Live updates, August 28: 12 new Covid-19 cases, five linked to community

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 28, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the return of Covid-19. Auckland is in alert level three until 11.59pm on Sunday. The rest of NZ remains in level two. More details here. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.45pm: Police remind Aucklanders to stay home for final level three weekend

From 11.59pm on Sunday night, Auckland will move join the rest of New Zealand in alert level two. This afternoon, police are reminding all Aucklanders to stay home for the final weekend of level three.

“We know it’s tempting to head out on the weekends but every day counts to help control the spread of the virus,” assistant police commissioner Richard Chambers said in a statement.

“Police will be out showing high visibility within our communities and continuing to carry out reassurance patrols at places such as supermarkets, pharmacies and beaches.”

As of 4pm yesterday, 247,024 vehicles have been processed through our checkpoints and 10,230 vehicles have been turned around.

1.50pm: National would keep Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter open

A National government under Judith Collins would work to keep the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter open, it has been announced today.

“National recognises the need to support existing employment opportunities and protect 2260 jobs, both at Tiwai and in the wider community, from the hard closure of the smelter on August 31 next year,” Collins said in a statement.

“Our aim is to create a commercially viable outcome that would keep the smelter in operation for at least the next five years while preparing Southland to lessen the severity of the smelter’s closure.”

Collins said National understood Meridian Energy, owners of the Manapouri Power Station “have offered a positive electricity price for Rio Tinto” based on the losses it would face if the smelter was to close next year.

National said it would “do more” to secure a deal.

Aluminium prices have crashed in recent years, with facilities closing around the world.

1.00pm: 12 new cases of Covid-19, five linked to community

There’s another five community cases of Covid-19 today, Caroline McElnay has confirmed, with seven new cases arriving from overseas.

The five in the community are all linked to the Auckland cluster, and four are from one household; all in that house are linked to the Mt Roskill evangelical church “sub-cluster”, McElnay said. Grant Robertson thanked church communities for their efforts so far. “No-one invited Covid in, but a huge amount has been done in recent days to keep it out.”

The remaining community case has been epidemiologically linked to another confirmed community case.

The imported cases all arrived on the same flight on August 23. McElnay didn’t specify which country they flew in from.

Today marks Auckland’s final weekday in alert level three, before the shift down to level two at 11.59pm on Sunday night.

There are 11 people hospitalised with Covid-19 in hospital: three in Auckland City, four in Middlemore, three in North Shore, and one in Waikato. Three are in ICU; one each in Middlemore, North Shore, and Waikato.

2,475 close contacts of confirmed cases have been identified, 2,433 of whom have been contacted and are self-isolating. There are 161 people linked to the community cluster who have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, comprising 88 confirmed cases and their household contacts.

Seven previously reported cases have now recovered, bringing the total number of active cases to 130. Our total number of confirmed cases is now 1,363.

‘Get a test’ – Robertson’s plea to at risk Aucklanders

Grant Robertson has implored anyone in Auckland with flu symptoms, or linked to either the Mount Roskill evangelical church or Mount Albert Grammar School, to get a test “today or this weekend”.

Testing sites will be open over the weekend across the country to reach the ministry’s goal of 70,000 tests over the week. Pop up sites will be open this weekend in South Kaipara, Mt Smart stadium, the Massey community hub, Rānui library, the Tongan Methodist church in Māngere, the Māngere East Hawks rugby league club, the Tupu youth library in Ōtara, Randwick Park school, and Te Matariki community centre in Glendon.

Yesterday our laboratories processed 11,010 tests, bringing the total to date to 730,330. Robertson paid tribute to the commitment shown by Aucklanders to fighting the virus’s spread, which means we can move down to alert level two on Monday, despite dealing with the country’s largest-ever cluster.

