach of human rights. The group is hoping for a declaration of inconsistency that could eventually lead to a law change.

“We know the court cannot overturn laws, even if the court finds those laws breach human rights,” said Dan Harward Jones, co-director of Make it 16. “A declaration of inconsistency from the High Court is a powerful statement that will have a moral and political impact.”

A ruling like this from the High Court has affected change before, the group said. In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld a high court declaration of inconsistency on the prisoner voting ban which eventually led to parliamentary reform.

Gina Dao-McLay, co-director of Make it 16, said “extending the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds would uphold human rights and give us a more representative, better democracy”.

You can read more about the issue right now on The Spinoff

8.15am: Auckland businesses ‘coped well’ with level three – Robertson

Despite pressure from the business community to ease lockdown restrictions in Auckland, the finance minister said Auckland businesses have handled the two weeks at level three well.

“We obviously are concerning ourselves with the impact that this is having on Auckland and Aucklanders particularly,” Grant Robertson told RNZ this morning.

“Those level three restrictions have certainly delivered in terms of making sure we have kept control of this particular cluster… but we recognise the impact that has on Aucklanders and Auckland businesses.”

Robertson said that a lot of the feedback he has received showed people and businesses could cope with the restrictions, citing the extended wage subsidy scheme that was implemented. But, he recognises that it wasn’t easy for everyone.

“Clearly the longer things go on the more challenging it will get, particularly for the businesses who either can’t operate at all or are operating in a more restricted form.”

Cabinet will today be convening to decide whether to adjust our alert levels. We’re expecting to know the outcome about 3pm.

7.45am: NZ awaits decision on alert level changes

Cabinet will today convene to make final decisions about whether Auckland moves out of alert level three, and the rest of the country drops back to level one.

The prime minister’s expected to address media at around 3pm to deliver the news, after considering the latest advice from the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

Right now on The Spinoff, our editor Toby Manhire has gone through a list of what the prime minister’s likely to consider today ahead of a decision being made.

Read more: The key factors Ardern and cabinet will consider in making a call on alert levels

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Sentencing will begin today for the perpetrator of the terrorist attack committed on March 15 at two Christchurch mosques last year. In March of this year, he pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder, and one charge of engaging in a terrorist act under the Terrrorism Suppression Act of 2002. The guilty pleas came as something of a surprise, as many had been expecting a drawn out trial. Even though it may have seemed obvious that he had committed the crimes, following the process according to the law would have been necessary to ensure justice was done correctly.

The sentencing itself is expected to last for several days, and there are strict rules on what can and can’t be reported from it. For example, media have been blocked from reporting live from the trial – because of the obvious sensitivities, the presiding judge will make it clear what can and can’t be reported on. Part of the reason for the time allocated towards the sentencing is because there will be dozens of victim impact statements to be read to the court – the murderer is likely to be present in the courtroom to hear some or all of them. Various issues around the sentencing are addressed in this piece on The Conversation by AUT law professor Kris Gledhill.

Many family members of the victims have travelled great distances to be here. One widow of the attacks who has done so spoke to Radio NZ yesterday morning. Dr Hamimah Tuyan is now based in Singapore, and has been through managed isolation to be in Christchurch today. She said “my husband is not here to speak for himself, so I am his voice. I am also my children’s voice.” Dr Tuyan also said she would appeal to the judge that a deserved sentence is imposed.

What sort of sentence is likely? New Zealand has no death penalty, for those wondering if this is one of those rare circumstances where it may be imposed. However, a minimum sentence of 17 years imprisonment is required for any murder that occurs as part of a terrorist act. It is possible that he will be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, which would effectively mean he would never be free ever again.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here 

7.30am: Yesterday’s main stories

There was only one new case of Covid-19 reported in the community, along with two at the border.

A Stickybeak poll for The Spinoff revealed that support for the government response to Covid-19 remained high, though there were few that felt the same way about the National Party.

Shane Reti defended the National Party call for a new border agency to be established in the first 100 days of a new government.

There were changes announced on restrictions to Auckland travel.

Labour removed a video featuring Ashley Bloomfield.

The Kingswood Rest Home in Morrinsville was officially cleared of any possible cases of Covid-19.

Read all the key stories in yesterday’s live updates.



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