Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 24, with Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch? I’m on email@example.com
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- The delta community outbreak has grown by 41 cases. The total is now 148.
- Of these, 137 are in Auckland and 11 are in Wellington.
- Over half the positive cases in the community are people under the age of 30
- Cases are expected to continue growing for the next few days.
- The largest sub-cluster is 58 cases linked to a church service in Māngere.
- Roughly 6000 contacts of known cases have not yet been contacted by officials.
- The next official update is 1pm tomorrow.
6.30pm Middlemore ED worker tests positive
1 NEWS have reported that a staff member working in the emergency department at Middlemore Hospital has tested positive for Covid-19. A spokesperson for the Health Ministry confirmed that the case was identified as a part of routine testing, and the risk to the public was low. They also said that the staff member “was asymptomatic, fully vaccinated, was detected through routine testing, wore appropriate PPE while at work, and the individual is reported to have taken all the appropriate precautions once notified.”
The Ministry of Health has released new locations of interest in Auckland tonight, the total list now at 450 locations. The updated locations include the Aotea Centre, The Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) in Western Springs, Countdown Victoria Street in the CBD and MECCA Maxima in Westfield Albany. Read the full list of locations here.
6.00pm Controversial Viaduct bar visited by positive case
The NZ Herald has reported that Headquarters Bar on Auckland’s Viaduct, owned by controversial bar owner Leo Molloy, was visited by a recent positive Covid-19 case on August 14. Molloy confirmed that over 30 staff had been working on the evening in question, and also noted that Headquarters had been equipped with a “sophisticated surveillance system” installed last year.
Molloy told The Herald that he was a “believer” in vaccinations, and that when Headquarters reopens in the appropriate alert level, he will not serve anyone who has not been vaccinated. Last year, Molloy made headlines when he planned a 100 person party at Headquarters under level two conditions (max. gatherings of 10 people or less), including guests such as Brian and Hannah Tamaki.
5.40pm Half of all community cases are Pacific people
Despite making up just 7% of the New Zealand population, Pacific people make up more than half the cases in the current Covid outbreak. To date, there are 58 confirmed cases connected to a single church event. Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, Senior Lecturer in Pathology & Molecular Medicine at the University of Otago, says the disparity is unsurprising. “Given the inequities that have persisted in health for Māori and Pacific peoples already, it was known from the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic that Pacific peoples and Māori communities were vulnerable to being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and would require prioritisation, especially for the vaccination roll-out.”
The Pacific community continues to have the highest testing rate in the country but low vaccination numbers are an ongoing concern.
4.50pm Home Learning TV to return to TVNZ tomorrow
Parents across the country can breathe a sigh of relief and take back everything they’ve ever said about square eyes and screen time, because Home Learning TV is back for lockdown 2021. TVNZ and the Ministry of Education announced earlier this afternoon that Home Learning TV / Papa Kāinga TV will be returning to TVNZ DUKE +1 tomorrow with a bunch of wholesome and educational content for kids.
From 9am to 1pm weekdays, you can expect appearances from Suzy Cato and Karen O’Leary, as well as shows like Fanimals and Maia the Brave. Home Learning TV is available on Freeview channel 18 and Sky channel 504, with over 400 lessons on TVNZ OnDemand. You can read more about what is on offer here from when the service launched during our last nationwide lockdown.
4.30pm: New locations of interest announced, including several in Auckland’s North Shore and city centre
The Ministry of Health has announced new locations of interest, including a number of places on Auckland’s North Shore. Those who attended the Filipino Night event at Rosmini College on August 13 from 6.20-10.00pm are being asked to isolate at home and get tested. Other locations include Glassons Westfield Albany, Chemist Warehouse Albany and multiple visits to a bathroom near JB Hi-Fi, also in Westfield Albany.
More locations in Auckland’s CBD have also been added, including Fatima’s Commercial Bay, Starbucks Queen Street and Pandora Queen Street. Read the full list of locations here.
4.00pm: New chart shows age breakdown of community cases
Information released by the Ministry of Health shows that over half the positive cases in the community have been found in people under 30 years old, including a child under one. "We do know the delta variant is infecting younger populations more readily," Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told the health select committee earlier this afternoon.
