Live updates, November 12: New community case; Auckland CBD workers asked to work from home

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 12, covering all the latest New Zealand news, updated throughout the day. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

8.40pm: All Auckland University exams tomorrow to be online

Auckland University has announced that following the community Covid case reported today, all exams scheduled for tomorrow, Friday November 13, on central Auckland campuses (City, Grafton, Newmarket and Epsom) will be held online. “Scheduled start times remain the same, but the online exams will run for an additional 30 minutes to allow for reading time and for starting and submitting your assessment,” the university advised. Students are encouraged to log in to course pages on the Canvas site for for more information.

The Facebook post added: “We are also asking staff and students at all our Auckland campuses (including Tai Tonga) to study and work from home on Friday November 13, where possible. If you do need to come onto campus, please maintain physical distancing and consider wearing a face mask. This decision follows a statement earlier this evening by the minister for Covid-19 response, Chris Hipkins, advising people not to travel into downtown Auckland tomorrow if they can avoid it. The statement was in response to news that a student at AUT, who lives and works in the Auckland CBD, has tested positive for Covid-19, with (at this point) no known link to previous cases. We are very sorry for this late notice and any inconvenience it might cause. We understand it creates an additional layer of uncertainty for everyone. We expect to receive more information from the government tomorrow and will provide an update then.”

8.10pm: The day in sum

A new Auckland community case with no apparent link to the border was announced, along with one new imported case in managed isolation and a further community case linked to the November quarantine cluster.

The new case, a woman in her 20s, lives at the Vincent Residences apartment building on Vincent St, and works at the A-Z Collection clothing store on High St.

As a result of the new case, Auckland CBD workers are asked to work from home tomorrow if possible. Otherwise, they should wear masks and redouble their efforts around social distancing and hygiene.

Facilities including the Auckland Central Library will close tomorrow.

Consideration of any further adjustments to alert levels will be taken tomorrow when the ministry has more information, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins said.

8.00pm: Mingling claims rejected

The suggestion that there was mingling between residents of the Vincent Residences, where the woman who tested positive for Covid lives, and guests at the directly adjacent isolation hotel is categorically untrue, according to the government Covid-19 response unit.

“People from the Grand Millennium Managed Isolation Facility did not mix and mingle with members of the public during a fire alarm evacuation on Monday evening 9 November,” reads a statement.

“Staff and hotel security worked with NZ Police to ensure all guests evacuated the premises safely and were contained in the identified assembly areas outside the hotel. Throughout the situation, NZDF staff, wearing high visibility vests, assisted hotel security and staff in cordoning all guests in the allocated assembly areas. Guests were continuously monitored and contained. Staff ensured returnees were physically distancing, face coverings were worn and that bubbles were maintained.”

It concludes: “All managed isolation and quarantine facilities operate in a Level 4 environment. This fire alarm event is not likely to be a source of infection for the new Auckland case.”

7.10pm: Central Auckland facilities to close tomorrow

Auckland Council will close a number of its venues in the city centre on Friday 13 November, following advice from the government that people should stay away from the central city.

The council will close its three offices at Albert Street, Graham Street and Bledisloe House along with community facilities and venues including:

·         Auckland Central City Library

·         Tepid Baths

·         Auckland Town Hall

·         Waitemata Local Board office

·         Service centres at Bledisloe House and Graham Street

The Ellen Melville Centre will be closed to the public but will remain in use as a community testing centre.

Venues on the fringe of city centre, including Studio One, the Parnell Community Centre, Ponsonby Community Centre and Freeman’s Bay Community Centre will remain open.

However the Best Design Awards, scheduled to take place tomorrow night at the Aotea Centre, will go ahead. “We have heard from Auckland Conventions, at Aotea Centre, and their advice is the event can still go ahead with additional health & safety,” the organisers, The Designers Institute of New Zealand, said tonight.

“If you have a ticket to the Best Design Awards and wish to wear a mask please do so.”

7.00pm: ASB announces immediate LVR changes for property investors

ASB has increased the minimum deposit required for property investors from 20% to 30%, with immediate effect. ASB chief executive Vittoria Shortt said the bank was making the move because the property market had not been as affected by Covid-19 as feared and the bank was seeing record applications for mortgages as a result.