From next week, when Auckland shifts to alert level two, face masks will be mandatory on public transport nationwide. Gatherings will be limited to 10 in Auckland (with funerals, tangi and weddings restricted to 50 people), while the current level two rules will remain the same for the rest of the country – with gatherings of 100 people permitted. Monday’s move to level two will be “a little different than last time we moved into level two”, said Robertson, as we will continue to see new cases.

He said that reports hospitality and retail venues in Auckland must limit the number of customers to just 10 were wrong, as the rules simply applied to “groups of 10″. Cinemas, restaurants and shops, for example, will be allowed up to 100 people in them in total, so long as no group is above 10.

McElnay said they were aiming to hit roughly 10,000 tests per day to achieve the 70,000-test goal for this week, and in the past few days that number was being exceeded. “We’re confident that we’ll get to the 70,000,” she said.

Addressing fears from overstayers that if they are tested their status may be passed on to authorities, Robertson said people needed to be able to trust the healthcare system. “This is not an exercise about anything to do, frankly, with overstayers,” he said. “It is purely for health reasons.”

He did not confirm explicitly that overstayers who were moved into managed isolation would not have their details passed on to immigration. “What I can guarantee everyone in New Zealand is that if they test positive they will be looked after.”

NZX cyber attacks being taken ‘very seriously’

On the NZX cyber attacks, Robertson said the government was aware of the impact it was having on the stock market and had asked GCSB to assist.

“We as a government are treating this very seriously,” said Robertson. “We are aware of the impact it is having which is why we have directed the GCSB to assist.”

Two-week wage subsidy extension now open

Robertson said the government was committed to supporting businesses, and that the new two-week wage subsidy for the latest restrictions is now open. He said the wage subsidy was working to keep the economy “robust”, and that 325,426 jobs came off the June wage subsidy extension during August.

During the same period 6, 103 people went on to government assistance.

Robertson and the government have faced criticism from National this week after they chose not to extend the wage subsidy until the end of the weekend, in line with the four-day extension to alert level three in Auckland.

No comment on mother jailed for breaching isolation

Grant Robertson declined to comment on the fact that a mother who led her children’s escape from an isolation facility in Hamilton to attend their father’s tangi has been jailed for 14 days. It followed an earlier case where a man who admitted escaping managed isolation to buy beer and wine was sentenced to community service.

When questioned on whether the different judgments were an example of institutionalised racism, Robertson said, as a minister, it is not appropriate to comment on court decisions.

12.45pm: Watch – Do we have more cases of Covid-19?

Another day with no Bloomfield in sight. Today’s 1pm Covid-19 health update will be provided by director of public health Caroline McElnay alongside the finance minister Grant Robertson.

It’s expected there will be an update on the “mini-cluster” of Covid cases connected to a Mount Roskill church.

Yesterday, there were another seven new cases of the virus, with six linked to the community. The total number of active cases is 126.

Watch below:

11.45am: Peters lashes out at Hooton article about NZF investigation

The leader of New Zealand First has hit out at columnist and former National Party communications advisor Matthew Hooton, over an article published on the Herald website today.

In the piece, behind the paywall, Hooton said voters need to know the outcome of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the New Zealand First foundation well before October’s election. “In April, the SFO took the unusual step of announcing that, despite the first lockdown, its timetable would see it complete the [NZ First] investigation before the September election date,” he wrote.

He said the decision should be revealed next week in order to give the public enough time to digest the information.

Peters, in a tweet, said Hooton had ignored the “four investigations into other political parties” by the SFO. That includes two into local councils in Auckland and Christchurch, one about the National Party and one about Labour.

“You’re not working for the National Party anymore – though it might explain why you’re apparently paying the [Herald]
now to print your stories,” Peters alleged in the tweet.

When approached by The Spinoff, Hooton discarded Peters’ claim that he was paying the Herald to have his work published: “Of course not, that’s just Peters having a laugh,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that his article should have mentioned the Labour Party investigation. “Peters is absolutely right that my comments should have applied equally to the Labour Party investigation, which the SFO should also commit to concluding well before voting starts.”

