Live updates, August 25: NCEA exams to be delayed by two weeks; delta outbreak grows by 62

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 25, with Stewart Sowman-Lund. Want to get in touch? I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


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What you need to know

  • There are 62 new Covid-19 cases in the community.
  • 210 cases are now linked to the delta outbreak.
  • NCEA exams delayed by a fortnight.
  • Bloomfield optimistic after “steady… not exponential” growth of cases.
  • 12 people are in hospital with Covid-19.
  • Racism toward Sāmoan community “disappointing… gutless” – Bloomfield

7.50pm: NCEA exams bumped back by a fortnight

A week into the Covid-19 lockdown, the NZ Qualifications Authority has announced that end-of-year NCEA and NZ Scholarship exams moved back by two weeks. That means the calendar for secondary school exams will now run from Monday November 22 to Tuesday December 14.

In recent days principals have urged the authority to expedite a decision on any delay, to allow planning. Earlier today Western Spring College told staff internal examinations would be cancelled this year. In 2020, exams were delayed by 10 days as a result of Covid-19 measures.

Further changes announced by NZQA include:

  • NCEA subjects where students prepare a portfolio instead of sitting an exam – like Visual Arts – will have the due date for these portfolios pushed back by two weeks.
  • The NCEA Level 1 Mathematics Common Assessment Task (MCAT) will be delayed for two weeks.
  • Schools will not have to provide portfolios from students sitting NCEA Level 1 or Level 2 Visual Arts for NZQA to verify.

“As the length of time New Zealand might remain in alert level four and alert level three becomes clearer, there are extra steps the government might take, such as reintroducing Learning Recognition Credits, or making changes to the thresholds for Endorsements and University Entrance,” continues the statement. “NZQA and the Ministry of Education are working with the minister’s Professional Advisory Group and schools about whether more changes might be needed.”

It adds: “If Covid-19 – or something else beyond a student’s control – means they are not able to sit their end of year exams, we have a well-tested Derived Grade process. This uses the student’s work already done during the year to provide a grade, instead of the exam mark. Like in 2020, the changes to NCEA and UE are designed to make sure that students have a fair opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned both in and outside of class, and that an NCEA qualification received this year will open doors to study and work the same as an NCEA earned in any other year.”

Ten Auckland schools are now linked to the current delta outbreak, with Ōtāhuhu College this afternoon confirming a positive test.

6.55pm: 66 cases are teenage or younger

Demographic data published by the Ministry of Health reveals the breakdown of ages among the people who have tested positive in the delta outbreak. Almost a third are under 20.

According to ministry data 145 of the 210 cases, or 70%, are Pacific peoples; the country is very lucky that the same group are the most committed to getting tested.

6.20pm: New locations of interest

A fresh batch of locations have been listed or updated on the Ministry of Health site. They include

The simplest way to view them is on the interactive maps put together by Harkanwal Singh. If you just want to see what's newly listed, unselect "yesterday" and "earlier" on the first map, leaving just "today" highlighted.

Here's how locations of interest look in relation to the lockdown kicking in.

5.15pm: New 0800 vaccination number for Pacific communities

A new toll-free number specifically for Pacific people to assist in making Covid-19 vaccination booking has been launched. The number (0800 21 12 21) operates from 8am to 8pm seven days a week. Calls will be answered by Pacific staff and the service has speakers in Samoan, Tongan, i-Kiribati and Cook Island languages.

“We’ve listened to the feedback we’ve been getting from Pacific people, who told us they wanted an easier way to book in. You can call this free number now to speak to a friendly Pacific person about the vaccine, and to get yourself and your whole bubble booked in," said Moananu Anna Redican Kolose of the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre. “You can book into one of our community vaccination centres, including our new drive-through site at the Park and Ride in Māngere ... The team will also focus on doing outbound follow-ups to link Pacific people with outreach events in their neighbourhoods and eventually mobile services offered by Pacific providers.”

A reminder you can find Toby and Siouxsie's animated symptoms charts and mask use advice in a range of languages here.

4.30pm: New flights from Australia next month

Flights from "several cities" in Australia will provide New Zealanders across the Tasman with a chance to get home, with MIQ vouchers becoming available for "a limited number of dates in September". All travellers on the "red" flights will need to book their fortnight in managed isolation, have a negative pre-departure test, and pay for their stay.