“If this increase in investor demand continues it could lead the country down a potentially unsustainable path,” she said.

The move comes only days after the Reserve Bank announced it planned to bring back Loan to Value Ratio (LVR) restrictions for investors from March next year, in response to the severely overheated property market.

In general, LVR restrictions mean buyers need to have higher deposits than otherwise required

“While we appreciate the RBNZ taking the time to consult, this is about helping Kiwis build their financial futures during exceptionally challenging times so we are choosing to take this step now,” said Shortt.

First home buyers are unaffected by the new ASB policy.

5.15pm: Downtown Auckland workers asked to work from home tomorrow

The director of public health Caroline McElnay has shared more details of the new Auckland case, including that the case is a sales assistant at the A-Z Collection store on High St, Auckland.

The case, a woman in her 20s, became symptomatic on November 9, was tested on November 10 and was asked to isolate but went to work on November 11. She called in sick to work after receiving advice to isolate, but after advice from her manager, went to work wearing a mask.

“It’s a disappointing situation,” said Hipkins of the fact that the woman’s manager advised them to go against medical advice and come in to work while they waited for their test result. “Please be good employers and respect that when staff ring in sick, you should go out of your way to make sure that they can stay home.”

On reports that residents of the Vincent Residences were mingling with people in a neighbouring MIQ facility during a fire alarm, McElnay said as this took place on the evening of November 9, when the person was already symptomatic, this is not likely to be the source of infection.

The genome is being sequenced on the positive swab, with results expected tomorrow.

The woman took “a number of Ubers”, and drivers are being asked to complete tests.

Three close contacts have been identified, one colleague and two friends, one of whom is also a resident of the Vincent Residences. The two friends are being transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility as a precaution.

All residents of the Vincent Residences have been asked to go home and stay home while testing takes place. Health authorities are working closely with the body corporate, and a cleaning company is going in today to do a deep clean of the common areas of the apartment building – including stairwells, lifts, and the lobby.

All common areas in the apartment building will be closed. A mobile testing station will be on site tonight for residents of Vincent Residences.

CBD workers asked to stay home if possible

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are asking people who work in downtown Auckland to work at home tomorrow if possible,” said McElnay.

Those who can’t work from home should wear masks and redouble their efforts around social distancing and hygiene, said Hipkins. Anyone using public transport or flying in or out of Auckland should be wearing masks, he added.

Consideration of any further adjustments to alert levels will be taken tomorrow, he said, when the ministry had more information. Hipkins, who is also education minister, said he was conscious that it is exam season for universities and starting next week, for schools. “We will review that tomorrow if we need to.”

Hipkins said his advice to Aucklanders at this point is “please minimise your movements in and out of the CBD, do those precautionary measures like wearing a mask, and our advice is always be prepared for different scenarios around Covid-19. We’ll have further to say on that tomorrow.”

Pop-up testing is available in Auckland today including at the Ellen Melville Centre on Freyberg Place and Victoria Park community testing centre. Tomorrow, testing will be available at Quay Park Health Centre, 68 Beach Rd, and the Wynyard Quarter carpark community testing centre on Madden St.

On possible sources of infection

There are four “recent cases” that were detected among people staying at the Grand Millennium hotel, which is adjacent to the Vincent Residences where the woman lives, Hipkins said.

Nothing has suggested there is a link between this new case and the quarantine worker who last week visited Mezze Cafe, which is close to the new case’s work and home, and then went on to test positive, said Hipkins, but investigations were ongoing.

Other sites of interest

McElnay reported the following central Auckland locations as sites of interest related to the new case:

Sat Nov 7, 3.50pm-6pm, Smith and Caughey’s, Queen St
Sat Nov 7, 6pm-8.30pm, Red Pig restaurant, Kitchener St
Sun Nov 8, 11.30-11.45am: Starbucks, Queen St and Sunny Town restaurant, Lorne St
Sun Nov 8, 6.40-6.50pm: Gateau House, Queen St
Mon Nov 9, 11.30-11.40am: Starbucks, Queen St and Sunny Town restaurant, Lorne St

Anyone who dined at Red Pig on Saturday night will need to be tested and go into self-isolation until they receive a negative result.

Anyone at the other locations at the times above are advised to watch for symptoms and get tested and isolate if any should spring up.

