Live updates, August 19: Early stage of lockdown ‘unlawful’; nurses possible vector for hotel worker infection

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 19, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and Covid-19 as it returns to the community. Auckland is now in alert level three and the rest of NZ is in level two. More details here. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.30pm: The day in sum

There were six new cases of Covid-19, five of which were connected to the community cluster and one imported.

The first nine days of the nationwide level four lockdown were unlawful, but justified, a court ruled.

A “small team” led by Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche is being brought in to help the Ministry of Health with its testing plan.

An additional 500 defence force personnel will be deployed at managed isolation facilities, and there will be extra support at the maritime border.

Two Countdown stores in Auckland temporarily closed after shoppers tested positive for Covid-19, and it was confirmed a case visited Hobbiton.

Health minister Chris Hipkins met with Air New Zealand over concerns around protocols for international airline crew.

National and Labour traded barbs in the house over who was better at managing Covid.

NZ First called for the creation of a “border protection force”, and for quarantine facilities to be moved to army camps.

6.40pm: Nurses ‘seem most likely’ vector for Covid transmission to Rydges worker – Webb

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, who oversees Covid-19 managed isolation and quarantine facilities, says the nurses who carry out health checks on people in managed isolation facilities are the most likely vector for the virus that infected a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel isolation facility in Auckland.

The man tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday and yesterday, genome testing found his infection had the same genome sequence as a returnee from the United States who had stayed at the Rydges facility but had had no direct contact with the worker.

How the infection was passed on has been a mystery, but appearing on RNZ’s Checkpoint this evening, Webb said nurses “seem the most likely” explanation for how the virus was passed on. He said “potentially” more than one nurse had carried out checks on the returnee for the three days she was at the Rydges, before she was moved to quarantine at the Jet Park hotel. He believed the nurse who is known to have had contact with the returnee returned a negative test for Covid-19, but is being retested, and antibody testing is also under way.

6.10pm: More cars being turned around at Auckland border checkpoints

Police say there has been a large increase in the number of vehicles being turned around at the checkpoints on Auckland’s boundary. As of yesterday afternoon, more than 86,000 vehicles had been stopped at the 13 different checkpoints, and almost 4,800 were turned around. On Monday and Tuesday, a significantly higher number of vehicles were turned around than in previous days, say police.

6.00pm: Air NZ tightens procedures after meeting with health minister

Air New Zealand has announced it will start segregating crew on A320 aircraft so they do not fly both international and domestic routes, and will replace passengers’ masks every three to four hours on long-haul flights, reports RNZ.

Health minister Chris Hipkins had expressed concerns around the airline’s Covid-19 management measures, and today met with Air New Zealand. Hipkins will review the testing regime for international air crew to make sure it is rigorous enough and take a “very close” look at the system airlines are supposed to have in place with hotels to keep crew separate from other guests, reports RNz.

4.30pm: NZ First calls for centralised ‘border protection force’, quarantine in army camps

Updated

NZ First is calling for the creation of a new centralised “border protection force” to spearhead the fight against Covid-19, and for quarantine facilities to be moved to army camps.

“Patchwork responses and blurred responsibilities must be rejected,” party leader and deputy prime minister Winston Peters said in a press release, criticising the “massive blend of government agencies, task forces and central agencies with overlapping roles” involved in the management of the border. 

He proposed the creation of “a single agency with a clear-eyed focus on border control”, combining functions of the New Zealand Defence Force, Customs and Immigration NZ, which would report to one senior cabinet minister. “Clear lines of accountability will be drawn-up, speed of response will be measured, and most importantly accountability measures established.”

Peters also called for the quarantine facility in Auckland to be moved to army camps in Waiouru, Manawatū and/or Christchurch, and said that “continuing to shut down Auckland due to Covid-19 breaching quarantine is a risk to community’s health and the wider economy”.

Peters’ call for border protection force ‘too little, too late’, says Seymour

Act leader David Seymour responded to Peters’ announcement with a press release of his own, pointing out that as deputy prime minister, Peters is in cabinet and could have pushed for this to happen.

“Winston Peters is headline hunting and grandstanding after doing nothing in cabinet for the past six months,” Seymour said. “If a new border protection force is ‘a major priority’ for Mr Peters, he should have said so in cabinet, maybe just once in the past six months.

