Live updates, September 29: Reducing Auckland alert level could cause ‘explosion in cases’, says expert

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 29, by Stewart Sowman-Lund. Send me thoughts and feelings to stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


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Today’s numbers

  • There are 45 new community cases of Covid-19, all in Auckland.
  • Of these, 33 have been linked but 12 remain a mystery.
  • This is the largest daily number of new cases since September 2.
  • 15,437 tests were processed yesterday.
  • 44,649 vaccine doses were given out yesterday.

5.30pm: New locations of interest

Four new locations of interest have been added to the Ministry of Health’s list this afternoon, including two petrol stations visited yesterday. 

BP Ellerslie has been added for 10.51-11.51am yesterday and Z Te Irirangi Drive, Ōtara, for 11-11.10am yesterday. 

Allenby Park in Papatoetoe is now a location for interest from 4.30-5.30pm on Saturday, September 25, as is Dawson Road Superette in Clover Park 10.15-11am on Wednesday September 15.

This morning, Kelston Mall in west Auckland was added to the list for 2-2.30pm on Monday this week. 

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

5.15pm: Navy sailor under investigation for crossing Auckland boundary without exemption

A junior navy sailor is being investigated after allegedly crossing Auckland’s boundary without an exemption to attend a close family member’s funeral.

The sailor, who was fully vaccinated, travelled last weekend, the Defence Force said in a press release. They have been instructed to isolate at their rural property in Hawke’s Bay and get a Covid test, and the regional health authority has been informed.

Commodore Melissa Ross, the deputy chief of navy, said, “While we acknowledge this junior sailor has experienced a significant loss and had wanted to support whānau, like many other New Zealanders in the same position, they must abide by the border restrictions in place and play their part in keeping New Zealand safe.”

5.00pm: Latest Covid cases reflect severity of NZ’s housing crisis – experts

After it was revealed that many of today’s 45 new Covid cases were people in transitional or emergency housing, experts have called for public health efforts to be ramped up in vulnerable communities. 

“These communities have the most exposure to Covid because they are overcrowded, have less income and have been historically poorly served by health and social sectors,” said Dr Rawiri Jansen of the National Hauora Coalition, via the Science Media Centre. 

Many people in the affected communities are low-paid essential workers who can’t work from home, and vaccine communications have not been tailored to them, said Jansen. “Outbreaks in these communities will require extra effort, extra resources and service providers who are culturally concordant.”

University of Otago immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu said an equity focus was crucial for vaccination, testing and prevention efforts moving forward. “This means doing what it takes to get people the help they need, whether it be the vaccine or a test or other health and support services needed.

“It is critical that those who need to have a Covid-19 test still come forward to have this done, and should not be vilified in doing so.”

Innes Asher of Auckland university’s school of medicine said it was no surprise that vulnerable communities were being hit hardest. “Housing instability is a severe, chronic and worsening crisis in New Zealand. The people of Aotearoa are reaping what many governments have sown over many decades.”

4.30pm: Multi-million-dollar class action launched against banks 

More than 150,000 customers could receive refunds after a consumer class action was launched against the ANZ and ASB banks in the Auckland High Court today. 

The claim, brought under the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 (CCCFA), alleges the two Australian-owned banks failed to repay their customers loan interest and fees charged due to breaches of their disclosure obligations.

Both banks have previously acknowledged that they failed to provide accurate information to personal and home loan customers who varied the terms of their loans during particular periods. As the Herald reports, after investigations by the Commerce Commission, in May this year the ASB agreed to pay a settlement of $8.1 million to 73,000 customers after it was unable to confirm it had sent written disclosure information to those who made loan variations between June 6, 2015, and June 18, 2019.

In March 2020, ANZ agreed to pay $29.4m to around 100,000 customers after it confirmed it had misstated the amount of interest on loans from May 30, 2015, until May 29, 2016, as a result of a coding error within a loan calculator used by its frontline bank staff.