3.45pm: The best Zoom backgrounds from today's health committee
One of the highlights (if that's the right word) of last year's lockdown was observing a continued stream of strange, funny and adorable Zoom backgrounds during the brief tenure of the Epidemic Response Committee. They were so good that, unsurprisingly, we ranked them!
Today has seen the health select committee gather and while the backgrounds were somewhat dull, there were some highlights:
Chris Bishop's angelic halo
Chris Hipkins' ethereal void
The Covid-19 response minister is possibly in exile with John Oliver.
Tangi Utikere's two lamps
Almost as good as three lamps.
I also can't wear a headset like that without indulging my Britney Spears' pop star fantasy.
Simon Watts' wedding pics
There is simply so much to look at! The wedding photos at the top! The group photos in the middle! The books! I spy at least two copies of what appear to be from the "for dummies" range, on the right. And what is that mysterious, ribbed glass?
3.25pm: Child under one youngest in delta outbreak
It has been revealed that a child under the age of one is the youngest infected during the current delta outbreak. Speaking to the health committee, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield indicated that several young people were being impacted by this particular outbreak. A number of those infected were under 20, said Bloomfield.
3.15pm: Reminder – if you get a Covid test, your personal data is safe
Chris Hipkins has reiterated that information gathered as part of the Covid-19 response will not be used for any other purpose.
The Covid-19 response minister was referring more specifically to those who may be hesitant to get tested or vaccinated “because their visas are not current”.
Asked in the health select committee about assurances regarding immigration and resident visas for those close to the current outbreak, Hipkins said: “The last thing we want is people hiding and increasing risk because they’re worried that by releasing that information they’re increasing a different sort of risk."
2.50pm: Missing pair linked to possible Covid spread from Crowne Plaza located
The two people being sought in relation to the possible leak of Covid-19 from the Crowne Plaza MIQ hotel have been located, Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed.
Six people were in the vicinity of a New South Wales returnee that has been identified as the source of the outbreak. Prior to today, four of those six had been tracked down and tested – returning negative results – with the remaining two still outstanding.
One of the newly located pair allegedly identified themselves on Twitter this morning and criticised health officials for not responding to an email, before tagging National leader Judith Collins.
2.30pm: Opposition to question Hipkins and Bloomfield
Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, Ashley Bloomfield and other health officials are about to face questions in the health select committee. Opposition MPs have been promised the bulk of the questions due to parliament being put on hold for at least the next week.
1.55pm: Bloomfield issues warning over spam Covid-19 texts
The Ministry of Health is aware of spam texts being sent to people sharing fake positive Covid-19 results, Ashley Bloomfield has revealed.
Speaking at today's 1pm briefing, the director general said that anyone who had actually tested positive for the virus would not be sent a text message but would be contacted by phone. "Negative results are texts," said Bloomfield.
Meanwhile, Bloomfield pushed back against disinformation comparing the coronavirus to the regular flu. Comparing New Zealand to Scotland, Bloomfield said we would have experienced roughly 10,000 deaths if we had not pursued an elimination strategy. By comparison, roughly 600 people die annually from influenza.
1.05pm: Delta outbreak grows by 41, total now 148
There are 41 new positive community cases of Covid-19, pushing the Auckland delta outbreak up to 148.
Speaking at parliament, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said 38 of the new cases are in Auckland with three confirmed in Wellington. The trio of new cases in the capital have all been linked.
All cases have been or are being transferred to a quarantine facility. Bloomfield confirmed that no new cases have so far been detected outside of Auckland or Wellington, including in the Coromandel. Earlier today, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins indicated that Coromandel had got lucky by avoiding any community cases after case A spent time in the coastal community.
Despite the significant growth in cases today, Bloomfield said he was reassured it was not an exponential increase. He anticipated that case numbers would continue to grow over the next few days, but these should be linked to known exposure events.
Bloomfield said there remained multiple possible origins for the Delta outbreak. "We're still open minded about how the virus got [out]," he said.
Largest sub-cluster grows to 58
From the 148 total cases, 89 have so far been epidemiologically linked to the Auckland outbreak. Bloomfield said the vast majority of the remaining 59 were either a household contact of a case or have been at a location of interest.
There are eight Covid-19 cases in hospital across the Auckland region. From later today, information about how many cases have been out and about during their infectious period will be published, said Bloomfield.