“Once again, it is too little too late from a man who’s had his day.”

4.00pm: Early stage of level four lockdown ‘unlawful’

Updated

The first nine days of the nationwide level four lockdown were unlawful, but justified, according to a new court ruling.

The High Court has made a declaration that between March 26 and April 3 2020 the government’s requirement that New Zealanders stay at home and in their bubbles was illegal.

The Court states while the measure was a “necessary, reasonable and proportionate response” to the ongoing health crisis, the requirement was not mandated by law and was contrary to New Zealand’s bill of rights.

The ruling follows a judicial review proceeding initiated by lawyer Andrew Borrowdale, brought against the director general of health and attorney general, to determine the legality of the early stages of the lockdown. Other challenges in the court battle, including around the definition of “essential services”, were dismissed.

It’s not clear how many charges were laid against people during that illegal period, the court said, but it’s likely “that there would be few, if any, prosecutions affected”.

Attorney general responds to court ruling

The attorney general, David Parker, has described the high court decision, which ruled most of the orders as lawful, as “very satisfying”.

On the ruling that the Bill of Rights had been breached in the first nine days of the level four lockdown, he noted in a statement: “Importantly, though, the court found that the requirement to stay home and in their bubbles was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the Covid-19 crisis at that time.”

Parker said no decision has been reached yet on whether to appeal the decision.

3.30pm: Disgraced MP Hamish Walker breaks silence

Outgoing National MP Hamish Walker, who was embroiled in a scandal involving the release of Covid-19 patient information, has finally broken his silence. At the time, the Clutha-Southland MP said he leaked the information to expose weaknesses in the government’s data management system.

Today, on a local radio show, Walker said he was given “bad advice” that ultimately ended his political career.

Walker was given the Covid information by former National Party president Michelle Boag. However, Walker confirmed he was the one who sent it to media. He said he was not thrown under the bus by anyone.

Despite offering his resignation, Walker will be staying on as an MP until the election – which has now been pushed to October 17.

He said he’s had a few possible job offers, but will be remaining in the South. In a possible dig at his party’s chances on polling day, Walker said that after the election he plans to sit back and “watch my mates take on the Government”.

3.15pm: National and Labour trade insults over Covid-19 management

Tensions are high in parliament this afternoon, where the two major parties are squabbling over the government’s management of Covid-19. After Judith Collins said the latest outbreak wouldn’t have happened under National, health minister Chris Hipkins responded that Collins’ management plan was “if you raise your eyebrows to the virus, it won’t cross the border” – a clear reference to this.

Hipkins said every time the opposition had been asked to make a judgement on Covid-19, “they’ve got it wrong”. National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee responded that Labour was rewriting history.

3.00pm: Two Auckland Countdown stores, Hobbiton visited by people who have since tested positive

Two Countdown stores in Auckland have been closed for deep cleaning after visits by customers who have since tested positive for Covid-19. In a statement, Countdown’s Kiri Hannifin said the company was contacted by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service about visits in the past week to the Quay Street and St Lukes stores. “The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has advised us that these visits are deemed low risk and casual contact exposures,” she said.

“We are now going through our own processes, including closing both stores immediately to deep clean them. We have not been asked to close or clean the stores. This is something we do as an extra precaution.”

TVNZ reports that customers shopping in the Quay Street store this afternoon were told to finish their shopping and leave via a loud-speaker announcement. The dates of the visits are not known

Meanwhile, a person who was among a group of 25 to take a tour of Matamata tourist attraction Hobbiton on August 7 has tested positive for Covid-19 on return to their home country, reports Stuff. All staff and customers on the tour have been notified and asked to monitor their health closely for any Covid-19 symptoms, deputy chief executive Shayne Forrest told Stuff.

2.50pm: Rydges case may not have worn mask while working

It’s Question Time in parliament and National is grilling Labour ministers over the government’s Covid-19 resurgence plan.

National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has just questioned Megan Woods, the minister who oversees managed isolation and quarantine facilities, on why the Rydges maintenance worker, who went on to test positive for Covid-19, was able to work after he had displayed symptoms.

