Live updates, November 13: Covid-19 case linked to Defence cluster; masks to be mandatory on Auckland public transport

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for November 13, covering all the latest New Zealand news, updated throughout the day. Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

3.20pm: The full list – Ministry updates Covid-19 ‘locations of interest’

The Ministry of Health has updated its Covid-19 locations of interest, and is asking anyone who was at the Auckland locations to get a test – regardless of whether they have symptoms. These locations are:

  • Mezze Bar on November 5;
  • Liquor.Com bottle store, Queen Street, on November 5;
  • Red Pig Restaurant on November 7;
  • Smith and Caughey’s Queen Street on November 7;
  • Sunny Town China Taste Restaurant on November 8 and 9;
  • Starbucks Queen Street on November 8 and 9;
  • The Gateau House on November 8;
  • A-Z Collection on November 8, 9 and 11;
  • The Vincent, November 7-12;
  • Auckland City Doctors on November 10; and
  • AUT Student Hub on November 10.

3.00pm: Auckland University moves all remaining exams online

Following the news of yesterday’s new Covid-19 case in the Auckland community, the University of Auckland has decided to shift all remaining semester two exams online.

Auckland, along with the rest of the country, is currently remaining in alert level one – but masks are set to become mandatory on Auckland public transport.

The move to online exams “provides some level of predictability and enables the university to continue to operate from all campuses,” a spokesperson said. “However the possibility of further disruptions and alert level changes remains.”

Read more here

2.00pm: Covid-19 case officially linked to Defence Force cluster; no change to alert levels

The latest Auckland community case – an AUT student in her 20s – has now officially been genomically linked to a Defence Force worker who spent time at the Jet Park quarantine facility, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

It had previously been believed the new case had no known links to the border or managed isolation, increasing the risk of the country moving back into a form of lockdown.

Hipkins also announced that masks will soon become mandatory in Auckland on public transport once again – even at alert level one. Hipkins will be bringing an order to cabinet after the weekend.

Since yesterday, no new community cases of the virus have been detected, Hipkins said. There are four new cases in managed isolation – one recent arrival and three historical cases.

“Overnight, whole genome sequencing from the new case has indicated an identical genetic profile to the sequence found in the Auckland managed isolation worker that we’ve been referring to as Case A,” said Caroline McElnay, the director of public health. Tests of three close contacts of the new case have come back negative.

“Working with our public health officials in Auckland, we are now investigating the source of any potential link in the movements of these new cases, people they have met or places they may have visited,” said McElnay.

McElnay said health officials are now asking anyone who was at any of the Auckland CBD locations of interest should get a test regardless of symptoms.

No change to our alert levels

All of the country, including Auckland, is to stay in alert level one. The Auckland CBD will reopen but Hipkins asked people to act with caution.

Yesterday the Ministry of Health sent out 11 push notifications related to seven locations visited by the latest confirmed case. As of 10am this morning, 51 Covid Tracer app users had received those alerts.

“We don’t yet have a confirmed theory for how the virus was transmitted between the cases,” said Hipkins, adding that more yet-to-be-identified cases can’t be ruled out.

In response to reports of people coming and going from the Vincent Residences, Hipkins said public health protection officers have been stationed there.

As of this morning, 173 people from the apartments have been tested, with 101 negative results and 72 pending.

Mask wearing to become mandatory on Auckland public transport

As of today, mask wearing in Auckland remains optional, but highly recommended. However, this is set to change. “We’re asking everybody who uses public transport in Auckland to continue to wear a mask,” said Hipkins. “On Monday I will be taking to cabinet a public health order to make mask use on public transport within the Auckland region mandatory on an ongoing basis.”

Pending cabinet approval, masks will be mandatory on air travel nationwide, rather than just in and out of Auckland.

“I will be considering in the coming days how we can continue to strengthen our contact tracing system using the Covid Tracer app. That may include making it mandatory for people to scan in in certain situations,” said Hipkins.

Hipkins said the four community cases “feel the weight of the entire country on their shoulders at this point”, asking people to be mindful of their privacy and how they’re feeling. “It could be any one of us.”

Four new cases announced in managed isolation

The recent imported case arrived from the Philippines via Hong Kong on October 31 and tested positive around day 12 and have been moved to the quarantine facility. The other three imported cases tested positive but on further investigation were deemed to be historical infections.