The claim, jointly funded by Australia-based litigation funder CASL and New Zealand litigation funder LPF Group, is being run as an opt-out class action by Scott Russell of Auckland law firm Russell Legal and barristers Davey Salmon QC and Ali van Ammers of Mills Lane Chambers.

“ANZ and ASB think by admitting to breaking the law, the consequences don’t apply to them, said Anthony Simons, an ASB customer and a representative plaintiff in the banking class action, via a press release. 

“Hiring expensive lawyers and agreeing to significantly reduced payments with regulators means the banks have avoided repaying what they owe to their customers. Banks are the first to enforce the rules when they are owed money, yet they ask for leniency when they break the law. If we do not challenge this kind of behaviour, we are condoning it and allowing it to continue.”

More information for home and personal loan customers of ASB and ANZ is available here.

4.00pm: Now-deleted web page suggests helping hand on the way for migrants in limbo

It’s believed the government may be about to push through thousands of visa applications, after months of pressure on the immigration minister to do exactly that.

A now-deleted page on the immigration website was tweeted out by National’s Erica Stanford; it showed a new category of visa that would help those stuck in the country due to Covid-19 to stay legally.

The opposition have long pushed the government to try and stop the number of skilled migrants fleeing the country due to the hold on new visas.

An update is expected tomorrow.

3.45pm: Robertson hits out at National’s Covid plan

Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson is the latest to come after National’s Covid-19 response plan, calling it “risky, rushed and reckless”.

Speaking in the house this afternoon, he accused National of “flip-flopping around and trying to move too quickly”, comparing the party to a group of children in a car saying “are we there yet?”

Referencing the National leader’s alleged tense relationship with some of her colleagues, Robertson said, “Judith Collins called it vigorous suppression, having clearly mixed up her caucus notes with her Covid notes”.

Reiterating Covid response minister Chris Hipkins’ earlier sentiments (see 1.30pm update), Robertson said, “If there’s one thing that Judith Collins achieved today it’s to rewrite the old Christmas tune: ‘On the first day of Christmas national gave to me – Covid’.”

Earlier in the sitting, the prime minister suggested National’s plan had drawn on the government’s own reopening plan released in August, with its use of a traffic light system to distinguish countries by risk level.

3.35pm: Reducing Auckland alert level could cause ‘explosion in cases’ – Plank

Responding to today’s spike in Covid cases in Auckland, Te Pūnaha Matatini modeller Michael Plank said the government is facing some tough decisions ahead of Monday’s alert level decision.

Via the Science Media Centre, Plank said today’s 45 cases marked the first time we’ve seen the effect of the move to alert level three in case numbers. He said it’s possible the case numbers will reduce in the coming days, but the 12 cases yet to be linked were “concerning”.

“With the increase in the number of people back at work at level three, this creates more opportunities for the virus to spread and this will make the outbreak harder to contain,” said Plank. “If numbers do start to trend upwards again, the government faces some tough decisions. Reducing the alert level is likely to cause an explosion in cases and, with a large number of people either unvaccinated or yet to receive their second dose, the population is still vulnerable.

“Level three may be enough to keep the outbreak in check, but that could mean Auckland is stuck in level three for a long time until a lot more people have been able to get their second dose.”

3.15pm: ‘Shame on that member’: Reti, Little spar over ICU capacity

Health minister Andrew Little and his opposition counterpart Dr Shane Reti have bickered over whose party is responsible for the inadequate ICU capabilities of New Zealand’s health system in parliament today.

Reti repeated a claim from National’s “Opening Up” plan released this morning that the number of ICU beds in New Zealand has fallen since last year, but Little rejected this, saying “availability changes from one day to the next”. He said there are around 325 ICU beds currently available, but capacity to surge to 550.

Little also denied Reti’s suggestion that Auckland’s ICU system was at 120% on the day the latest lockdown was announced, saying he wasn’t providing an accurate picture. Little then tried to turn the focus onto National’s track record in this area, saying the party had spent only $1 billion on health over nine years in government, compared to the current government’s $4.5b. “If the member’s concern is about hospital facilities, I’d just say no one would believe that party because prior conduct is the best indicator of future conduct.”