Woods said the worker passed his daily health check because he didn’t have a temperature and his cough could have been attributed to an underlying health condition. “We all need to remember this is an incredibly tricky virus and there are many people who don’t present with symptoms,” she said.

Asked whether the maintenance worker wore a mask at all times while working in the facility, Woods said “when policy dictated he needed to”, adding that workers were required to wear masks only when they were in a situation where it was possible they would breach two-metre physical-distancing requirements. This worker didn’t come into routine contact with returnees, she said.

1.55pm: Our Covid data, tracked

There are six new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, with five of them in the community and connected to the Auckland cluster.

Here is today’s latest Covid data.

 

1.00pm: Six new cases of Covid-19, no intention to move to level four

Updated

There are six new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Five are in the community, and one is in managed isolation. The five community cases have all been linked to the existing cluster in Auckland, Ashley Bloomfield confirmed. There are now 125 people in the community who have been moved into the Auckland quarantine facility, said Bloomfield, comprising 61 people who have tested positive and their household contacts.

The sixth new case is a woman in managed isolation who has been at the Sudima Hotel in Rotorua after arriving from Qatar via Sydney on August 14. She will now be moved to quarantine in Auckland.

Five people are receiving hospital care with Covid-19 – one in Auckland City Hospital and four in Middlemore. The total number of confirmed cases is now 1,299, Bloomfield confirmed. Yesterday 23,038 tests were processed, bringing the total to date to 639,415.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the low number of new cases was promising, and there have been no new cases linked to the Rydges Hotel worker who cannot be connected to the community cluster.

New measures introduced to improve testing, MIQ facilities

A small team will be introduced to assist the Ministry of Health in executing the testing plan. It will be co-chaired by Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche, Ardern said. Roche will directly observe the system in Auckland and report back to Bloomfield.

An additional 500 defence force personnel, Ardern confirmed, would be deployed into the managed isolation facilities over the next six weeks. There will also be additional support at the maritime border. This is in order to reduce the need for private security guards, Ardern said. 1200 military staff are now involved in the Covid response. Those private security guards that are used will be employed by MBIE and paid a living wage, to increase accountability, said Ardern.

“When we’ve identified gaps or issues, we have moved at speed to fill them, and we do so now again,” Ardern said.

“No system is foolproof and in a global pandemic there are no absolutes.

“The constant ongoing improvement by everyone is the key to our success,” she said.

There’s still no intention – and no need – to move to alert level four, Ardern said.

Here’s how the 1200 NZDF personnel are likely to break down:

  • 990 at Managed Isolation Facilities
  • 80 at border
  • 70 in Police Traffic Management
  • 100 for electoral support.

“While the current community cluster has not been sourced to a managed isolation and quarantine facility, nothing is fail-safe and strengthening security is a step we believe is useful,” the minister in charge of managed isolation Megan Woods said in a statement.

‘Intermediary’ could have spread Covid-19 to Rydges worker

Tests are continuing to identify how a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel contracted Covid-19, despite having no links to the border or to the South Auckland community cluster.

Genome testing revealed the hotel worker had the same strand of the virus as a returnee from the US, however the returnee and the worker had no physical contact. Bloomfield said it’s possible an “intermediary” person spread the virus, or it could have been caught from a contaminated surface.

Bloomfield said serology was being used to determine whether there may have been an intermediary who tested negative but who had unknowingly contracted Covid-19 at an earlier point.

Covid-19 rumours and social media

Asked whether false rumours were eroding trust in the government’s response, and whether Google and Facebook were doing enough to combat the spread of them, Ardern said, “everyone has a role to play and I don’t think any publisher or platform should say they don’t have a role to play.

“I see our job as making sure we’re utterly consistent, providing as much information as possible and being as transparent as possible.”

Watch below:

Watch now: Youth Wings episode three

On The Spinoff right now, catch episode three of our latest documentary series Youth Wings.

Right from day one, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand has been a party led by co-leaders. That philosophy extends to the party’s youth wing, where co-convenors Danielle Marks (Te Arawa) and Matariki Roche (Ngāti Raukawa) represent the party’s next generation.

Read more here

11.30am: National needs to keep pounding the accountability drum on Covid response

With the shine starting to come off the government’s Covid response, the opposition must abandon baseless speculation for a laser focus on failure and accountability, argues Ben Thomas in a piece on The Spinoff this morning.