Four previously reported cases have now recovered, meaning there are still 53 active cases. The total number of confirmed cases is 1,639. Yesterday, 7,226 tests were processed.

Fewer than one in six of the 2.3 million people registered with the Covid Tracer app are using it daily, said McElnay, as she emphasised the importance of scanning the QR codes wherever you go.

1.45pm: Hipkins, McElnay to provide Covid-19 update

The minister for Covid-19 recovery Chris Hipkins will be joined by Caroline McElnay for today’s Covid-19 media briefing, pushed back an hour to 2pm.

It’s expected the pair will provide more information on the results of genomic testing of the latest confirmed case, which will explain how the woman contracted Covid-19.

Watch below:

1.30pm: US Covid-19 cases continue to skyrocket

While we wait for the 2pm Ministry of Health update with Chris Hipkins, let’s remind ourselves of the full scale of the Covid-19 pandemic overseas.

In the US, the cases are going “vertical”, as can be seen from the below tweet.

Yesterday marked the single highest number of new cases in America since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, in the UK cases are continuing to spike, with over 33,000 new cases yesterday.

On The Spinoff: Counting the true costs of our continued Covid community transmissions

Right now on The Spinoff: each time there’s a new community case, New Zealand draws breath, then sighs with relief as it is contained. Duncan Greive argues that it’s long past time we stopped accepting that such a volume of leakage is inevitable.

Here’s an extract:

Yesterday Auckland was delivered news of the most troubling case of Covid-19 in the community since the Americold cluster, which prompted the second lockdown in August. A young woman, living in a central city apartment, going about her life – eating, shopping, working in those tight and bustling streets. She also worked while sick, after having had a test but before the results came in, though there is dispute about her employer’s role in that decision.

At the time of writing it appears that the case is genomically linked to the Defence Force cluster, which would have the effect of, if not allaying fears, then certainly calibrating them. Within a few hours we will know more – whether Auckland will be ratcheting up the alert levels, and whether the rest of the country will resume its (entirely justified) wariness of visitors from our largest city.

Read the full piece here

Have you joined The Spinoff Members?

2020 has shown the value of independent journalism like no other year. The Spinoff’s journalism is funded by its members – click here to learn more about how you can support us from as little as $1.

11.45am: Confirmed Covid-19 case visited AUT student hub

The most recent confirmed community case of Covid-19 visited the “student hub” of AUT on Tuesday, the university has confirmed.

In a message to students, AUT said the woman visited the hub for just 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon. Any interaction with other students is deemed “low risk”, and anyone in the area would be considered a casual contact.

It had earlier been claimed by health officials that the case had not visited the university’s city centre campus since mid-October.

Read the full letter from AUT below:

(Image : Supplied)

11.25am: Covid-19 update pushed to 2pm; Bloomfield not fronting

Updated

Ashley Bloomfield will not be joining the Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins at today’s media conference, it has been confirmed. Instead, the minister will be accompanied by Caroline McElnay, the director of public health.

The media conference, usually scheduled for 1pm, has been pushed out by an hour. The Ministry of Health is expecting to receive new details around the latest Covid-19 case at about 1pm, meaning some time is needed before this information can be publicly released.

No cabinet meeting is planned for today, a sign that our alert level settings will likely not be adjusted.

When approached by The Spinoff to enquire about Bloomfield’s absence, the Ministry of Health said:

“I’m not sure what you mean? … However I would point out that Dr McElnay regularly fronts media conferences.”

Political editor Justin Giovannetti has speculated, baselessly, that Bloomfield may have run away to his secret cabin in the Ruahines. We are unable to verify this but it is almost certainly untrue.

10.25am: What’s it like in the Auckland CBD this morning?

Workers in Auckland Central were advised to stay at home, if possible, today, following the news the newest community case of Covid-19 had visited a number of locations while possibly infectious.

Auckland Central local and Spinoff culture editor Sam Brooks writes:

The Auckland CBD is noticeably quieter today, both in regards to vehicle and foot traffic. Depot and the Fed, which would normally be bustling mid-morning, are nearly empty. About half the pedestrians I’ve seen are wearing masks, and the line for the Ellen Melville Testing Centre is at least an hour.

