Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield announcing the new Covid-19 restrictions at the Beehive on the evening of February 14 (Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Live updates: Auckland to move to level three for 72 hours, rest of NZ goes to level two

All the latest developments after new community cases emerge in Auckland. Get in touch at info@thespinoff.co.nz 

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10pm: The day in sum – and the rules for alert level three

As midnight creeps closer and the inevitable reports of queues outside Auckland supermarkets trickle in, it’s probably time to tuck these updates in for the night. A quick reminder of the main news lines:

  • Auckland goes into alert level three at 11.59pm today, Sunday February 14. Here’s a summary of what alert level three means in practice.
  • The rest of the country goes into alert level two. In both cases, the levels last three days, till the end of Wednesday.
  • The measures follow positive tests in south Auckland for three family members who live in one household.
  • One of the people affected works at LSG Sky Chefs, where she is involved in providing laundry services to airlines. Another is a student at Papatoetoe High School. For details on places they’d visited, see 5.45pm.

Stewart will be back bright and early on The Spinoff with the very latest, including any overnight developments and all the interviews of note on radio and TV in the morning.

8.05pm: Lockdown a ‘devastating blow’ – Judith Collins

The leader of the opposition has called the latest lockdown “a devastating blow to New Zealanders who have sacrificed so much to keep this country Covid-free”.

In a statement, Judith Collins said: “I feel for the people who have already sacrificed their livelihoods, their jobs and their businesses to keep Covid-19 out. This will be difficult news for all New Zealanders. People will be anxious about this latest lockdown but I urge everyone to stay vigilant in the fight against this virus and to follow the advice of health officials.”

She added: “Avoiding this very scenario at all costs should have been the Government’s top priority. Whether or not this latest outbreak is traced back to the border does not matter. New Zealand cannot afford any more lockdowns. We should be taking every precaution. If this proves to be another border failure that is unacceptable. The government’s shortcomings in the area have been shown up time and time again. The Roche/Simpson report was commissioned for this very reason. Our border should be rock-solid by now. The government was warned. They no longer have any excuses for failure.”

8.00pm: Hendy: Why level three is the right thing to do

Shaun Hendy, who has led Covid modelling work from Te Pūnaha Matatini, has endorsed the decision to move to level three.

“Although there is a plausible link to the border – one member of the family works at a business that deals with laundry from international flights – it is not yet a definitive link,” he said in a commentary issued by the Science Media Centre.

“This is why moving to alert level three is the right thing to do, as there remains a chance that these infections may have come another source, which would mean there are very likely other cases out there. If whole genome sequencing can link these newly discovered infections to a case that recently arrived from overseas on a plane that was serviced by this business, then this is probably a small cluster that should be quickly contained. If the sequencing can’t link this to a recent arrival then we may be looking at a scenario similar to last August. If it is one of the new variants then this level of caution is very prudent.”

7.30pm: Lockdown should not slow vaccine roll-out

Bloomfield and Ardern said they expected plans to begin vaccination six days from now should not be affected by the move to alert level three. “Every movement around the vaccine programme we see as essential,” said Ardern. The current case “reinforces the importance of us vaccinating our border work force as soon as possible.”

Some of the other lines that have emerged from this evening media conference:

  • Ardern confirmed the woman who worked at LSG Sky Chefs was meant to be tested every two weeks, which meant she should have been tested on February 1, but she was on annual leave at the time, and tested positive in a test in the community after developing symptoms. It’s up to employers to ensure workers are being tested regularly even if they’re not at work, said Ardern.
  • She said it was up to party leaders to determine whether their MPs should travel to Wellington, but she had advised her own Auckland based MPs to stay in Auckland.
  • There are no plans at this stage for economic support but that would likely change should it extend beyond 72 hours.
  • Wednesday’s Prada Cup racing would be postponed, said Ardern.
  • The first announcements of any changes will be at 4pm tomorrow, at the prime minister’s regular post-cabinet press conference.
  • We should get an “earlyish picture” of results in the first 24 hours, said Ardern, adding it was unrealistic to imagine restrictions might end at 4pm tomorrow.
  • A critical early question, said Ardern, would be the results of testing at Papatoetoe High School.