On Reti’s suggestion that Auckland was stuck in a prolonged lockdown because Little “failed to build a single new resourced ICU bed in Auckland”, the minister said, “If the member wants to point the finger of blame, he should look at his colleagues and ask himself what he was doing when he sat in that caucus when, for two years in a row, not a single dollar was appropriated to hospital facilities. Shame on that member.”

2.30pm: National’s plan for reopening NZ ‘rushed and risky’, says Ardern

A rowdy start to question time this afternoon with Judith Collins pushing Jacinda Ardern on perceived failures with the Covid response.

Asked by Collins whether the country would reopen next year even if the vaccine rate remained below 90%, Ardern said the government still believed the first quarter of 2022 was the likely timeframe. “Most countries… have moved on the border last,” said Ardern. “So rather than assessing the impact of vaccination on Covid rates, ensuring you have your domestic settings right and protecting New Zealand at home, [Collins] wants to open the floodgate without getting it right first. That is rushed and it is risky.”

Act’s David Seymour followed up and questioned why the domestic settings were still not “right” 18 months into the pandemic. “You have to adapt,” replied Ardern. “We’ve done it very successfully.”

Watch the full exchange here

1.30pm: ‘Covid for Christmas’ – Hipkins responds to National’s plan

The Covid-19 response minister has ridiculed National’s plan for reopening the country, saying the opposition would be happy to allow more coronavirus cases into the country.

At today’s 1pm presser, Chris Hipkins admitted he had not read National’s “Opening Up” plan in great detail. But, he did not appear keen to adopt its recommendations.

“It’s clear that the National Party want to throw open the borders, have hundreds of thousands of people coming in, so one can conclude the biggest promise they’re making is they’re willing for Kiwis to get Covid for Christmas,” he said.

The plan does not provide any modelling for the number of Covid cases National would be willing to tolerate, said Hipkins, or what the party would do to manage a rise in cases.

1.25pm: What might today’s case number mean for alert levels?

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has not taken alert level two off the table for Auckland.

On Monday, cabinet meet to determine whether or not our largest city can move out of alert level three from next Wednesday.

At today’s 1pm presser, Hipkins acknowledged 45 new Covid cases was a “sobering” number but said the outbreak is concentrated in larger households and occasional blips were to be expected. “I would encourage people not to read too much into it at this point,” he said. “We’re still aiming to run this into the ground.”

Asked whether there would still be 45 new cases if Auckland had stayed in level four, Hipkins paused before saying: “possibly”. Bloomfield agreed.

On whether the large household was a gang HQ, Bloomfield said: “No it’s not actually”, but that many of the people involved were in emergency or transitional housing. Those are people who are moving around for a range of reasons, he added.

At a Health Select Committee session this morning, the Ministry of Health’s pacific health director, Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone, said the current outbreak “seems to have seated itself in a gang environment and [among] the homeless … people that are less likely to be trusting of the health system”.

Public health teams have identified high-risk settings, particularly in South Auckland, and will be testing everyone in those places in the coming days. There were a number of cases with gang affiliations two or three weeks ago, and we’ve had a lot of engagement including with gang leadership and good uptake of testing, said Bloomfield.

Around 40 transitional or emergency housing locations have been deemed high risk and public health teams will be following up testing by offering vaccination.

1.15pm: Tracking the outbreak

It’s a bit bleak but here is today’s Covid-19 daily case graph, showing just how high today’s case count is.

1.00pm: Big jump in new delta cases with 45 announced in Auckland

Updated

There are 45 new Covid-19 cases in the Auckland community – a significant jump in the daily case number ahead of next week’s alert level decision.

This is the highest daily positive case count since September 2, almost four weeks ago. “It won’t be lost on you that this is the largest number of cases we’ve had in some time,” said Ashley Bloomfield, speaking at parliament.

The outbreak has now ballooned to 1230 community cases, although almost 1000 of these have now recovered.