In a tweet, he expanded on this point, saying the two local council investigations do not need to be resolved before the election and “the [National Party] one is already before the courts.”

“You’re right that I overlooked the [Labour Party] one. Everything I wrote applies also to that one. SFO should put up or shut up,” he tweeted.

11.00am: Jami-Lee Ross party censored over ‘misleading’ anti-vax video

The party co-led by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross is in a stoush with parliament’s speaker over a “misleading” video about Covid-19 vaccinations.

Advance NZ, which last month joined forces with the conspiracy theory pushing Public Party, had posted a video to Facebook titled: “Say no to Labour’s Forced Vaccinations Agenda”. The video included edited footage from parliament which, according to a fact check, “cut key parts of [politicians’] sentences to doctor the meaning of the exchange”.

In a video posted to the Advance NZ/NZPP Facebook page today, Ross confirmed he had been contacted by parliament’s speaker Trevor Mallard, who told him to remove the video.

“He was claiming that, as the speaker, he has the authority to tell us that we must take down videos from our Facebook page if he thinks it is using footage from parliament in a way that he doesn’t agree with.”

Ross claimed that the issue was going to be referred to parliament’s privileges committee by Mallard.

“We care deeply about the bill of rights being upheld and that parliament should never override peoples’ fundamental rights,” Ross said. He labelled the government’s Covid-19 public health response act “dangerous”.

10.25am: NZX crashes for fourth day in a row

Following a cyber attack earlier in the week, the NZX website has crashed yet again. It’s the fourth day in a row where problems have occurred.

In a statement issued to market participants, NZX said: “Given the current issue we have extended the Pre-Open for the NZX Main Board and Fonterra Shareholders Market.

“The NZX Debt Market was placed into a halt at 9.58am. The NZX Derivatives Market remains open.”

The exchange said an update will be provided at 10.30am or earlier “if information is available”.

9.25am: US ambassador to NZ skips managed isolation

Updated

The US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown has managed to bypass our country’s official quarantine facilities, despite returning to the country after a trip to the US.

The Herald reports Brown and his wife Gail chose to self-isolate at their home in Lower Hutt. The government cannot force diplomats into managed quarantine facilities due to immunity rules.

Brown had been on a trip to Washington where he met with a number of high profile figures, including: secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the deputy secretary Stephen Biegun, the US trade representative ambassador Robert Lighthizer, and New Zealand’s ambassador Rosemary Banks.

However, Brown has defended his actions this morning. He told Newshub his role as ambassador forbids him from accepting money from the government. “We should do everything at our own expense which is what we’ve done with other representatives of my team,” he said.

“I don’t mind you know, people questioning it cause I think that’s legit, but to lie about the headline and say I’ve refused to do X, Y and Z when actually we have been more than accommodating and respectful.”

8.30am: Māori Party co-leader number seven on list

John Tamihere, co-leader of the Māori Party, claims he opted for a lower position on the party’s newly released list to show support for his fellow candidates.

He’s sitting at number seven, despite it being customary for a co-leader to sit in one of the two top spots. His counterpart, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, is number one on the list.

In a statement, Tamihere justified his risky decision: “My six fellow candidates have put themselves and their whānau up for this challenge and this is my way of showing my support for their sacrifice.”

Top ten on the new Māori Party list:

1. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer Te Tai Hauāuru

2. Rawiri Waititi Waiariki

3. Heather Te Au-Skipworth Ikaroa-Rāwhiti

4. Tākuta Ferris Te Tai Tonga

5. Donna Pokere-Phillips Hauraki-Waikato

6. Mariameno Kapa-Kingi Te Tai Tokerau

7. John Tamihere Tāmaki Makaurau

8. Hana Tapiata Waiariki

9. Merepeka Raukawa-Tait Waiariki

10. Eru Kapa-Kingi Te Tai Tokerau

Full list available here

8.10am: Peters the only parliamentary voice calling for gunman’s deportation

New Zealand First is the only major political party in our current parliament calling for the deportation of the Christchurch terrorist. The 29-year-old Australian national was yesterday given our country’s harshest penalty: he will remain in prison, without parole, for the rest of his life.