“We are aware that a number of New Zealanders in Australia have been unable to return since the suspension of quarantine-free travel with Australia in July, so I am very pleased that flights from Australia will resume to bring more people home”, said Brigadier Rose King, joint head of MIQ. “People will need to secure a voucher for MIQ in the same way everyone else returning to New Zealand does and there is high demand right now. The current outbreak in New Zealand is putting extra pressure on MIQ capacity, as MIQ facilities are being used for all positive Covid-19 cases. Please do not contact airlines at this early stage, further information will be made available in advance of the flights opening for bookings.”

Anyone with an urgent need to travel is encouraged to check the MIQ website to see if they meet the requirements for an emergency allocation.

3.40pm: Spot the difference – the Zoom backgrounds of Simon Watts

In yesterday's live updates I briefly canvassed the arguably very dull Zoom backgrounds from the health select committee.

Today, due to an overabundance of boring, blurry backdrops I have little to work with. Except, the library of National MP Simon Watts.

At first glance, it's the same background he had yesterday. But something very subtle has changed.

See if you can spot the difference.

Yesterday:

And today:

Some things are very much the same. For example, there still appears to be two books from the "For Dummies" series. The mysterious glass is still front and centre. A book simply titled "WINNING" is clearly displayed.

But one new addition caught our eye here at The Spinoff:

One pristine copy of Pull No Punches by Judith Collins.

You'll be safe in the reshuffle, Simon.

2.45pm: 'One other incident' – Hipkins hints at second vaccine botch-up

The Covid-19 response minister has revealed at least one other vaccine mix-up may have happened since the rollout began.

Earlier this morning, it was revealed that up to five people who were vaccinated last month may have instead been given a saline solution, or a diluted version of the actual jab.

Appearing before the health select committee, Chris Hipkins said: "I believe there has been one other incident where people have been called back for a vaccine." The minister did not have the information on this incident at hand.

Acknowledging the mix-up with vaccines at the Highbrook vaccination centre, Hipkins said it was "regrettable" that the Ministry of Health had not provided information about the error earlier. "I think it would have been better if they'd been more upfront sooner." It appears the mix-up was only made public after media inquiries by RNZ.

Highbrook saline 'cover-up' a 'scandal' – Act Party

Act's David Seymour has called revelations that the Ministry of Health knew about the possible saline mix-up weeks ago a "cover-up" and a "scandal".

“[Ashley] Bloomfield today confirmed that the Ministry of Health has known for five weeks. Only now are they starting to contact people," said Seymour.

“Why weren’t the people notified? Why was this kept secret? Why wasn’t any action taken until media became involved? Why weren’t media told at 1pm that there was another case of this happening? When will we get the details of the second case?"

2.30pm: Hipkins and MIQ officials to face opposition scrutiny

The Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, along with several officials linked to the Covid-19 response will be questioned in today's health select committee.

Watch below:

2.00pm: About that Swiss cheese

During the 1pm briefing earlier Ashley Bloomfield made reference to "another slice in the Swiss cheese", which appears to have left more than a few puzzled. Fear not. Here's something Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris prepared earlier on Swiss cheese model of system accidents:

Read the full explainer here.

1.05pm: 62 new community Covid-19 cases announced, total now 210

Latest

There are 62 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today, Ashley Bloomfield has announced. That bumps the total number of cases associated with the current delta outbreak up to 210.

Speaking at parliament, Bloomfield said that 198 of these cases are in Auckland with 12 in Wellington. No cases have so far been confirmed in the South Island.

Just one new case was recorded in Wellington today, said Bloomfield, and they are a close contact of an existing case.

"While this is steady growth, it is not exponential," Bloomfield said. "This is explicitly because we have alert level four in place."

There are now 12 people in hospital with Covid-19, 11 associated with the community outbreak.

As of 9am there are 20,383 individual contacts identified. Most of the links between cases are within households or workplaces, with some locations of interest as well, clarified Bloomfield; 12,717 of those contacts have been contacted as of 9am this morning, and 62% had already returned a test result. As of this morning, there were 461 "very close" contacts, said Bloomfield, and of those, 400 (87%) had been talked to. A testing result had come back for 289 of them – 68 were positive and 221 negative.

There are six epidemiologically linked clusters within this outbreak, the biggest two being the AOC church cluster with 105 cases and the Birkdale social group cluster with 36. One other cluster associated with a collection of Massey households and workplaces has 14 cases. The rest are under 10.

A day six test is being introduced in managed isolation for returnees who are on a floor where someone has tested positive.

Hipkins said there was still no evidence the virus had been transmitted at the Crowne Plaza via an atrium used by the public, but the perspex barrier was being extended today.