Here’s an extract:

The fresh outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland last week was a shock to the public. But it should have been manna from heaven for political parties campaigning in the shadow of an overwhelmingly popular Labour Party, seemingly coasting towards a majority government on the back of its outstanding success in eliminating the virus from the community.

National and Judith Collins, in particular, were handed the political equivalent of a $50 million winning Powerball ticket. They then proceeded to do the political equivalent of wadding gum into it and chucking it in a bin.

Read the full article here

11.00am: Entire country inexplicably nominated for NZer of the year

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt far and wide – including in the race for New Zealander of the Year. The first list of notable nominees has been released.

There have been a “significant number” of nominations for Ashley Bloomfield, along with prime minister Jacinda Ardern and microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles. The entire “Team of Five Million” has also, somehow, been nominated. How nice, pat yourself on the back.

“In this extraordinary year, we know that everyone has a hero,” Miriama Kamo, Te Koruru – Patron of Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards said.

“You’ve seen them in action, you’ve heard them, you may live with them ­– these incredible New Zealanders deserve recognition for stepping up, this year and every year.”

Other nominated New Zealanders include:

  • Patrick Gower – journalist and National Correspondent for Newshub
  • Kelly Coe – clothing designer for Augustine
  • Dane Rumble – musician
  • Clint Heine – Kiwis in London founder
  • Bryce Casey ­– mental health advocate and radio host
  • Simon Barnett – radio host
  • Mittens – Wellington celebrity cat

Alongside the prime minister, politicians including Chloe Swarbrick and David Seymour have received nominations.

9.55am: Hipkins to meet with Air NZ amid border concerns

The health minister Chris Hipkins said he’ll be meeting with our national airline today, following unfounded claims by the deputy prime minister that a border breach is responsible for a Rydges Hotel worker contracting Covid-19.

Hipkins told Newstalk ZB this morning he was concerned about protocols for international airline crew, and the risk of the virus entering New Zealand.

“I’m meeting with Air New Zealand today to make sure that that’s as tight as a drum,” he said.

“I’m not 100% convinced that it is at the moment. I’m going to be absolutely boring into that. There’s no time for rest here. I’ve been doing this job for seven weeks. Every single day I’ve woken up thinking about Covid-19.”

Earlier, Hipkins said he’d ruled nothing out when asked how the hotel worker caught the virus. However, the minister in charge of managed isolation Megan Woods was adamant there was no leak at the border.

8.30am: Impact of level three lockdown on business revealed

A survey of Auckland businesses reveals just how the alert level three lockdown is impacting on their ability to operate.

The survey, undertaken by the Auckland Business Chamber over the last 24 hours, shows that:

  • Only 20% of businesses are operating at 100%
  • Only 28% of businesses are operating at 75%
  • Only 24% of businesses are operating at 50%
  • Only 18%of businesses are operating at 25%
  • 10% of businesses are not operating at all.

“The number of businesses that are operating at 100% has halved since last week,” said Chamber CEO Michael Barnett.

“This is not sustainable and an approach that is not an immediate default to a level three lockdown each time we have a resurgence at any level needs to be found.”

8.15am: Collins calls for accountability over border bungle

National’s leader wants a head to roll over the mishap at the border which saw many frontline workers not be tested for Covid-19.

“This is a massive failure for the government,” Judith Collins told RNZ this morning. She wouldn’t lay blame at the feet of Ashley Bloomfield, but said in this case it’s the prime minister’s responsibility.

“You don’t as a prime minister put out a press release on June 23 saying ‘we’re testing all the frontline staff at the the border’ and then the public finds out eight weeks later that it was untrue,” she said.

Collins said testing of border facing staff should be mandatory, despite her party voting against legislation that would have implemented this. “That was also the legislation that allowed police to go wandering into your home without a warrant,” she said.

National’s border policy is set to be released later this week.

7.50am: How Rydges worker caught Covid still a mystery

Just how a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel isolation facility tested positive for Covid-19 remains a mystery. Genome testing has revealed there are no links to the existing Auckland cluster.