A-Z Collection – the store where the confirmed case worked – is closed, as are many of the stores around it on High Street. Where places are open around the CBD, workers are wearing masks.

The view from a queue for a Covid-19 test in Auckland CBD (Photo : Sam Brooks)

10.10am: The case of ‘Case C’

It was slightly glossed over during yesterday’s Covid-19 news conference, but the November Quarantine Cluster (colloquially known as the Defence Force cluster) actually grew yesterday – with a third confirmed community case announced.

Case C is a close contact of Case B and tested positive on Wednesday, November 11. They had met Case B for lunch at the Little Penang restaurant in Wellington, indicating that Case B was infectious during their time spent at the often bustling inner city restaurant.

It creates the possibility we will see more cases emerge from the capital.

We’re expecting another 1pm press conference today with Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, and we’ll bring that to you live.

8.30am: So, what is genomic testing?

We’re awaiting the results of genomic testing of the latest community Covid-19 case, which will hopefully confirm a link to the existing Defence Force cluster – or, at least, to a known strain of the virus.

But what, exactly, is genomic testing? Siouxsie Wiles explored this issue in an earlier column for The Spinoff.

Here’s an extract:

Sequencing the virus from people who test positive can help to identify whether people are part of the same or separate clusters. Are their viruses identical or near identical or do they have quite different mutations? Back in March, a father and son tested positive after returning to New Zealand from a trip to the US. They got sick within a day of each other. Did they get Covid-19 from the same source? Or was one of them infected first and then passed on the virus to the other? Sequencing of their virus samples showed that the two strains were different. They were infected independently.

Read the full article here 

7.50am: New community Covid-19 case likely linked to NZDF worker – Hipkins

The latest community case of Covid-19 – an Auckland student in her 20s – could now have a possible link to another case, according to the Covid-19 response minister.

The newest case tested positive yesterday morning, after having returned to work on the advice of her boss. Initial concerns centred on the fact the new case appeared to have no connection to an existing case, the border, or a managed isolation facility.

But Chris Hipkins said while the results of genomic testing are due this afternoon, early signs were that the student’s positive test is linked to the existing Defence Force worker cluster.

Hipkins told Newstalk ZB this was “incredibly, incredibly encouraging”, and if the link is established the next step will be to find out how the woman contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, the owner of the store where the woman works claimed he has been abused following revelations he instructed the infected individual to return to work (wearing a mask) after she called in sick.

He is now seeking legal advice, and denied he had told her to come into work before the results of her Covid-19 test were known.

“We never knew staff [member] was sick – she never said she had a test,” he told the Herald. “We never knew she felt unwell. We just want to tell the truth.”

Further information on the new case and the results of genomic testing will be released later today, presumably at a 1pm media conference. We’ll keep you updated as the news comes to hand.

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

A community case of Covid-19 is causing alarm, given at this stage there are no established links to the border or a managed isolation facility. The government has swung into a flurry of action as a result, with a range of warnings and recommendations being made. Aucklanders are being told to minimise all movements in and out of the CBD, work from home if possible, wear a mask on public transport and to sign in everywhere they go with the Covid app.

The case is a woman in her 20s, who went to work while symptomatic. As our live updates reports, she 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. Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said it was “disappointing” that the manager had advised them to come into work. Auckland mayor Phil Goff went further, saying it was “frankly unbelievable.” There’s a large number of locations of interest – please check the list and follow the advice if you were in any of them at the listed time. Pop up testing locations can be found here.

The race is now on to find the source of the case. One speculated source, around a recent fire alarm at a managed isolation facility next to where the woman lived, has been rejected. Cleaning and mass testing is now taking place at locations of interest to see if that was where it was caught, or it has spread further from there. Residents at the apartment block that the woman lived in were made aware of the case by media, reports Radio NZ.

Will Auckland’s alert level shift up? A decision on that will be announced at some stage today, with nothing being ruled in or out. Covid-19 modeller Shaun Hendy told Checkpoint last night “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.” The key question will be whether it becomes clear that any potential outbreak has been contained, or whether there has been undetected spread.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s headlines

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 mystery 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 today if possible. Otherwise, they should wear masks and redouble their efforts around social distancing and hygiene.

Facilities including the Auckland Central Library will be closed today.

Consideration of any further adjustments to alert levels will be taken today when the ministry of health has more information about the case.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.