'Disappointing and, frankly, gutless'

Addressing reports of racism directed at those within the Sāmoan community, Bloomfield called it "disappointing and, frankly, gutless". People are not the problem, people are the solution, Bloomfield said. "Be part of the solution."

Those targeted by the racist comments had so far been "incredibly responsive" to the health requirements under alert level four, which Bloomfield praised.

Vaccine drive sees another record day

Yesterday saw 80,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine administered – besting the previous record by about 17,000. "A big thank you to those being vaccinated, those doing the vaccinations, and those working behind the scenes," said the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

On the possibility that some people received saline instead of the Pfizer vaccine at the Highbrook vaccination site in July, Bloomfield said protocol was being changed at all vaccination centres as a result. More frequent checking and reconciliation of vials was being undertaken, labels were being put on syringes, and only one vial at a time was being drawn up.

Everyone who was vaccinated that day will receive a letter and there will be follow-up discussions once advice is received on whether they should receive a third dose.

By early October, there will be 650 primary care providers offering the vaccine, said Hipkins. More than 6500 essential workers had the vaccine in the past week, with particularly good take-up from supermarket workers. From tomorrow all government border workers are required to be vaccinated. By the end of September the wider border workforce will need to be vaccinated.

Almost 50,000 tested yesterday; Bloomfield denies resistance to saliva testing

Yesterday, there were also record testing numbers with nearly 50,000 people swabbed across the country. A testing backlog had now been cleared and results should be received in 24 hours, rather than the two to five days of earlier in the week, said Hipkins.

With 63 positive result from yesterday's tests, that's one positive case in every 790 tests, or about 0.12%.

At the border, around 400 workers have opted into saliva testing. Bloomfield denied he was resistant to saliva testing, and said where it could be rolled out beyond the border is being urgently looked at.

On wastewater testing, Bloomfield confirmed that a new positive result had been detected in Warkworth, north of Auckland. This is the second positive result for the town but followed a day with no positive result. Bloomfield revealed that a positive case has been confirmed to live in the town.

Also announced today: one new case recorded in a recent returnee in managed isolation.

12.50pm: Watch – Hipkins and Bloomfield to reveal the latest delta cases

Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are set to reveal the latest Covid-19 cases in the delta outbreak.

Yesterday, Bloomfield said that while he was encouraged by the fact case numbers were not growing exponentially, he did anticipate numbers would keep rising. According to the Herald, there could be over 60 new cases today – although this is not yet official information.

Earlier this week, an advisory stated that Caroline McElnay would be fronting today's briefing but according to the Ministry of Health website it will indeed be Bloomfield stepping up to the podium.

You can watch below, or on free-to-air TV. I'm currently watching a cracking episode of Emmerdale on TVNZ1 as I wait for the briefing to kick off (House Hunters Renovation on Three just doesn't cut it).

Watch the 1pm update here:

12.40pm: The Block NZ auctions postponed due to lockdown

TV3's The Block NZ will air on an amended schedule while the country remains in level four, with the upcoming auctions delayed. Tara Ward reports:

This morning a Discovery NZ spokesperson confirmed that the scheduled auctions of the four Point Chevalier houses will not proceed under alert level four, and will be rescheduled subject to alert level changes.

Episodes currently screening on Three show the Block NZ teams completing the exterior areas of their houses in preparation for auction, with only a few episodes remaining in the season. With the auctions postponed, Discovery NZ announced The Block NZ will continue to screen on Three, but with a reduced schedule.

From August 29, The Block NZ will air two nights a week (Sunday at 7.00pm and Monday at 7.30pm) for two weeks. Taking The Block’s place on Tuesday August 31 will be a Newshub Investigates: Delta special, and on Wednesday Bondi Rescue. The 7.30pm slot the following week will be The Lego Movie on Tuesday September 7 and Bondi Rescue on Wednesday September 8.

Read the full report here

12.30pm: Opposition demand answers over vaccine/saline mix-up

National and Act want answers after five people in Auckland may have been injected with a saline solution instead of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The botch-up allegedly happened last month at the Highbrook vaccination centre, on a day when hundreds of people across groups one, two and three were getting the jab.

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop told RNZ that it was "critical" the five people who missed out on the actual vaccine were identified. "The last thing we want is people thinking they're vaccinated, walking around, when they're actually not," he said.

If this had happened elsewhere, people needed to know, he said. "Be up front with the public around whether it's happened in other parts of the country and indeed in Auckland as well."