“We still don’t have a good understanding of exactly how the maintenance worker would have picked up Covid-19 from the hotel,” health minister Chris Hipkins told RNZ. There’s no indication, he said, that the worker came into contact with anybody who tested positive for the virus.

But, he said nothing has yet been ruled out. “My understanding is [the virus spreading through] air conditioning is unlikely, but unlikely doesn’t mean impossible,” he said. “Surface transfer is certainly possible,” Hipkins added.

“Testing results suggest that the person’s infection was recent… all of the tests of their co-workers have come back negative, all of their close contacts have also come back negative.”

Hipkins said that if anybody else had caught the virus from this particular case, it would almost certainly be known by now. “There is no unidentified spread,” he said. A move to alert level four, Hipkins said, is not on the cards yet.

The minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, told Newstalk ZB the Rydges case was not caused by the “border leaking”.

“We have gone through very methodically, through all the evidence, about where he was as a maintenance worker, what rooms he was in. There is absolutely no evidence this is a border leak. Obviously something has happened – we will continue to chase it down,” she said.

7.40am: Rydges case ‘second border breach’, says Peters

The deputy prime minister has doubled down on his unproven claim that the community outbreak of Covid-19 was caused by a breach at the border.

Last week, Winston Peters told Australian media he had been given a tip-off about a border breach by a New Zealand journalist who was “usually very reliable”.

The Herald’s reporting that Peters has said there’s a “second border breach” and that heads need to roll. “What you have to do though is find out where the direction was followed and if it wasn’t followed, why, and if it’s inadequate in terms of an answer then that person must go – it’s that simple,” he said.

Peters said that while the health minister Chris Hipkins was accountable, he was not directly responsible and therefore does not need to lose his job.

Read more from our political editor Justin Giovannetti here

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

The question of testing dominated exchanges in parliament yesterday, with the government under pressure to account for the managed isolation systems. As the NZ Herald reports, neither the PM Jacinda Ardern nor health minister Chris Hipkins gave a full defence of what had happened – Ardern said it wasn’t good enough, and Hipkins said it was “disappointing and frustrating” that testing hadn’t been happening to the degree he thought it had been. After attempts at justifying the discrepancy between all staff being tested and the actual numbers, National leader Judith Collins accused the PM of performing “verbal gymnastics”.

Who is supposed to be responsible for this, at a ministerial or accountability level? That was something Newshub attempted to pin down, and the results were not exactly edifying for the government. It could theoretically be health minister Hipkins, managed isolation minister Megan Woods, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, or head of managed isolation and quarantine Air Commodore Darryn Webb – or some combination of all of them. Deputy PM Winston Peters is calling for heads to roll over the failures. And as Politik reports, there is an undercurrent of friction between Hipkins and Bloomfield, with Hipkins making an “admission which amounted to an accusation that his Ministry had lied to him” in parliament.

On the wider question of testing as a result of the outbreak, the results have been much more positive. Our live blog reported that more than 100,000 have been processed in the last five days, which is a staggering figure, and shows that when push comes to shove the system can work effectively. However, as Radio NZ reports, there was also a backtracking on a previous plan to test all port workers in Auckland and Tauranga, and rein it in to just cover those in higher risk areas.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were 13 new cases of Covid-19 in the community. Twelve are linked to the current cluster, and one is a MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) worker who contracted it from a returnee at Rydges Hotel.

Health minister Chris Hipkins denied the Rydges case demonstrated a “system failure”, while National leader Judith Collins claimed Hipkins had misled the public over the lack of border testing.

Across Auckland, 97% of all staff in MIQ facilities have now been tested, according to the government.

The man who began the untrue rumour about the origins of the cluster has apologised and said he’s ready to “face the consequences”.

A security guard at an Auckland MIQ facility has been suspended after sharing a list of people staying there to a private Snapchat group.

Despite Auckland remaining in level three lockdown, some senior students will be allowed back into the classroom this week, it was announced.

The Australian state of Victoria recorded 222 new cases of Covid-19, its lowest daily increase in almost a month. There were 17 more deaths.

President Donald Trump criticised New Zealand’s “big surge” on the same day the US recorded another 42,000 cases.

The virtual Democratic National Convention kicked off with impassioned speeches by Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama, among others.

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




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