7.20pm: Why three days?

The snap lockdown is designed to ensure there is to stop any spread in its tracks, and buy some time to collect more information about the nature and likely source of the infection. It is entirely possible, of course, that it could be extended.

Both Ardern and Bloomfield noted this evening that the risks of the new UK and South African variants, with their higher rate of transmission, added to the cautious approach in Australia, and we’re now seeing that in New Zealand. They were “working on the assumption it is one of the new variants”, said Bloomfield.

The Australian states of Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland have all implemented snap lockdowns of between three and five days in recent weeks in response to community cases that emerged from border facilities. 

While the source of infection is most likely the mother’s workplace, they want to rule out it wasn’t potentially the daughter who was infected first, said Bloomfield.

7.15pm: Auckland to move to alert level three for three days

Auckland will go to alert level three for 72 hours as of midnight tonight, Jacinda Ardern has announced. The rest of the country moves to alert level two. This will be reviewed every 24 hours. “We don’t yet have a complete picture,” she told a press conference at the Beehive. It was time again to go “hard and early”.

“The main thing we are asking Aucklanders to do is to stay home,” said Ardern. People should work from home unless that is not possible, she said. Children should stay home from school, but years 1-10 and early childhood centres can open for children who need to be at work. There is no need to rush out to get any essential items, Ardern said, as pharmacies, supermarkets and so on will remain open.

Other customer-facing businesses will have to move to contactless transactions. Public venues will close. Gatherings outside of your bubble are prohibited, except for weddings, funerals and tangihanga to a maximum of 10 people.

Interregional travel in and around Auckland will be highly limited but those visiting Auckland can go home. A border will be put in place as it was last time round. Those who need to travel through the border can go to the MBIE website for the exemption regime.

Aucklanders are required to wear a face covering if they need to leave home. For the rest of New Zealand, businesses and schools will remain open but with public health and physical distancing requirements. Across the country gatherings will be limited to 100 people and the seated and single server rule for hospitality will be in place.

Auckland health officials will be expanding testing capacity and will seek to test thousands of people in the coming days. “If you are well and have not visited any of our sites of interest, please, there is no need for you to go to any of our testing stations,” said Ardern, warning against clogging up the system. “We’ve been here before which means we know how to get out of this again, which is together,” said Ardern.

Genomic sequencing on two of the cases is expected later this evening, said Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health. He added that the woman who worked at the airport catering company LSG Sky Chefs did not work with food.

The mother and daughter who travelled to Taranaki did so with two other people, he said. They have tested negative but will remain in isolation for 14 days. There are two further close contacts, who visited the family’s home on Wednesday, who have also tested negative but will remain in isolation.

6.50pm: Watch PM press conference

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield are addressing the media, and no doubt a large part of the country, at 7pm. They’ll have been examining the latest information to determine how severe the risk of an outbreak is, but the likelihood is something of significance. Cabinet are meeting now, and you wouldn’t need to call an emergency cabinet meeting if the plan was the status quo.

The Ministry of Health livestream of the media conference will appear here:

6.00pm: PM to hold 7pm press conference on new Covid-19 cases

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, will be joining director general of health Ashley Bloomfield at a press conference at the Beehive at 7pm on the new Covid-19 cases. Cabinet has met this afternoon to discuss the matter.

Meanwhile, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service has confirmed a student of Papatoetoe High School has tested positive. All staff members and families of students are being emailed today and will be told whether they’re considered a “casual” or “casual plus” contact. A mobile testing centre will be at the school tomorrow.

5.45pm: New ‘locations of interest’ in Taranaki, Waikato and South Auckland released

The Ministry of Health has updated its list of “locations of interest” visited by two of the new community Covid-19 cases.

The new locations include nine in Taranaki visited from February 6-8, one in Drury, south of Auckland, on February 6, and one in Ōtorohanga in Waikato on February 8. There are also four South Auckland locations visited yesterday and an additional one visited on Friday.

