Live updates, September 4: Man in 50s with Covid-19 dies in Middlemore Hospital

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for September 4, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole country is now in alert level two, with extra restrictions in Auckland. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

5.00pm: Man in 50s with Covid-19 dies in Middlemore Hospital

A man in his 50s has died with Covid-19 in Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland. He was part of the cluster of cases in Auckland, and was first admitted to hospital from a quarantine facility.

In a release, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said his thoughts were with the family and community of the man. “I acknowledge the anxiety New Zealanders may be feeling about today’s news, both in the wider community and also for the family and whānau grieving over this death.”

It is the first death related to Covid-19 since the reemergence of community transmission last month, and brings the total death toll to 23. The man is the youngest person in New Zealand to have died with Covid-19.

“We have always recognised that further deaths linked to Covid-19 were possible,” said Bloomfield. “Although the health system has done and will continue to do everything we can to prevent them, this can be a very challenging virus to treat and for some people to recover from,” said Bloomfield.

“Today’s news reinforces the importance of our shared vigilance against Covid-19, the very serious consequences the virus can carry with it, and the measures we all need to take to stop the spread, break any chain of transmission and prevent deaths.”

It is the first death to have taken place within the rohe of the Counties Manukau DHB, and has been acknowledged with a mihi:

Kua riromai teetahi ika pounamu o te wao nui a Taane. E tangi ana, haaere,

Whakangaro atu ra, ki te kaakaarauri oki oki.

2.40pm: Short term relief for people on visas announced

Anyone in the country on a visitor visa that’s set to expire before the end of October has been given some short term relief by the government.

Immigration minister Kris Faafoi’s announced an automatic five month extension for current onshore visitor visas.

A new two month Covid-19 short term visa will be also be introduced to help temporary migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand due to international travel restrictions when their current visa expires.

Faafoi said the announcement will provide more certainty for temporary migrants stranded on our shores.

“Temporary migrants need to have a valid visa to remain lawfully in New Zealand, otherwise they are required to leave the country. However, we know that international travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have affected many people’s ability to leave New Zealand before their visas expire,” Faafoi said.

There are approximately 19,000 people onshore who hold visas that are eligible for the automatic five-month extension.

“To be eligible for the Covid-19 short-term visitor visa, Immigration New Zealand must be satisfied visitor visa holders are genuinely unable to leave New Zealand as a result of Covid-19, they are intending to depart, and they meet normal good character requirements,” Faafoi added.

2.30pm: ‘Disappointed’ but not surprised – Restaurant Association reacts to alert level decision

The Restaurant Association were expecting to stay in alert level two longer, as was confirmed this afternoon by the prime minister.

CEO Marisa Bidois said: “We continue to engage with government for targeted assistance to compensate our businesses who through no fault of their own are experiencing significantly reduced revenues.”

The association will be meeting with treasury next week, Bidois said, to discuss ideas for helping hospitality businesses. That includes the “Dine Out To Help Out scheme” which would mirror what’s going on in the UK.

1.10pm: At least 12 more days of alert level two, PM announces

Updated

Our current alert level settings will remain in place for another 12 days at least, the prime minister has confirmed. The next review of whether we should drop from alert level two will take place on Monday, September 14. Jacinda Ardern said the earliest shift to level one would be from 11.59pm on Wednesday, September 16.

Caution is still very much required, Ardern said, with 30 new community cases since moving to level two. However, Ardern said the Auckland community cluster appears to be contained and there is certainly no reason to re-escalate back up to alert level three.

Cabinet considered the same factors today that they did when determining whether New Zealand should shift down from level three last weekend.

“Most importantly we consider that the best economic response remains a strong health response,” Ardern said.

While there have not been any unlinked cases while Auckland has been at level 2.5, there was one just prior to the city moving into it, said Ardern. “This is a case that while it’s been genomically linked, we have not been able to determine the person-to-person link to our cluster. That means there could be other people we are missing.” This doesn’t mean we can’t contain the outbreak around them successfully, but it does give us reason to be cautious, she said.

The decision to stay in alert level two for at least two more weekends is because there tends to be spikes in new Covid cases over weekends, when people are out and about, Ardern said.

“There was no real consideration of moving the alert levels, generally,” said Ardern of the cabinet meeting. There had been some discussion, however, about changing the group gathering limits. The possibility of the South Island moving to level one, while the North stayed in two, was raised in cabinet.

Being only five days into alert level two (and 2.5 in Auckland) means we don’t yet know fully what the impact of our level shift has been, said Ardern.

On why the rest of the country must stay at level two, Ardern said, “early modelling suggests that even if cases had stopped appearing all together several days ago, there is still a chance of spread outside of Auckland.” Level two settings lesson the impact of any spread, she said, pointing to the two cases in Tokoroa as an example.

“We are on the most perilous part of our alert level journey – the descent,” said Ardern. “Greater freedoms are within reach but gains made can be squandered if we don’t follow the rules and play it safe.”