Covid expert responds to new case

Meanwhile, speaking to Radio NZ, Covid-19 modelling expert Shaun Hendy described this case as “the most concerning” he has seen since the August cluster in Auckland, which led to the city being moved back into level three restrictions.

“If tomorrow there aren’t links established to an MIQ facility, or to a worker in that facility, then I think they need to look at an alert level change.”

5.05pm: Media briefing starting shortly

A media briefing to share more details of the new Auckland community case is due to begin at 5.10pm. Your hosts will be Covid response minister Chris Hipkins and director of public health Caroline McElnay, and you can watch it here:

4.35pm: Will we be moving up the alert level ladder?

Today’s announcement of a new positive Covid-19 case detected in the community in central Auckland presents a real possibility of a shift in alert levels. Ahead of a scheduled press conference which has just been bumped back to 5.10pm, health officials have been interviewing the woman concerned in an attempt to divine a link to the border.

Reports in the last hour suggest a likely transmission vector as “mingling” between guests of the Grand Millennium managed isolation facility and the adjacent Vincent Residences after a fire alarm and evacuation (see 3.30pm). Given the entirely foreseeable risk of such a scenario, it would represent a very serious failure of the system and would entail serious consequences – as well as raising again the question: is it really a good idea to house new arrivals slam bang in the centre of New Zealand’s most populated city?

(It would explain, too, why the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, went so far as to advise all residents of the Vincent complex to get tested and isolate pending a result.)

All of that said, it would offer something of a relief, too, by providing a clear link to the border – and one that should be able to be swiftly verified by recourse to genomic sequencing. In the case of the August outbreak, remember, a source case was never identified.

So what could it mean for alert levels? A move from alert level one to alert level two – most likely to affect the Auckland region only at this point – would be predicated on the assessment that “the disease is contained, but the risk of community transmission remains” and that “limited community transmission could be occurring”.

To move to alert level three it would require that there is a “high risk the disease is not contained”, with “multiple cases of community transmission occurring”.

3.30pm: New community Covid case may have mingled with MIQ guests

Guests at a managed isolation hotel mingled with residents of an apartment block where the new community case of Covid-19 lives, it’s been revealed.

Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins are expected to speak at about 5pm, after the new case was announced at an unplanned 1pm press briefing today.

According to reports, the woman – an AUT student aged between 20 and 29 – lives at the Vincent Residence, next door to the Grand Millennium hotel that is helping to house overseas returnees.

The hotel was evacuated on Monday night, with a resident from the Vincent telling media there was “open mixing” of people from both locations.

2.50pm: Trump planning 2024 presidential bid – report

He is yet to admit he’s lost this one, but Donald Trump is allegedly already preparing to contest the 2024 presidential election.

A report in Reuters claimed a “source” familiar with internal discussions was aware that Trump had told his allies he was prepping for a 2024 campaign and could announce it as soon as the end of this year.

The US constitution allows for two presidential terms that do not need to be consecutive.

Meanwhile, Trump has today endorsed the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDonald, in what is another possible indication of Trump’s future presidential aspirations.

2.30pm: Use the app, wear a mask, get tested – expert reaction to new Covid-19 case

We’ll be hearing more from Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins at about 5pm this evening, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the expert reaction to the new Covid-19 community case in Auckland.

Siouxsie Wiles told the Science Media Centre that the new case is a timely reminder that everyone must do their bit to ensure a new cluster doesn’t emerge.

“While at alert level one, we should all be using the app, wearing a mask on public transport, and getting tested and self-isolating if we experience any symptoms that could be Covid-19,” Wiles said.

“The pandemic is growing exponentially overseas, so we will likely see more and more people arriving in New Zealand incubating the virus. Quickly identifying any community cases means we should be able to stop any outbreaks using testing, contact tracing, and isolation rather than having to move up the alert levels.”

Otago University’s Lesley Gray said it’s “troubling” that the new case has no known links to earlier cases. We’re expecting to get more information about this at the 5pm press conference.

“I was travelling (between Wellington and Christchurch) earlier this week and it was very interesting to note minimal use of the hand sanitisers placed in many public areas, little apparent scans or check ins with the Covid-tracer app at the airport, and I only saw one person mask wearing in Wellington domestic terminal and 3-4 people wearing masks in Christchurch,” Grey said.

