PoliticsSeptember 24, 2021

Live updates, September 24: Nine new cases of Covid-19 in Auckland; multiple arrests made at alert level boundary


Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 23, by Alice Neville. You can get in touch at

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6.45pm: New locations of interest in suburbs across Auckland

Locations of interest added this afternoon/evening include supermarkets in Mt Eden, Ormiston and Botany Downs, an apartment block in Parnell and a petrol station in Manurewa, with exposure times as recent as yesterday.

The Kāinga Ora apartments in Parnell are now a location of interest for full-day periods for last weekend and Monday this week. The Countdowns in Māngere East and Māngere Mall have been added for periods of time Wednesday this week and last Friday, Countdown Botany Downs for last Saturday and Countdown Mt Eden for last Sunday. Pak’nSave Ormiston has been added for Monday morning and a new Tuesday time for Pak’nSave Māngere has been added. BP Connect Weymouth in Manurewa has also been added for brief periods in the morning of yesterday and the day before.

See all the details on the Ministry of Health’s page here, and check out all the locations of our interactive map here.

3.15pm: Multiple arrests made as people try to cross southern alert level boundary

The move to alert level three has seen an increase in people trying to get out of Auckland without good reason, and police made several arrests yesterday.

A 63-year-old man was arrested at the Oram Road checkpoint after refusing to provide any of his details to police. He was first given a warning, but continued to refuse to give any details and was arrested. He resisted police. The man has been summonsed to appear in the Pukekohe District Court.

A 31-year-old woman was arrested at the same checkpoint after she was identified as being wanted in connection to burglaries in Cambridge, say police, while at the Rawiri Road checkpoint, a vehicle was stopped after it was seen travelling at speed, without headlights on, in the freight lane. A search of the vehicle located a rifle in the boot, say police, and the 41-year-old man is facing a number of charges including unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Yesterday, a total of 21,854 vehicles were stopped at checkpoints and 457 were turned around – less than half the number turned around the previous day. Of those turned around, 80 were at the northern checkpoints and 377 were at the southern checkpoints.

As of 11.59pm yesterday, a total of 256,962 vehicles have been stopped at the checkpoints on all boundaries since 11.59pm on August 31. A total of 4,035 vehicles have been turned around during this time.

1.45pm: Today’s cases, charted

It’s subtle but it’s there – that line is definitely tracking downwards after today’s nine cases. Let’s hope it continues that way.

The exposure events, meanwhile, are looking pretty steady, with seven of yesterday’s cases infectious in the community.

Check out our Covid tracker for the full picture, today with two new graphs breaking down vaccination data.

1.00pm: Nine new cases of Covid-19, all linked

There are nine new community cases of Covid-19 today, all in the Auckland region and all of which are linked to the outbreak, public health director Caroline McElnay has announced. It’s the first single-figure day since August 18, a few days after the outbreak was first detected.

Three of today’s cases are household contacts, and six are contacts of known cases. Of yesterday’s 15 cases, just one remains unlinked, and investigations are continuing. Today’s cases take the total to 1,131, of which 902 cases have recovered. There are 13 people in hospital with Covid-19 today, three in ICU.

Today’s case numbers are encouraging, said deputy prime minister Grant Robertson, but “the job is not yet done”. He reminded Aucklanders heading into the weekend to stick to the level three rules, and stay in their bubbles.

The downward trend in cases shows the measures are working, and while numbers may still “bounce up and down a little bit”, “if people stick to the rules, we’ll continue to see the numbers come down”, he added.

Testing numbers dropped a little in Auckland yesterday, with 6,928 swabs taken, and 14,855 swabs processed across the country. In Mt Wellington, a new suburb of interest, 297 swabs were taken yesterday, while in Clover Park, 1,725 swabs have been taken since Tuesday. Since September 1, 20.8% of the population of that suburb has been tested. It’s a great effort, but the ministry is still asking people in Clover Park to come forward and be tested, said McElnay. The same goes for Mt Wellington – go and get tested, even if you’re asymptomatic. One case so far has been found as a result of that extra testing in Clover Park.

Robertson said there had not been “flagrant bubble breaching” among cases, more “one or two examples we’ve seen of mingling between a couple of households”.

Surveillance testing and boundary-crossing rules

Surveillance testing continues at larger essential workplaces in Auckland, with the focus next week turning to construction and retail.

The new testing requirement for people travelling across the alert level boundary for personal reasons has come in, requiring those people to carry evidence of a negative test result within 72 hours, or evidence of a test taken in the past week, said McElnay.