The ministry has classified people who were at the below locations at the relevant times either “casual” or “casual plus” contacts. Casual plus contacts should call Healthline (more information here).

McDonalds Drury, BP Motorway Service Centre, Southern Motorway, Auckland

6 Feb, 7 am – 8.15 am

Casual Plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Te Rewarewa Bridge, Fitzroy, New Plymouth 4312, New Zealand

6 Feb, 12 pm – 1.30 pm

Casual. Monitor your health for the next 14 days. If you begin to feel unwell or develop any COVID-19 symptoms, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453

Sumela Kebab, 6 Breakwater Road, New Plymouth

6 Feb, 12.30 pm – 2.30 pm

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Amber Court Hotel, 100 Leach Street, New Plymouth

1.30 pm 6 Feb – 10.30 am 8 Feb

Casual Plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth

6 Feb, 5.30 pm – 9 pm

Casual. Monitor your health for the next 14 days. If you begin to feel unwell or develop any COVID-19 symptoms, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453

Egmont National Park

6 Feb, 7.30 am – 3.30 pm

Casual. Monitor your health for the next 14 days. If you begin to feel unwell or develop any COVID-19 symptoms, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453

Cycle Inn New Plymouth, 133 Devon Street East, New Plymouth

8 Feb, 9.30 am – 11 am

Casual Plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Puke Ariki Library and Museum, 1 Ariki Street, New Plymouth

8 Feb, 11.45 am – 2.15 pm

Casual Plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Pizza Hut New Plymouth, Cnr Grover Street and Leach Street, New Plymouth

8 Feb, 1.15 pm – 2.45 pm

Casual Plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Back Beach, New Plymouth

8 Feb, 2 pm – 5 pm

Casual. Monitor your health for the next 14 days. If you begin to feel unwell or develop any COVID-19 symptoms, contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453

McDonald’s Ōtorohanga, 117 Maniapoto Street, Ōtorohanga

8 Feb, 4 pm – 5.30 pm

Casual Plus. Please stay at home and get tested ASAP and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Pak’nSave Manukau, 6 Cavendish Drive, Manukau

12 Feb, 3.45 pm – 5.00 pm

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get a test on the 17th of February and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Chemist Warehouse Westfield Manukau, 5 Putney Way, Manukau

12 Feb, 12pm – 11.30pm

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get a test on the 17th of February and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Bunnings Warehouse Manukau, 55 Lambie Drive, Manukau

13 Feb, 8.30am – 10.00am

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get a test on the 18th of February and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Bunnings Warehouse Takanini, 167 Great South Road, Takanini

13 Feb, 1.00pm – 2.30pm

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get a test on the 18th of February and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Bunnings Warehouse Botany, 320 Ti Rakau Drive, Burswood

13 Feb, 1.30pm – 4.30pm

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get a test on the 18th of February and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Ranfurly Skinny Superette 17E Ranfurly Road, Papatoetoe

13 Feb, 5.30pm – 6.30pm

Casual plus. Please stay at home and get a test on the 18th of February and call Healthline on 08003585453.

Papatoetoe High School

Our key advice here is to stay home and self-isolate until you receive further information from the school.

4.45pm: Air NZ suspends in-flight food and drink

In keeping with the “abundance of caution”, Air New Zealand has halted service and food and drink on domestic flights, chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty has said. The airline is one of dozens around the world supplied by LSG Sky Chefs, which calls itself “one the world’s largest airline catering, train catering and hospitality service providers”. One of the household of three that has tested positive for Covid-19 works at LSG, chiefly in its laundry services but also in food catering.

For international flights, said Geraghty, “we will be providing alternative catering options until more information is known.”

4.00pm: Event advice issued

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has released guidance to event organisers. “If you are holding an event today, February 14, you can continue as planned as long as your event staff are well and have not attended one of the same locations of interest as the case,” it advises (see 3.30pm). “Please use your social media and marketing channels to reinforce with possible attendees that they should not attend if they are unwell, or have visited a location of interest.”