80 genomes have now been sequenced, all linked to the outbreak. Sub-clusters are being identified through genome mutations. The majority of cases are Sāmoan, said Bloomfield, with the largest sub-cluster centred around the Assembly of God church in Māngere, with 58 cases.
The second largest sub-cluster is the Birkdale social group, with 23 cases (this was the group of flatmates).
Officials race to track down 6000 contacts
There are now 15,741 contacts, most of whom are close contacts. At this point of the outbreak in August, there were only 1500 contacts, said Bloomfield. 9,757 have been followed up and are self-isolating, while the remaining 6000 are being followed up urgently. There are now nearly 900 frontline contact tracers.
Bloomfield said there are 369 "very close" contacts, of which 90% have already been contacted. 89% of very close contacts were found and traced within 48 hours of the case notification, said Bloomfield.
On testing, Bloomfield said 35,376 tests were processed across the country yesterday and confirmed that test wait times were dropping. Yesterday, more than 26,506 cases were taken in Auckland alone. There are no unexpected wastewater results today and follow-up testing from Warkworth has been negative after an earlier positive result.
Yesterday was also the best day so far for the vaccine rollout, said deputy PM Grant Robertson. Roughly 63,000 doses of the vaccine were administered nationwide. "Getting vaccination results like this is an important step forward," he said.
1.00pm: When might the new cases start to decrease?
How soon should we expect to be able to see that the level four lockdown is stamping out the virus? It was an earlier strain and a different kind of lead-in, but it's interesting to look back at the first wave in 2020. As you'll see, it wasn't until 10 days of level four lockdown that a discernible drop in new cases was clear.
12.45pm: Bloomfield to reveal latest Covid-19 cases as outbreak poised to grow
Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson will join Ashley Bloomfield at the podium this afternoon, where new Covid-19 cases are expected to be announced.
The outbreak currently sits at 107 cases, with eight in Wellington and the remaining 99 in Auckland.
Another handful of locations of interest have now been announced, including a busy inner city Auckland cafe, a Pak 'n Save supermarket and a Bunnings store.
11.55am: 'More than enough' money available to pay for lockdown, says finance minister
Business editor Michael Andrew reports:
The government has adequate money available to pay for the current level four lockdown, and a possible extension, finance minister Grant Robertson told the Finance and Expenditure Committee today.
On top of the $5 billion that remains unallocated from the $62 million Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Fund announced in May 2020, Robertson said there were also smaller amounts that could be drawn from other allocated funds that had been “underspent”.
While Robertson would not offer an exact amount, a press release last week specified that the government had an additional $1 billion left over from other spends along with the $5 billion still in the Covid-19 fund. When asked by National MP Andrew Bayly where the government intended to find more money if the cost of an extended lockdown exceeded $6 billion, Robertson said that our strong economy had created “fiscal headroom” and that the $35m Imprest Supply Bill had a contingency built into it to provide more Covid-19 response funds.
When Bayly queried why the government had spent so much of its initial fund on other measures when it should have retained more for a level four lockdown, Robertson said that much of the fund had been spent through the Wage Subsidy Scheme and “the additional supports that were provided to low income New Zealanders”.
“I think that overall the fund has done exactly what we wanted it to do," Robertson said. "We started in May 2020 to be able to both do immediate response, such as the health system, such as the wage subsidy scheme, and begin work on the recovery of the economy.”
Robertson said as of last night 127,935 businesses had been approved for the wage subsidy scheme, amounting to around $484.4 million already paid out to businesses.
Robertson defends Covid relief spending
While Robertson assured the committee there was ample money available to continue paying the wage subsidy for some time, he was asked by multiple ministers how he justified spending or allocating portions of the Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Fund on areas like libraries, animal welfare and RNZ baseline funding, when they should have been made available for "core Covid" measures during lockdowns.
"Can you commit to ensuring... that if you need to come back to parliament for further imprest supply, that that will be related to things directly related to Covid response and recovery like the wage subsidy scheme, like vaccines, and that you will cease to invest in things that frankly are not the domain of that fund?" National MP Michael Woodhouse asked.
Robertson replied that the fund was supposed to support economic recovery in a wide range of sectors, including areas like infrastructure development, but the vast bulk had been spent on core Covid measures, as assessed through estimates hearings.
Robertson also said that while an extended level four lockdown might trigger residential or commercial rent relief or mortgage repayment holidays, they weren't needed at this stage. He ruled out residential rent freezes given that the government could only implement one every 12 months.