Winston Peters said he welcomed the sentence: “The judgement is the only one that matched the depravity of the terrorist’s crimes against the Islamic community, and it’s devastating effect on all people living in this country,” he said.

“New Zealand First also believes this terrorist should be returned to the country that raised him.

“Now is the time for Australia’s minister of home affairs, Peter Dutton, to receive and carry out the terrorist’s sentence in Australia,” Peters said.

Peters said New Zealand and the Islamic community have already “suffered enough” without having to pay astronomical prison costs for years to come.

Yesterday, justice minister Andrew Little said a new law would need to be passed in order to deport the shooter.

He told the Herald the only way an Australian could be deported was after the completion of their sentence.

“It’s automatic if you’re a non-citizen or non-resident. Any other way would have to be by agreement of treaty with the country of origin, and we don’t have that with Australia.

“Our Corrections system is now obliged to detain him for life,” he said.

So far, there has been no other party come forward to back Peters’ view. National’s leader Judith Collins said the life sentence was “entirely appropriate” and that since he did the crime in New Zealand, he should do the time here too.

Act’s leader David Seymour told RNZ it was impractical to send the gunman back to Australia, saying Peters was simply politicising the matter.

7.50am: Mt Eden prisoner organised bar tab for guards

An imprisoned member of the Comancheros gang organised a bar tab for Corrections guards drinking at a pub after hours in an attempt to corrupt them, according to an RNZ investigation this morning.

Documents released to RNZ confirm the incident occurred on May 23, however, the Corrections staff did not use the tab.

“When Corrections staff were socialising at a bar outside work hours, a bar tab was anonymously left by a member or members of the public for Corrections’ staff use,” national commissioner Rachel Leota said.

“Corrections staff did not use the bar tab and departed from the location.”

Corrections then called in its intelligence unit, which tapped prison phone calls and discovered the tab had been left anonymously for the guards.

Read the full investigation here

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The Christchurch mosque shooter will never leave prison for the rest of his natural life. Yesterday afternoon, a sentence of life without possibility of parole was handed down, amid unequivocal comments from the presiding judge, Justice Mander: “Even if you are detained until you die it will not contain enough punishment and denunciation.” It is the first time such a sentence has been imposed in New Zealand.

Full notes on the sentencing can be read here. I warn you – the first section describes in detail the murders and attempted murders that were committed, and are very disturbing and difficult to read. Justice Mander discussed the clear motivation for the attacks, in that they were an expression of racist and white supremacist beliefs. There was also a discussion of what factors went into the sentence of life without parole, with a notable set of paragraphs discussing that there was little prospect of rehabilitation in any meaningful sense. He will serve that sentence in New Zealand – there is no legal basis for deportation back to Australia, as some have suggested.

In the aftermath of the sentence being handed down, many of those close to the victims reacted with relief. Radio NZ carried their views, with Gamal Fouda, the imam of the targeted Al Noor mosque, saying that while no sentence could bring their loved ones back, a stand had been taken against terrorism. “They [terrorists] represent hate but we are here today – we represent love, compassion, Muslim and non-Muslim; people of faith and non-faith. That is us – New Zealanders – and we are very proud we are Muslims in New Zealand.” Stuff reports crowds gathered outside the High Court, and cheered when they heard the punishment.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

The Christchurch mosque shooter was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the murder of 51 people.

There were seven new cases of Covid-19, one of which was linked to the border.

Trading on the NZX was halted again after its website went down for a third day in a row as a result of a sustained cyber attack.

The mother who escaped a Hamilton MIQ facility along with her four children was sentenced to 14 days in prison.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars” is being put aside to ensure New Zealand can access a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available, the government said.

A poll found that 62% of Chinese New Zealanders would vote for the National Party, and just 21% would vote for Labour.

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




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