Ardern said Aucklanders would notice an increased presence of health professionals in the community and testing stations in more diverse places, including at places of worship. Health professionals would be at Auckland domestic airport to remind people not to travel if sick, and there would be a police presence at bars over the weekend.

Questioned on whether Auckland to drop down to the same level two as the rest of the country has, with larger gatherings allowed, Ardern said she wouldn’t pre-empt future discussions on alert levels.

It was noted by a reporter that early voting starts in just under a month, meaning there may only be a couple of weeks at alert level one before this starts. However, Ardern said the decision on alert levels was made based on “evidence and science” rather than politics, following comments made by National Party leader Judith Collins today.

1.00pm: Another five cases of Covid-19

Updated

New Zealand has just five new cases of Covid-19 today, Ashley Bloomfield has announced. Three are in the community with the remaining two in managed isolation.

All three community cases have been epidemiologically linked to the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church cluster, which is linked to the wider Auckland cluster, Bloomfield said.

The two imported cases are both children of existing cases who had arrived from India. They’re both and under nine years old, Bloomfield said, and were already in a managed isolation facility.

The new cases have been confirmed ahead of the prime minister’s announcement about whether the country will be dropping down to alert level one.

There are still 82 people connected to the community cluster in the Auckland quarantine facility, Bloomfield said, which includes 59 people who have tested positive along with their household contacts.

Since August 11, 3,191 close contacts of cases have been identified, 3,136 of whom have been contacted and are self-isolating. 59 of the 82 people in quarantine are confirmed cases, with the remainder household contacts. Six people are currently in hospital with Covid-19 – one in Auckland, one in Middlemore, two in North Shore and two in Waikato. Two of the people are in ICU, at Middlemore and Waikato.

Eight people have recovered, bringing the total number of cases to 112, 37 of which are imported. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 1,413. Yesterday 9,909 tests were processed, bringing the grand total to 797,990.

Almost 2.1 million people have now registered on the Covid Tracer app.

12.45pm: PM to reveal cabinet decision on alert levels

Jacinda Ardern will be revealing whether or not we’ll be leaving alert level two this weekend. She’ll be joined at today’s 1pm media briefing by Ashley Bloomfield, who will be providing an update on Covid-19 cases. Yesterday, there were just two new cases to report – one in the community and one in managed isolation.

Watch below:

11.40am: ‘Every hour at level two costing $2.7m’ – David Seymour

Act’s leader David Seymour is calling for the government to balance the threat of Covid-19 with the “billions in new debt” and drop us out of alert level two.

Cabinet will today be considering whether or not the country should move to level one (or 1.5) from next week. But, in a statement, Seymour said the choice is easy.

“Every hour at Level 2 is costing the economy about $2.7 million,” he said.

“Covid-19 is a threat, but it’s not the only one. When Cabinet meets today, it needs to consider the new debt it’s piling on future generations, too.”

Seymour said it’s today’s younger generation that will suffer the most from high government debt, paying it back in higher taxes.

11.00am: What cabinet will consider when reviewing our alert levels

Cabinet are meeting this morning to discuss whether or not the country should drop from alert level two to one. It’s likely the possibility of a “level 1.5″ will also be discussed, or whether Auckland or the North Island could be kept in a higher alert.

At a media conference last month, prime minister Jacinda Ardern laid out the “eight factors” cabinet considers before making a call on alert levels.

The four “key health measures”

1. Trends in the transmission of the virus, including the director general’s confidence in the data

2. The capacity and capability of our testing and contact tracing system

3. The effectiveness of isolation, quarantine and border measures

4. Capacity in the health system more generally

The four “broader measures”

5. Effects on local economies

6. Effect on at-risk populations

7. How people have been following the rules

8. The ability to operationalise a new alert level

At this stage, we’re expecting to hear from the prime minister – along with health minister Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield – at today’s 1pm media briefing.

10.00am: New business survey shows continued impact of lockdown

The latest Auckland Business Chamber survey shows less than a third of businesses are operating at full capacity, despite the shift into level two.

The survey revealed:

  • 29% of businesses are operating at 100%
  • 26% of businesses are operating at 75%
  • 21% of businesses are operating at 50%

Chamber CEO Michael Barnett said the survey indicated “more job losses are yet to come” as well as possible business closures.

Medium businesses are functioning slightly better, the survey revealed, with 42% of those employing 20 or more employees operating at full capacity. A further 40% said they’re operating at 50% or more.

Business have also used the lockdown to review the way they operate with 69% overall indicating they were in the process of restructures and 83% of these indicating the result of this restructuring would lead to less employees.

8.30am: Winston Peters continues criticism of his own government

The deputy prime minister Winston Peters has continued his run as an opposition MP and slammed his own government’s response to Covid-19, despite being in the cabinet meetings that helped formulate it. And, he’s taken credit for the the actions we’re now taking – but saying it took too long for us to get here.