Act's David Seymour agreed, and said the government should be up front and transparent.

"If the government doesn't have good data on ... which people were given saline solution then that's a real disappointment, but New Zealanders would be much more forgiving if they just fess up, tell us what went wrong and what they're doing about it rather than the whiff of a coverup which undermines everybody's confidence in this critical vaccine rollout."

11.45am: What to watch/listen to in week two of lockdown

If, like me, you're spending lockdown almost entirely watching bad TVNZ game shows like Tipping Point or Winning Combination (what even is this? I don't know, but I can't stop watching) you're going to need some comfort viewing.

Thankfully, The Spinoff's Rec Room newsletter has come to the rescue. Here are some of our picks for week two of lockdown.

The Chair

Sam says: “The Chair, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, is a smart, funny, chill six episode series about the new English department chair at a prestigious American university. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh, the most watchable human alive) immediately has to deal with the shitstorm that is academia while also managing her own personal life. While it’s really easy to watch, it still manages to really thoroughly wrangle with the struggle between old institutions and new ideas, and you’ll breeze through each half hour episode without ever feeling bogged down.”

The Great British Sewing Bee

Stewart (that's me!) says: “In times like these, we all need comfort viewing and that’s exactly what The Great British Sewing Bee provides. It’s exactly the same as the incredibly wholesome British Bake-Off, just with amateur sewers in place of amateur bakers. There’s even a camp comedian host (Joe Lycett) and a seemingly mismatched but somehow successful pairing of judges. Most excellently, just like Bake-Off, some of the sewers are quite shit at sewing! So pour yourself a large glass of wine, sit back on the couch and enjoy watching a happy bunch of people attempt to make women’s swimwear out of a towel.”

Need something to listen to instead?

Gone By Lunchtime [Apple | Spotify] hopped on Zoom for a late night lockdown pod last week and are threatening to do another one soon.

On When the Facts Change [Apple | Spotify], Bernard Hickey looked at the need for a population policy alongside new migration settings.

The Real Pod [Apple | Spotify] discovered a silver lining of Zoom pods is that they can now podcast from bed.

Dietary Requirements [Apple | Spotify] chatted to the three founders of Parrotdog, all named Matt, in part one of a live Wellington on a Plate special.

11.25am: Boaties warned to stay home during level four

The Department of Conservation has reminded boaties to stay at home during the alert level four lockdown, after reports of "pleasure boats" out on the water around the Coromandel.

“We’ve got reliable information – from my staff and the crew of an essential supply vessel – about a steady stream of boats making their way to Ahuahu and the wider archipelago during this lockdown,” said DOC's Nick Kelly.

“It’s completely unacceptable. Boating and island hopping are not permitted at level four. People need to be adhering to the government’s direction."

The official information from the government has stipulated that even if within a bubble, people should not do any activity that could require emergency services to be called – and that includes going out on the water.

11.05am: Transmission Gully could be delayed again due to lockdown

The long-awaited Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington could be delayed yet again due to the current lockdown.

Transport minister Michael Wood this morning appeared before select committee via Zoom where he made the admission.

"We don't have any particular get out of jail free card or exemption," Wood said of the transport sector. "It's a little bit early to be specific around what that [delay] might actually mean."

Transport minister Michael Wood (Alex Braae)

10.30am: Locations of interest grow... again

Unsurprisingly, the number of locations of interest linked to the Auckland delta outbreak has grown yet again.

New locations include the Event Cinemas arcade at St Lukes Mall, and the busy Auckland University study zone in the Kate Edgar building.

A number of bus services between Green Bay and Glen Eden have also been added to the list.

Some of the latest LOIs (Image / MOH)

As always – the full list is here and The Spinoff's interactive location map can be found here.

10.00am: Wood, transport officials, to front select committee

Parliament might be on pause due to lockdown but select committees are still on the agenda.

Transport minister Michael Wood, along with officials from within the sector, are about to make an appearance.

Watch below:

9.45am: Lockdown impact on locations of interest

You'd expect a strict level four lockdown to have a big impact on the date and frequency of locations where you might have been exposed to Covid-19, but the graph below, put together by Harkanwal Singh, shows just how dramatic the drop-off was.

We've added the chart to the the page with interactive maps of the locations of interest, and will update it as the data rolls in.

9.25am: Vaccine bookings now open for 30+

The next tranche of vaccine bookings has opened this morning, with people over the age of 30 now eligible to schedule a jab. The official information of who can book in for a vaccine is below:

If you are aged 30 or over, or you are in Groups 1, 2, or 3, you can book your vaccinations now.