11.40am: The latest locations of interest
Three new locations of interest have been added to the Ministry of Health website. The total now sits above 400, with the first dated back to the start of August.
The new locations are Western Springs College, Revive Cafe and St Therese Catholic Church.
11.20am: MIQ staffer tests positive for Covid after visiting exposure site
A staff member working at an Auckland managed isolation facility has tested positive for Covid-19, reports Newshub.
The staffer worked at the Novotel Hotel in Ellerslie and had visited a location of interest, according to a letter from MIQ head brigadier Rose King sent to those staying at the facility.
Once aware they had been at a possible exposure site, the worker entered self-isolation before getting tested late last week.
An investigation is now under way to determine how the worker caught the coronavirus and whether they passed it onto anyone. That investigation will include genomic testing and interviews to help identify any close contacts.
King said there were "robust processes in place to respond to these kinds of events". At this stage, the facility will continue to host returnees and those at the hotel will finish their 14 days of managed isolation.
10.40am: Watch live – Robertson grilled before finance committee
Finance minister and deputy PM Grant Robertson will face questions this morning over the government's support for businesses during alert level four.
10.30am: Labour volunteer rebuked for delivering political brochure during level four
Labour has rebuked a volunteer who delivered party flyers during alert level four.
The flyers, known to have been delivered within the Auckland suburb of Ellerslie, advertised the government's Covid-19 recovery plan and featured photos of Jacinda Ardern.
The Spinoff was first made aware of the flyer after an Ellerslie resident took to Facebook and questioned receiving one in their letterbox.
In a statement to The Spinoff, Labour's general secretary Rob Salmond said the party had made it clear leaflets should not be delivered in alert level four. "This was an isolated incident from a volunteer who didn’t get the message," Salmond said.
"We have sent multiple messages via MPs, local electorate committees and emails making [the rules] clear."
A similar incident in Christchurch made headlines last week when a local volunteer delivered party leaflets in support of police minister Poto Williams.
"We have made it very clear that stopping our in-person political activity is a way we can help stop the spread of the virus," Salmond told The Spinoff.
Responding to the initial Facebook post, Labour's Maungakiekie chair Will Matthews apologised for the pamphlet drop. "These leaflets... were scheduled to be delivered before we knew about the lockdown," he explained.
"Once we went into level four the Labour Party sent out an update to say that deliveries needed to stop. However, it seems that one of our fab volunteers wasn't aware of this and decided to get some of their deliveries done while they were taking their walk."
10.10am: First look at NZ-shot Netflix series Cowboy Bebop
A little break from the impending doom of alert level four: some television news!
Netflix has released a first look at the live action version of Cowboy Bebop which was shot on our shores last year. The production was given special permission to bring in cast members despite our border restrictions, including star John Cho (who was spotted out and about in Ponsonby on several occasions).
The series will release, in full, on November 19.
9.45am: Want to know how long the testing queue is?
A little FYI for people wanting to head out to the supermarket or a testing site today. Time in the Line collates information about possible wait times for queues around the country.
For example, latest reports from the Balmoral testing centre in central Auckland suggest a long wait could be ahead.
A little note, however: the queue times are based on user reports so it's not always entirely accurate – but it can be helpful!
8.45am: Opposition outraged by decision to shut down parliament
Democratic scrutiny is "critical" during a time of national crisis and it's outrageous that parliament can't sit this week, the opposition has argued.
Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced that the House will not sit for at least this week, with government ministers to instead front before select committees.
Speaking to RNZ, National's Covid response spokesperson Chris Bishop said that wasn't the best option. "Other parliaments have found ways to meet even at times of quite strict social restrictions," said Bishop. "I think that's the preference of everyone."
Bishop accepted that New Zealand was operating under an elimination strategy – and so any gatherings should be limited – but believed that it was important the parliament found a way to sit. The second best option was to reintroduce a Covid-specific committee. "The reason it's not there is because the government doesn't want it," said Bishop. "A dedicated Covid committee would be a great thing."
Pushed on what the opposition would be doing differently, Bishop said: "We would speed up the vaccine rollout as quickly as possible and set a target that the government should go for by the end of the year."
He added: "It beggars belief that we're not using saliva testing out in the community."