In an extraordinary interview this morning, Peters said he’d pushed for the army to be called in, masks to be worn and independent oversight of the Covid response back in March, two days before New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown.

He said he regretted not speaking out publicly, but that “systems do matter” and Cabinet needed to work as a team with a cohesive approach. “The problem was we were trusting a bureaucracy and frankly I never would. In this business you ensure you have oversight, constant referral back every week – what’s going wrong, what’s going right,” he said.

Questioned on why he is only speaking the “truth” retrospectively, Peters said he needed to win battles from “the inside” and going public could have hampered progress.

“We’re five months too late doing most of these things but we are doing them now. We finally got the army in, we finally got masks in.”

Peters also quadrupled down on his unproven claim that the source of the community outbreak came through the border. This is a claim repeatedly denied by the health minister and Ashley Bloomfield, who say there is no evidence of the borders leaking.

Despite the heavy criticisms of his government’s Covid response, Peters won’t be physically present in today’s cabinet today – zooming in from the West Coast.

8.05am: Aucklanders reminded not to spoil first weekend at level two

We’ll know today whether our alert levels will be dropping again from Sunday night, but in the meantime, Aucklanders are about to spend their first weekend at level two.

Assistant police commissioner Richard Chambers said Police will be highly visible at bars and restaurants across the supercity this weekend to ensure that the public are complying with the current restrictions.

“We know that those in Auckland will likely be keen to go out this weekend and socialise with friends and family members,” Chambers said.

“We want to remind the public that gatherings in Auckland are limited to a maximum of 10 people.

“It’s really important that everyone plays their part and adheres to these restrictions,” Chambers said.

Cabinet will be meeting today to discuss the current alert levels and consider the latest advice from the Ministry of Health.

7.50am: Cabinet to review alert levels today

Cabinet will be reviewing our current alert level settings today – level two nationwide, with added restrictions in Auckland. At this stage, the existing alert levels are in place until 11.59pm Sunday night.

At this stage, it’s expected prime minister Jacinda Ardern will front a press conference alongside Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins this afternoon to provide an update.

Auckland University professor Shaun Hendy, whose modelling has guided the government’s response, said it was too early to tell the true impact of the current alert level. He said the country should remain in level two for longer.

“It would wise to figure out how well the current settings have worked before we change them,” he said.

Act Party leader David Seymour said the restrictions on people far away from the outbreak’s epicentre – such as those in the South Island – are should be eased.

“It seems unfair to place restrictions on people so far away, where the risk is so remote and yet the costs are enormous,” he said.

Otago University professor of public health Nick Wilson told Newstalk ZB today that he did not expect the alert levels would be lowered from Sunday – but he did not think it would be too far off.

“We are not really seeing enough evidence yet of really good control … we still get cases every day in the community. To be really confident, we should be waiting to see days where there’s no new cases,” he said.

“I think we could move faster [by] using masks better.” Wilson said masks should be made mandatory in areas other than just public transport.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

National has launched a policy package around support for new parents, reports Stuff. The headline announcement in it is a package of $3000 to spend on parental services, which would have to be used with approved providers. Party leader Judith Collins said it would be there for those who need it, but wouldn’t be given in the form of cash in hand. They’ve also reconfirmed a policy aimed at allowing both parents to take parental leave at the same time. Underpinning the policies is a philosophical commitment to heavily supporting families during the first 1000 days of a child’s life.

There are certainly a lot of parents out there who will need the money. As Alice Webb-Liddall reports, a Unicef survey has found New Zealand ranks near the bottom of 41 countries in child wellbeing, with poverty being seen as a driver of other poor outcomes. That isn’t exactly new information – the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report last year made it very clear, with their recommendations driving much of what has subsequently become Green party policy for the election.

We’re still yet to see the tax and family support policies Labour will take into the election. PM Jacinda Ardern defended the government’s efforts to date in response to the Unicef report. “The report pre-dates our progress in rolling out the $5.5bn Families Package, setting child poverty targets, lifting 18,400 children from poverty, and improving seven out of nine child poverty measures.” It’s fair to say Ardern has made addressing child poverty the cornerstone of her political identity, so it will be fascinating to see whether Labour announces something more on top of what has already been done.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here 

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand – one  in managed isolation and the other linked to the existing cluster.

New Zealand is one of the worst countries in the developed world to grow up in according to Unicef’s annual report card. It ranked New Zealand 35th out of the world’s 41 richest countries for child welfare.

The country experienced its warmest winter since records began, NIWA announced.

National unveiled its new parenting policy, including $3000 for expectant mothers.

Leaked video showed Green co-leader James Shaw claiming he was given a “verbal sign-off” for the Green School by education minister Chris Hipkins. However, Hipkins said this was a “mischaracterisation” of his conversations with Shaw.

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



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