It continues: “Event organisers should also continue adhering to the government’s standard event advice. This includes prominently displaying NZ Covid Tracer app QR codes at event entries and other locations, and having good supplies of hand sanitiser available, along with ample soap and paper towels in bathrooms.”

3.30pm: Locations of interest confirmed

This list will grow over the hours to come as contact tracers go about their work, but for now here are the locations of interest notified by the Ministry of Health, together with its advice for those affected.

Papatoetoe High School, Auckland

Our key advice here is to stay home and self-isolate until you receive further information from the school. (Closed Monday and Tuesday.)

Pak’nSave Manukau, Friday February 12, 3.45-5pm

Stay home and isolate, Be alert to any Covid-19 symptoms. Call Healthline to arrange a test.

Taranaki tourist locations, February 6-8

Further details to be confirmed shortly. If you develop any symptoms, stay home and isolate and call Healthline to arrange a test. (Bloomfield said earlier it was not yet known whether any of the family were infectious during this trip.)

Opening hours for the regional community testing centres in Northcote, Balmoral, Henderson and Otara have been extended today. The community testing centre in Wiri is also open today. Testing will also be set up for Papatoetoe High School community from tomorrow.

The ministry has the following advice on being tested: “It’s important the right people can get access to testing — so please don’t rush to a centre if you are well, or if you weren’t at one of the locations of interest. We are anticipating high demand at our Covid-19 testing sites and delays are possible, so our request is to please be patient. A reminder that if you were not at a location of interest at the stated times and you have no symptoms you do not need to be tested.”

2.00pm: What could lead to an alert level change?

Hipkins identified two key considerations that “we’re going to be looking for in the next little while”. Those are, first: “evidence of a source, where the virus may have been picked up and who may have been the first person to pick it up. And secondly, where there is any evidence of spread or that it might be out there among any other people in the community.”

The minister has indicated that a further press conference is likely later today. We’ll keep these updates running and have all the news as it emerges here. In the meantime, a reminder of the top lines from this afternoon:

  • There are three new cases of Covid-19, a mother, father and daughter, who live with one other person in their Papatoetoe household.
  • The mother worked for LSG Sky Chefs, which provides laundry and food services to airlines, but officials cannot be sure that was the source of the infection.
  • The daughter is a student at Papatoetoe High School, which will be closed Monday and Tuesday.
  • Jacinda Ardern will no longer attend the Big Gay Out in Auckland and is instead returning to Wellington to be briefed and lead decision making. Further announcements are expected later today.

1.55pm: Should the Big Gay Out be going ahead?

Asked about the Auckland Pride event, Bloomfield said he’d just spoken to the organiser, and that “they have a range of really good measures in place, which they had planned anyway, for this event, which are reassuring … They will be reinforcing those messages to those people participating.”

The prime minister is no longer in attendance, but the leader of the opposition is, and setting a good example.

1.50pm: No consideration yet of alert level change

Here’s what Hipkins has said on the possibility of any change to alert level: “New Zealand is currently at Covid-19 alert level one. No consideration of changes to alert level has been taken at this point. We will collect more information before we would make any such decision. We do anticipate being able to update further information later on this evening, and whether any additional decisions have been taken or may be taken as a result of that information.”

Any decision would hinge on whether they can identify a strong theory for the source of the infection, said Hipkins.

Asked about the mother’s main role at LSG Sky Chefs, Bloomfield said her role was in the laundry area, but she did do some preparing of meals.

1.45pm: Locations of interest

As well as Papatoetoe High School (see below), locations of interest include Pak n Save Manukau, for a short time on Friday. Anyone there on between 3.45 and 5.00pm should isolate and get a test, said Bloomfield.

Last weekend, meanwhile, two of the individuals went to New Plymouth and visited a number of tourist attractions. It is not yet clear whether the pair were infectious during the visit, and at this stage there is no need to be tested unless someone has symptoms.

Testing hours and capacity will be extended in the south Auckland area.