Of the new 45 cases, 33 are close contacts and many of them have been isolating throughout the infectious period. The remaining 12 are so far unlinked. Breaking that down further, Bloomfield said 26 were household contacts with 12 coming from across just two households.

While the number may come as shock, Bloomfield said “many” were expected. “Now Auckland is at alert level three, some of the cases may have been working at essential or permitted businesses during their infectious periods,” added Bloomfield. This underlines the importance of continuing to follow level three protocols.

Bloomfield reiterated yesterday’s call for workers in the hospitality, retail and construction sectors to get tested twice, with at least five days between tests.

On yesterday’s news of a positive wastewater result in Tauranga, Bloomfield said officials had noted a “slight increase” of testing – around 400 yesterday. So far, no cases have been confirmed in the Bay of Plenty. The DHB there would like to see that testing number increase, said Bloomfield, and anyone with symptoms should get tested.

There has been another instance of someone presenting at the Waitākere hospital ED and subsequently testing positive for Covid-19, said Bloomfield. They were there on Saturday September 25 for a non-Covid-related reason, developed symptoms the following day and got tested. The result returned positive yesterday. A small number of staff have been stood down and the public health unit is following up with a small number of patients, said Bloomfield

This follows another positive case connected to the hospital announced yesterday and a new West Auckland location of interest announced today.

On the vaccine front: Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said 78% of the eligible population has now had their first vaccination dose. Around mid-October we should see a peak of second doses. 44% of the eligible population have had their second dose. 55% of Māori have had their first dose and 29% their second, while among the Pacific population, 71% have had their first dose and 40% their second.

Bloomfield and Hipkins confirmed a volunteer at an Auckland vaccination site had tested positive, and the person had mixed and eaten with other volunteers. “A small number of people” are now isolating and being tested.

12.45pm: Delta outbreak update after West Auckland location of interest confirmed

West Auckland is on high alert with a new location of interest announced the day after a mystery case was confirmed in the region.

The new location is Kelston Mall in Glen Eden, which was visited by a confirmed Covid-19 case on Monday afternoon.

Yesterday saw just one mystery case of delta announced: a person who turned up to Waitakere Hospital on Monday night before being moved to North Shore Hospital.

We’re expecting an update on that case, along with the latest numbers, at 1pm. Watch along below or keep this page refreshed for the latest.

12.10pm: Police Ten 7 review concludes show gives ‘fair portrayal’ of Māori, Pacific participants –

A review into TVNZ’s Police Ten 7, sparked by allegations of racism, has determined Māori and Pacific individuals who participated in the show were fairly portrayed. However, it concluded the programme did little to discourage negative stereotypes.

The independent review was ordered after Auckland City Councillor and Samoan community leader Fa’anana Efeso Collins questioned racial stereotypes depicted on the show. In follow-up interviews, Collins claimed that the show fed on stereotypes “particularly of young brown men being brutish.”

The review, which recognised the programme’s steps towards modernisation over the years, made eight recommendations. They include requiring TVNZ and Screentime NZ staff to undertake relevant training in racism, bias and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and commission research to contribute to the programme’s reflection of societal values.

In a statement, TVNZ’s content director Cate Slater said the review had provided a thorough assessment of the programme and recommendations for a way forward. “We have an opportunity to go further than incremental change though and we are committed to reimagining Police Ten 7 so it serves viewers in the years to come. Our ambition is to continue to highlight the important work of the Police, while better acknowledging the communities they assist.”

11.50am: Police officer reportedly breached Auckland lockdown rules

An investigation is under way after a police officer reportedly breached Auckland’s lockdown restrictions.

According to Stuff, the officer left Auckland to go with a group to a funeral. “As police currently understands it, this involved a member of police accompanying a group of people across an alert level boundary, so they could attend a burial a short distance away,” a statement from police said.

The travel had not been authorised by health officials and further enquiries into the matter were being made.

11.00am: Oranga Tamariki to be transformed, child uplifts to be a ‘last resort’

There will be an end to child uplifts “as we have known them”, with the government signalling an overhaul of Oranga Tamariki will go ahead.