Parents or guardians who are eligible to book for a vaccination can also book a vaccination for any 12 to 15-year-olds in their whānau.

The list of essential workers who can get vaccinated as part of Group 2 has been expanded. District health boards will work directly with employers to organise vaccinations for this group.

Bookings for everyone aged 12 and over open on 1 September.

Read more, or book in for a jab, here

8.55am: Deputy PM, experts, hit back after Scott Morrison criticises elimination strategy

The deputy prime minister and health experts have defended our Covid-19 elimination strategy in the face of criticism from Australia.

Scott Morrison labelled elimination an "absurd" goal and said that nobody can protect themselves from the delta strain forever. "New Zealand can't do that. They were following an elimination strategy. They're in lockdown," Morrison told Australian media.

On Newstalk ZB this morning, Grant Robertson pushed back. "I just don't see it the way that Scott Morrison and others are presenting it and certainly every public health expert I speak to says that what we're doing right now is exactly the right strategy for New Zealand," he said.

"All of the experts continue to tell us the best strategy that we can take at the moment is elimination."

Top epidemiologist Michael Baker told RNZ that elimination has been the optimal strategy up until now. "It's largely a political statement [by Morrison]... I'm confident [elimination] will be achieved here," he said.

Asked whether we should stay the course, Baker said yes – at least for the medium term. "Until we have high vaccine coverage and then I think we will be in a good position to choose our future. We don't know where the pandemic's going to be going in the next three months," he said.

In an exclusive poll for The Spinoff this morning, it was found that roughly 70% of those surveyed backed our elimination strategy.

8.15am: Locations of interest pass 450

Possible Covid-19 exposure sites linked to the delta outbreak have now passed 450.

The latest locations, added to the Ministry of Health website last night, include a New World supermarket and bottle store in New Lynn, the Aotea Centre in central Auckland and an inner-city bus route.

Locations are now added to the ministry website roughly every two hours.

View the latest locations here or check out The Spinoff's interactive map here.

7.45am: Vaccine botch-up may have seen people given plain saline

An investigation is under way after five people in Auckland may have been given pure saline instead of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The mix-up, reported by RNZ's Charlie Dreaver, happened at the Highbrook vaccination centre last month on a day when 732 people across groups one, two and three were getting the jab. Those given the wrong shot have not been told.

National director for the Covid-19 vaccination programme Jo Gibbs told RNZ that the mistake was only discovered when five Pfizer doses were unaccounted for at the end of the day.

"It could have been due to some vaccinators getting more than the regular number of doses out of some vials and forgetting to record this. An alternative that we can't rule out is the possibility that some people didn't receive the correct vaccine dose," she said.

A typical vial of the Pfizer vaccine is diluted down with saline solution as it contains multiple doses, meaning there is the possibility the five people could have received some vaccine – but less than the required dose – or none at all. The mix up would not harm the patients, confirmed Gibbs, and a full review has since been undertaken.

"We will be communicating with people who may have been affected when that work is complete," she said.

7.30am: News from The Bulletin

Many of New Zealand's cases weren't vaccinated because they aren't eligible. While there have been a number of breakthrough infections detected so far, that’s when a vaccinated person tests positive, most cases never got a shot for a shot. Craig McCulloch from RNZ has concluded the government needs to do a better job of explaining the sluggish vaccine rollout. As he writes, the prime minister has so far “been unapologetic and dismissive of any criticism of the government's vaccination campaign.”


This is not a good time for a power company to show windfall profits. The country's biggest electricity consumers have crunched the numbers and now claim Meridian Energy earned $3.5 billion in excess profits over the past two decades, according to BusinessDesk (paywalled). Nearly half was in the past five years. The company dismisses the claim, but the entire electricity market is now under scrutiny after a well-publicised blackout earlier this month. After the government launched market surveys of petrol vendors and supermarkets for high profits, attention could soon turn fully to the power sector. On the other hand, the government owns just over half of Meridian and would have pocketed quite a bit of that profit.


The saga of Tim Shadbolt's emails has taken another odd turn. Invercargill council is undertaking a $10,000 independent review of its electronic policies after an incident where it seemed councillors were reading the mayor's emails. However, the Otago Daily Times reports that Sir Tim was the only person on council to vote against the review because he doesn't trust it. An increasingly wide gap is growing between the mayor and the rest of council, many of whom question his basic ability to do his job.

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

What we know so far

  • 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 at 1pm.



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