“People need to think about their movements going back as far as last Friday.  While we may recall ‘key points’ of our movements, can you list out every place you were?  Every bannister you touched, every door you opened with your hand, every customer in a coffee shop?”

1.00pm: New community case of Covid-19 detected in Auckland

Updated

A new community case of Covid-19 has been detected in Auckland, with no link to the border or a managed isolation facility. The person is not a worker at a managed isolation facility, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced.

The news was just revealed at an unplanned press conference held at parliament, alongside the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

“We have a plan for dealing with cases that emerge in the community and the deployment of that plan has stamped out cases early before,” Hipkins said.

A further press conference has been scheduled for around 5pm this evening, when more information about the new case is known.

Ashley Bloomfield said the new case became symptomatic on Monday, was tested late on Tuesday, and was at work at “The A-Z Collection” on High Street, Auckland, from Sunday through to Wednesday – before receiving their test result.

They tested positive this morning and were subsequently transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

In addition, Bloomfield revealed one new imported case detected in managed isolation and a further community case linked to the November quarantine cluster, who tested positive yesterday. They had been in isolation with their family since Saturday and are now in quarantine in Wellington, and are now being referred to as “case C”.

The new community case lives alone, said Bloomfield, and they appear to have had limited outings recently. “They have not visited a supermarket in the period they might have been infectious. Whilst the person is a student at AUT, they have not been to the campus or to any lectures or classes since mid-October so there are no concerns with any potential exposures on campus,” Bloomfield said.

Anyone who, from Saturday November 7, visited the A-Z Collection store on High Street or lives at or visited The Vincent Residences on Vincent Street is asked to seek a test and isolate until the results are received.

(Image : Google)

The person’s movements over the past week are being investigated to determine how they became infected. Genome testing of this case is also underway to try and find any potential links to previous cases.

No changes to alert levels are being considered, at this stage. However, Hipkins said “more information” will be revealed later this afternoon. “We haven’t made that decision, we don’t have that information … We will have more to say about that later,” Hipkins said.

He added: “A movement in alert levels would be preceded by a cabinet discussion.”

“People are not the problem,” Hipkins said. “The virus is the problem, people are the solution.”

The total number of active cases is now 53 and the total number of confirmed cases to date since the beginning of the outbreak is 1,635. Yesterday 6,581 tests were processed.

Bloomfield asked that people please continue to scan QR codes with the Covid tracer app, saying “you never know where and when that information will be useful.” People should continue to wear masks on public transport, Hipkins added, despite it not being a mandatory requirement.

“If you’re out and using public transport, please wear a mask. Please observe social distancing. If you’re flying in and out of Auckland, please wear a mask… it is a simple action people can take to protect themselves and protect others,” Hipkins said.

12.25pm: Bloomfield, Hipkins call impromptu 1pm press conference

The director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has called an impromptu Covid-19 press conference for 1pm today. He’ll be joined by the new minister for Covid-19 recovery, Chris Hipkins.

It was earlier expected there would just be a press release this afternoon.

As always, we’ll have everything you need to know live at 1pm and you can watch below.

Herald political journalist Amelia Wade, however, has hopefully dispelled any rumours of bad news:

9.25am: Call to lower voting age heading to Court of Appeal

Youth advocacy group “Make it 16″ is heading to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to have the voting age lowered from 18.

It followed a High Court ruling that the current voting age was not inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, a claim the group had argued.

“We believe the High Court was wrong to conclude that the current minimum voting age of 18 is a reasonable limit on the right to be free from discrimination based on your age,” co-director of Make it 16 Gina Dao-McLay said.

“The Crown was not able to provide any good reason as to why the rights of 16 and 17 year olds should be limited in this case. As such, with the support of our lawyers who are working pro-bono, we have decided to take our case to the Court of Appeal.”

Announcing Coming Home: A new podcast on The Spinoff

In The Spinoff’s new five-part podcast series Coming Home, hosts Duncan Greive and Jane Yee meet some of the industry leaders who have returned to work in New Zealand this year to get a better understanding of who’s returning, why they left Aotearoa in the first place and how we can make the most of this unprecedented influx of talent.