All of the recommendations made by a ministerial advisory board have been accepted, which would see uplifts only used as a last resort.

“While there will always be a need for some children to be taken into care, this should only happen after all avenues with community and whanau have been exhausted,” said the minister in charge of the agency Kelvin Davis.

 “Community-led prevention is the biggest thing for me from this report – our communities have the answers and Oranga Tamariki needs to work with them to stop children entering into care.”

In addition, Davis said the agency will operate under a new model with better support and training for social workers. “The agency’s failures have been well documented, including traumatic uplifts, poor relationships with Māori and social workers under pressure,” he said.

Oranga Tamariki’s reset will take place over the next two years, but work will begin across the next six months.

“The new direction for Oranga Tamariki has been set,” Davis said. “A plan has been put in place for change and alongside the members of my ministerial advisory board and the leadership of Oranga Tamariki we are going to change the system.”

10.35am: National’s Opening Up plan – a word count

Some high quality data analysis of National’s 58-page Opening Up plan.

10.00am: 'Opening up' – National announces 10 steps to prepare for reopening, reunite New Zealanders

The National Party has announced its proposal to reunite New Zealand families split apart overseas, allow international tourism to resume, and end the MIQ lottery.

The party's this morning unveiled its alternative post-Covid roadmap, titled "Opening Up". It's a 58-page document – released in the wake of plans by both John Key and the Act Party – that begins with 10-steps to ready New Zealand for reopening. That would be followed by two further pillars, titled "evolve" and "open".

The 10-step 'invest' pillar

  1. Supercharge the vaccine rollout;
  2. Order vaccine boosters;
  3. Upgrade our contact tracing capability;
  4. Roll out saliva testing at the border and in the community;
  5. Roll out rapid tests for essential workers and in the community;
  6. Create a dedicated agency, Te Korowai Kōkiri, to manage our Covid-19 response based in Manukau not Wellington;
  7. Build purpose-built quarantine;
  8. Launch a digital app for vaccination authentication;
  9. Invest in next-generation Covid treatments; and
  10. Prepare our hospitals and expand ICU capacity.

Read more: National’s ‘Opening Up’ plan – in a nutshell

The second pillar of National's plan would pledge to end nationwide lockdowns once vaccinations hit 70-75% overall. Following that, a further vaccination target would allow for the borders to reopen. “Once we reach a milestone of 85% of the country vaccinated, vigorous suppression becomes possible when supplemented with National’s ten steps to tackle Covid-19," said the party's Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“National’s reopening plan is based on a traffic light system and prioritises fully vaccinated travellers. Non-citizens and non-permanent residents who are not vaccinated would be banned from travelling to New Zealand."

According to Collins and Bishop, the plan has been peer reviewed by experts. However, during today's announcement the pair declined to reveal any names. "We're not naming the experts we engaged with publicly, because they're in prominent positions and don't wish to be named publicly," said Bishop.

You can watch the announcement live below

9.30am: Second MIQ room release sees thousands miss out

A second release of MIQ rooms appears to have been just as popular as the first.

About 3800 spots were snapped up last night in under an hour with RNZ reporting at least 26,000 people were vying for a space.

Grounded Kiwis, a group supporting New Zealanders trying to get home, said that securing a spot in managed isolation shouldn't be a lottery. "Who would have thought that one of our most fundamental rights would be subject to a lottery? But here we are," the group later tweeted.

During questioning yesterday, Jacinda Ardern rejected comparisons to a lottery. "[That] is not how I would frame the MIQ booking system," she said.

"We have released, in recent weeks, enough rooms for an additional 5,000 individuals from over 100 different countries, and this evening there is another release of well over 3,000 rooms across the October, November, and December period."

8.40am: $37m to help delta-hit arts sector

$37 million of funding has been brought forward to help the arts sector in the wake of the delta outbreak.

Of that, $10 million will go to cultural agencies to support at risk organisations (including Creative New Zealand, the Music Commission and Te Papa), with up to $22.5 million to help "future proof" upcoming cultural performances and events.