1.40pm: Three new community cases

A mother, father and daughter from the same household in Papatoetoe, south Auckland, have tested positive, Chris Hipkins has announced. The mother works at LSG SkyChefs, an airport laundry and catering facility. LSG is part of the regular testing cycle, though it was not her last regular test (a recent negative surveillance swab was returned on January 18) but a community test that picked up the result, said Hipkins. She had not been at work since February 5.

There is one other household contact. Hipkins said they would act “with an abundance of caution” and confirmed the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, would be returning to Wellington this afternoon to be briefed and make decisions, and therefore not attending the Big Gay Out.

The mother and daughter have now returned positive tests with relatively low CT values, indicating they are new and active infections. Their test results came through late last night. The father was tested following their results and his result came through late this morning.

The mother “did the right thing”, added Ashley Bloomfield. Despite being regularly tested she had sought another test when she became ill. While there was a link to the border, “we have not identified yet the source of these cases and remain open-minded”, said Bloomfield. Precautions include the closure of Papatoetoe High School, where the daughter is a student, on Monday and Tuesday.

1.30pm: Watch the press conference here

The Ministry of Health livestream is up and running, awaiting the arrival of Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield.

1.15pm: The critical questions

Among the key questions ahead of the 1.30pm press conference:

  1. First and foremost, is the origin known? This is the most important question in determining the measures to be taken in response. Remember, the reason that the cases in Auckland in August last year sparked such concern, and such a tough response, was that the source was (and remains) unknown. If there is evidence suggesting a link, for example, to the border or an MIQ facility, that will provide at least some reassurance. It is highly unlikely that any genomic sequencing will have yet been completed.
  2. Is the strain of the cases known? If it is the more transmissible UK or South African variant, the case for more stringent action grows.
  3. Is a short, sharp lockdown a possibility? A number of Australian states, most recently Victoria in recent days, have introduced snap lockdowns of between three and five days, to ensure that a halt can be put to any spread while the severity of the outbreak can be assessed.

1.05pm: Snap press conference to come

Today’s press conference was unexpected, underlining the relative urgency of the new information. Chris Hipkins, the minister with oversight for the Covid response, made no mention of any new cases of concern when he appeared on Q+A on TVNZ 1 this morning.

Yesterday’s scheduled media release from the Ministry of Health brought news of two new cases, both of which arrived on February 9 from India via the United Arab Emirates and returned positive results after routine testing in their first two days in the country.

As of yesterday, the total number of active cases in New Zealand was 45, with none in the community.

The seven-day rolling average for Covid testing for the week to Friday was 3,886 tests processed.

The Ministry of Health also reported yesterday the death of a patient with Covid-19 at North Shore Hospital.

“The patient was transferred from a Managed Isolation Facility into hospital-level care for the treatment of a serious non-Covid-19 related condition on 5 February. This person subsequently returned a positive result for Covid-19 following their admission. This positive result has been reported previously,” announced the ministry. “Please note the death has not been included in our official Covid related deaths at this stage.”

12.55pm: Big Gay Out under way

Crowds continue to gather at Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier, Auckland, for the annual Big Gay Out festival. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was among those planning to attend; the prime minister’s office was unable to say whether her plans have changed following the latest news of Covid cases, and that there would be no comment before the 1.30pm media conference.

This year the event is free but ticketed, to support contact tracing efforts.

12.45pm: New cases in Auckland

There are at least two new cases of Covid-19 that have been detected in the community in south Auckland. The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, and the minister for the Covid response, Chris Hipkins, will address media at the Beehive at 1.30pm.

We’ll have more details as they emerge.

Just over six months ago, on August 12 2020, the Auckland region went into a level three lockdown after community cases were detected. 

The cluster, the origin of which remains unknown, became New Zealand’s largest, with 159 people returning positive tests and two lives lost. 

With the remainder of the country in level two, Auckland moved to “alert level 2.5” at the end of August for another fortnight and Jacinda Ardern postponed the election, originally scheduled for September, by a month.

On Friday the government announced that early shipment of vaccines meant the first vaccinations of border workers would take place on Saturday February 20.

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