We’ll hear from some of these recent returnees – among them top chef Peter Gordon, tech strategist Julia Arnott-Neenee and former Huffington Post Highline editor Rachel Morris – about how they uprooted their old lives and careers to come home in the middle of a pandemic, and how being back in New Zealand has both challenged and inspired them.

7.45am: Judith Collins defends diversity of new shadow cabinet

National’s leader has defended becoming the party’s spokesperson for Pacific peoples, in a fiery interview this morning on RNZ.

Judith Collins unveiled her new shadow cabinet yesterday, revealing Paul Goldsmith and Gerry Brownlee had been dropped far down the list following the election campaign, but that Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse received mega promotions.

The finance portfolio has been split between Bayly and Woodhouse, with the former moving up 13 spaces on the party list to number three on the list.

“It’s very important to me that we have a focus… on both the fiscal and the monetary side of the finance area.”

Asked about whether Simon Bridges had turned down the finance spokesperson role, Collins said you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. “[Each MP] had spoken to me and had interviews with me… the New Zealand public expect us as a party to do better”.

Woodhouse, who lost his health spokesperson role during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic for his role in leaking private patient details, has moved up into the fourth slot on the party list. Collins said New Zealanders are “passed all that silly stuff” and she was more focused on the health of New Zealanders and the economy. “Those matters have been dealt with,” Collins said.

Collins has taken on the role of National Party spokesperson for Pacific peoples in the new reshuffle. It followed an election campaign where Collins was accused of politicising her husband’s ethnicity. “I’m, obviously, in the caucus better placed than anyone else to deal with that,” Collins said.

“I consider Pasifika peoples a portfolio that I am very privileged to be able to hold and I will do my very best to undertake that… we don’t have any person in our caucus who is actually of Pasifika heritage.

“I am someone who does have deep connections with Pasifika, particularly with Samoa, and I am very happy to take that portfolio.”

Collins said the ongoing review of the National Party, run by the board, has not informed her decision-making on the cabinet rankings and portfolios.

Read more: Ten eybrow-raising decisions from Judith Collins’ caucus shake-up

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A big day for the Reserve Bank, with a range of announcements on monetary policy, with big implications for the housing market. First of all, the headline official cash rate will be kept at the record low of 0.25% – and as the NZ Herald reports, a new Funding for Lending (FLP) programme will be rolled out to banks. This is effectively what it sounds like – the Reserve Bank would “offer commercial banks a discounted retail rate which would lower their funding costs and enable them to cut mortgage rates further.” The expectation is that it would give banks an incentive to lend money to households and businesses, who would then use it to stimulate the economy.

On those two moves, one part of the economy is certainly likely to stay stimulated – the overheated housing market. That’s certainly the view from National, whose shadow treasurer Andrew Bayly put out a release saying there was little in the RBNZ announcement that would require such lending would go to productive investments, rather than just being parked up in property. In response, I’ll take a quote from journalist Bernard Hickey’s new (very good!) newsletter The Kākā, which noted:

The bank defended the lack of ‘strings’ attached to the lending, although it was clear in the MPS that bank lending since March had focused on housing lending, and had fallen for businesses. The Bank said the lack of business lending was more about a lack of demand than a lack of bank appetite.

Is the housing market spiralling out of control the Reserve Bank’s responsibility? Technically no, explains Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan. The RBNZ has a mandate to keep inflation at about the right level, and set monetary policy at a level that will support maximum sustainable employment. But it’s fair to say their moves have a huge impact on the housing market.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced a new funding for lending programme will be rolled out next month

The impacts of Covid-19 on Auckland Council continued, with new forecasts indicating $1 billion hole in its finances by 2024.

Vanuatu recorded its first official case of Covid-19 – a man who flew into the island nation from the United States via Sydney and Auckland.

The West Indies cricket team, currently in managed isolation in Christchurch, had training privileges revoked for repeatedly breaking the rules.

There was one new case of Covid-19, in managed isolation.

National leader Judith Collins unveiled the party’s new list ranking and shadow cabinet.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand revealed it was looking to reinstate loan-to-value ratio restrictions on high-risk lending early next year.

The government announced a new $70 million fund that will allow businesses to access financial support to switch from coal and gas to cleaner electricity.

The government pledged $100,000 towards a “mayoral relief fund” to support those affected by the severe flooding in Napier.

Donald Trump continued to claim he’d won the US presidential election.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.




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