One of yesterday’s cases has been reclassified as under investigation, so yesterday’s total is now considered 14. Half (seven) of those cases were in isolation, and the other half were infectious in the community.

All tests in upper Hauraki have come back negative, other than the four Whakatīwai household cases. In that area, 68.1% of the population have had their first vaccine dose and 23.9% their second. Upper Hauraki will move to alert level two at 11.59pm on Saturday, said deputy prime minister Grant Robertson.

Yesterday, 49,115 vaccine doses were administered across the country, with 20,983 first doses and 28,132 second doses. Across the eligible nationwide population, 76% have now had their first dose. In Auckland, 81% of the eligible population has now had their first dose, and 44% their second.

$2.5b in wage subsidies paid out; one-way travel out of Auckland set to be loosened 

Robertson said as of this morning, 593,262 applications for the wage subsidy had been approved, totalling more than $2.5 billion in payments.

The second round of the resurgence support payment has been open for a week and has paid out $256.8m to 87,647 applicants. Backlogs in processing are being worked through, said Robertson.

Robertson said on Monday, ministers will work with the Ministry of Health to look at the exemptions regime for one-way travel out of the Auckland region, with the aim of facilitating more of it for people who may need to start new jobs or settle house purchases. The new regime will likely involve pre-travel testing.

12.55pm: Watch – Robertson, McElnay with the latest Covid case numbers

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson and public health director Caroline McElnay are providing an update on the Covid-19 outbreak at 1pm. Watch below or follow our rolling updates.

10.40am: New locations of interest

Several new locations of interest have been added to the Ministry of Health’s list this morning, some relating to exposure times in recent days. These are Unichem Māngere Pharmacy from 9.15-10am on Tuesday, September 21, Fresh Vege Mart Māngere East from 9am-12pm on Monday, September 20, Tai Ping Asian Supermarket Flatbush on Sunday, September 19, from 10.30am-12pm and Pak’nSave Māngere from 10-11.30am on Monday September 13.

Locations added yesterday with updated times listed today include Othello Superette in Clover Park for 8.45am-9.15am on Saturday and Sunday, September 18 and 19, and Pak’nSave Ormiston on Tuesday, September 21, from 1-2.30pm.

Pak’nSaves in Sylvia Park and Clendon Park were also added to the list yesterday, as were several dairies in Manurewa and Favona and the GAS petrol station on Mascot Avenue in Māngere, all for times last week and earlier.

See the full list here, and our interactive map of all locations here.

10.00am: Plea to government to let more ICU nurses enter the country

Concerns about the ability of New Zealand’s intensive care system to cope with an increase in Covid cases once border restrictions loosen have been growing, and compounding the problem is a lack of specialist nurses. Hospitals are managing to recruit nurses from overseas, but they can’t get into the country, reports the Herald

“The frustration is that even if you interview and get someone, it’s a real struggle to be able to facilitate them to get into the country,”  ICU doctor Craig Carr, who is the NZ regional chair of the Australia NZ Intensive Care Society, told the Herald. 

The Intensive Care Society and the countrywide network of clinical directors and charge nurse managers are likely to soon write to the government “to express our concern that these things really need to be lined up if we are going to be able to improve capacity of intensive care in New Zealand”, Carr said.

“It is a sellers’ market at the moment; these people are in demand all around the world. For instance, Australia is actively looking to recruit more intensive care nurses to be ready for border reopening. And we need to be doing the same.”

About 5-8% of bedside nurse positions in ICU are currently vacant, according to the report. Carr said there were multiple reasons for that, including the immigration and MIQ issues, but the shortage preceded the pandemic. ICU nurses aren’t listed as a long-term skill shortage in New Zealand, meaning they have to secure certain special purpose visas.

Health minister Andrew Little told the Herald the government was focusing on getting healthcare workers across the border with exemptions, “and that is happening”, with that group making up 43% of people coming in.

Little said about 1,400 nurses had been trained since last year to help in intensive care if normal capacity is exceeded.

9.00am: Weird NZ makes another appearance on Colbert’s show

Stephen Colbert’s obsession with Aotearoa continues, with the “Kentucky Fried bandits” – two men who attempted to smuggle $100,000 cash and boot load of KFC into locked-down Auckland earlier in the week – the latest focus for his mirth.

“Oh, New Zealand,” said The Late Show host. “That’s what counts as illicit for you?” He suggested the men should be arrested for the haul of coleslaw included in their bounty. “Who looks at mac and cheese and mashed potato and says ‘eh, you know what I could go for? Wet cabbage.”