“The Covid-19 Alert Level restrictions, whilst necessary, have had an impact on the arts and culture sector," said arts and culture minister Carmel Sepuloni. “I’m confident this package will help those in need of immediate relief and who have been unable to continue operations."

Those seeking immediate relief will be able to apply from this Friday through Manatū Taonga’s website.

8.00am: National next in line to release Covid reopening plan

The National Party will today release its long-touted plan for reopening the country.

While the party follows in the footsteps of its former leader John Key – who released a five step plan over the weekend – and its opposition frenemy Act – who came out with a "Covid 3.0" roadmap yesterday – party leader Judith Collins has claimed her proposal will be more comprehensive.

"We are so excited about this as we have had it expert-reviewed," Collins told Newshub. "We are very careful with the people who we have had expert-review it, because we don't want them obviously being attacked by the government."

Collins yesterday teased that part of the plan would see New Zealanders abroad able to get home by Christmas, if they were double-jabbed. "If the government undertakes this plan, they start now, you will be able to get home for Christmas," reassured Collins this morning.

That proposal may already be off the table: Jacinda Ardern yesterday said her goal was simply to ensure New Zealanders could enjoy their summer. "Anything else that you add into the mix too soon and before you're well prepared could risk summer," Ardern said.

National's plan will be unveiled at 10am. We'll have full coverage here on the live updates along with a more substantial write-off on The Spinoff.

7.30am: From The Bulletin

Could New Zealand have purchased more vaccines earlier? Pfizer has called a claim by Sir John Key “incorrect and baseless” that $40 million would have bought the country priority access to the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Newsroom. The company said no one has paid a premium for “priority delivery” and it was fulfilling its contract with New Zealand. The pharmaceutical giant didn’t explain the difference between priority and earlier delivery. As the NZ Herald (paywalled) has reported, countries that wanted earlier deliveries paid more. Kate MacNamara’s analysis for the newspaper is a revealing look at the different pressures the government’s negotiating team faced as it signed deals with vaccine makers.


The Covid numbers: 8 new community cases were reported yesterday in Auckland and 42% (5) of the previous day’s total were in the community while infectious. There are now 203 active cases. 40,706 people were vaccinated on Monday, of which 70% were second doses.

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


Another 3,800 MIQ rooms were released yesterday and over 30,000 people tried to get one. The country's border system is once again being criticised by tens of thousands of people who unsuccessfully tried to get a place in managed-isolation through the government's lottery, according to the NZ Herald. The weekly stories are a mixture of desperation and heartbreak. The government has said the border could open up next year once the country hits higher vaccine levels. Unfortunately, it seems the vaccination programme has now stalled out with about 75% of the eligible population getting a jab. As Stuff explains, this was entirely foreseeable and the government needs a plan, now, to get things moving again.


The battle of the other Covid plans has started with Act releasing its Covid 3.0 programme. Sir John Key released his musings over the weekend, National’s plan is coming this morning, but David Seymour released his programme yesterday with a focus on life after lockdown. RNZ reports that he's released a five step process to move away from “chronic fear” and lockdowns. Seymour has called for an end to “eradication,” not the word experts use to describe the country's elimination strategy; isolating only individuals and not regions; a clear plan to end restrictions by Christmas; an end to a centralised approach and a new campaign that is fear free.


University of Otago to slash costs because international students aren't coming back soon. The Otago Daily Times reports that the university will launch a voluntary redundancy scheme next week because its financial picture is worsening. The university had expected international students to return by next year, but now says that's unlikely before 2023 and it could take a decade for numbers to recover. The cost of moving students and staff out of the main Wellington campus building last month due to earthquake risks didn’t help the university’s balance sheet either.

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

Yesterday's numbers

  • There are just eight new community delta cases, all in Auckland.
  • Of these, one remains unlinked: a person who presented to Waitākere hospital.
  • There has been a positive wastewater result detected in Tauranga.
  • 40,706 vaccine doses were administered nationwide on Monday.
  • Just under 10,000 tests were processed nationwide.



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