Today's select committee schedule
- 10.30am – Finance and Expenditure (Grant Robertson and officials)
- 2.30pm – Health (Chris Hipkins and Health officials)
Chris Hipkins, as leader of the house, said: "[These] meetings will be televised on Parliament TV and we expect opposition members to have the bulk of the allotted time to ask questions."
8.20am: Locations of interest top 400
Locations of interest have increased by roughly 100 in just one day, with the total number now above 400.
The latest locations, added to the Ministry of Health website last night, include Mangere Mall in South Auckland, Pizza Club in Avondale, a liquor store and a petrol station. The popular Forte Convenience store near the University of Auckland, and frequented by hundreds of students, has also cropped up on the list.
7.30am: Delta outbreak has not peaked and more cases will be confirmed today – PM
There will be "more" Covid-19 cases today, the government has confirmed. But we won't know how many until 1pm.
Jacinda Ardern, speaking to Newshub, said the delta outbreak has not reached its peak yet and "people should expect [the case numbers to grow]".
Over on RNZ, the PM said that the government "wants answers" on whether a public access way connected to the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility could be the source of this outbreak. "Everything that we have done around our managed isolation facilities has been based on the way we know Covid-19 has been behaving: that it is primarily through person-to-person contact, through droplets and so on... we want to run down all the theories here," she said.
"In the mean time, we are not continuing to put people in the Crowne Plaza."
With Ardern no longer appearing on Newstalk ZB, it was Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins who fronted to Mike Hosking today. Hipkins said early indications were that the Coromandel had dodged a Covid bullet, with no cases recorded outside of Auckland or Wellington so far.
"I don't have the Coromandel [testing] numbers in front of me... but as of late yesterday afternoon they managed to clear the backlog with the early surge in testing," he said. "As of late yesterday it was looking encouraging," he said.
Hipkins rejected an assertion that the source of this outbreak won't be found.
The next official health update will come at 1pm.
7.15am: The Bulletin – How delta spread through Auckland
Today's top story:
The delta outbreak’s spread is becoming increasingly defined. As the number of cases and contacts rise quickly, officials are mapping out how the delta variant spread. A picture is emerging of an outbreak that is larger than first expected and also a country that came close to the tipping point where case numbers could have exploded.
It began in early August. The first infection has been linked back to a returnee from Sydney who arrived on a red zone flight on August 7. After returning a negative test prior to departure, they were put in Auckland’s downtown Crowne Plaza hotel, a managed isolation facility. The next day they tested positive and on August 9 were moved to quarantine.
The escape. Sometime during that first weekend of August, either on the seventh or eighth, the delta variant escaped the Crowne Plaza. Investigations are ongoing into one of two walkways near the hotel that are open to the public, and where the most fleeting of interactions might have unwittingly spread the virus. If so, it had a toehold.
The week. That Monday, a suspected case went to a mechanic’s shop in the morning. Other suspected cases took the bus to school and work. In the evening, one dined at a trendy restaurant in Britomart. Over the following week, the delta variant slowly spread through Auckland. From one person it could have spread to six, infecting a new person every day. “Basically, from the period we identified the person at the Crowne Plaza it’s dotted all the way through,” the prime minister said Monday afternoon, describing the appearance of new cases. Many of them have retrospectively reported minor symptoms that first week, according to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield. A sniffle would be easy to dismiss after months without a community case.
The weekend. By Friday evening, August 13, there were probably a few dozen cases in Auckland, according to expert modeller Shaun Hendy. Many of them could possibly be linked to a four-person flat where a tradie, teacher and nurse lived, he told The Bulletin. The group had a busy schedule, and the virus spread rapidly. “Then people were having a good weekend. Over that weekend it goes from a few dozen cases to potentially hundreds,” said Hendy.
The church. On Saturday, August 14, there was a university ball at the Aotea Centre where hundreds attended. On Sunday, August 15, the Samoan Assembly of God church in Māngere could have been the scene of one of the largest transmission events with a number of cases linked to services that day. About half of all known cases now are in Auckland’s Pacific community.
The test. One person who didn’t enjoy a weekend in Auckland was a 58-year-old tradie from Devonport who had gone to Coromandel. On Monday, August 16, the man went to see his GP and got a test after experiencing symptoms. He worked with the tradie from the flat. The next day, his test came back positive. The country was in level four lockdown on Tuesday at midnight.