If only he’d delved more deeply into grassroots NZ culinary culture during his 2019 trip here, rather than hobnobbing with the PM at bougie Auckland cafes, Colbert might have better understood the special place KFC coleslaw holds in our hearts.

8.30am: Man charged over faked positive Covid test 

A man who edited an official text message stating he had returned a negative Covid test to say it was positive will appear in Hamilton District Court today on a charge of altering a document with intent to deceive.

The 27-year-old Cambridge man allegedly contacted a number of people to inform them he had tested positive. One of them contacted police with their concerns and he was arrested last night. The Ministry of Health has confirmed the man had a Covid test on September 20, which returned a negative result on September 22.

“This is extremely disappointing behaviour that has caused unnecessary distress for a number of people in the Cambridge community,” said police.

8.00am: TPM modelling criticised for stoking ‘unnecessary fear’

Economic modeller Rodney Jones has continued his criticism of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s modelling of the future of New Zealand’s Covid response, which was presented by Shaun Hendy at yesterday’s 1pm government briefing. As reported in yesterday’s updates, Jones called the TPM modelling, which predicts 7,000 deaths a year if vaccination doesn’t get past 80%, “unconvincing”.

Speaking on RNZ’s Morning Report this morning, Jones said the modelling, which paints a bleak picture for New Zealand’s future at anything less than 90% vaccination, was attempting to fight fear with fear. “We can’t just throw out these numbers and say the world’s going to end if we don’t get vaccinated,” he said.

“Keep it simple and the risk of Covid has been very clear, exaggerate and you cause deception. I still don’t see that throwing big numbers around helps our narrative.”

Jones said while modelling was helpful early in the outbreak, it was now time for modellers to take a step back.

Hendy defended his modelling this morning, telling Morning Report that while there was no doubt some people would find the numbers uncomfortable, it was important to put them out there. Yesterday he told Checkpoint the chances of stamping out the current outbreak were “on a knife edge”.

7.45am: ICYMI – Yesterday’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.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

The government’s promise to expand MIQ has yielded a total of 85 more rooms. SunLive reports that Rotorua’s leaders are relieved they won’t welcome a new border facility after a local backlash that included MPs from National, Labour and Te Paati Māori also opposed to adding one in the community. Issues were also identified with adding more MIQ hotels in Auckland, while no suitable facilities were found in Hamilton or Wellington. Instead, the Quality Hotel Elms in Christchurch was the only place in the entire country that met the government’s standard. It’ll mean little for people overseas. There are nearly 1,000 empty rooms in the 4,500 room system right now with about 20% of spots held in reserve or otherwise left unoccupied.

The Bulletin will have more reporting on MIQ next week.

The Covid numbers: 15 new community cases were reported yesterday in Auckland and 43% (10) of the previous day’s total were in the community while infectious. There are now 262 active cases. 49,667 people were vaccinated on Tuesday.

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

A confrontation is looming over the three waters programme. Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta is digging in her heels according to BusinessDesk (paywalled) and indicated at parliament yesterday that she’ll press ahead with her planned overhaul despite growing opposition. Councils have asked the government to delay a move to take over the country’s water systems, something Mahuta has now explicitly ruled out. The NelsonMail reported yesterday that council there had to lock out protesters opposed to three waters as it tried to debate the programme.

Greyhound racing has been suspended in Whanganui after a disastrous race. The Manawatū Standard reports that an assessment of the city’s Hatrick track, which is a regular Friday fixture for races, is being urgently conducted. Six dogs were injured racing at the track last week, three with broken bones, with two others displaying suspected fractures. The timing couldn’t be worse for the industry. Racing minister Grant Robertson told greyhound racing earlier this month that it was “on notice” to shape up or face closure.

And the bells were ringing out on godwits day. After a 10,000km flight from near the Arctic circle, the small birds landed on the Motueka sand-spit on Tuesday. In nearby Nelson, church bells celebrated the arrivals, according to The Guardian. It’s an incredible flight and not without some risk. DOC reported Monday that one of the godwits, who is being tracked, got stuck in bad weather over the Pacific 2,000km and 33 hours into his flight and turned back for Alaska. But most of the birds finished the long haul migration. Nature is amazing.

Berliners will vote Sunday on a radical solution to the German capital’s rising rents. A referendum is proposing to seize more than 200,000 apartments in the city and transfer them to public ownership, according to DW. The vote is being held at the same time as Germans will elect a new chancellor, ending Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign as the most powerful woman in the world. Recent polls show that a slim majority of Berliners support the expropriation law, which would only impact companies owning more than 3,000 housing units. The current plan would compensate owners below market rates, something that could lead to legal troubles.

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