Live updates, August 20: Rydges case may have caught Covid from lift; five new cases

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 20, 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

7.15pm: The day in sum

NZ had five more cases of Covid-19, all linked to the community cluster.

It’s believed the Rydges Hotel worker who tested positive earlier this week may have caught the virus from an elevator, Ashley Bloomfield said.

A raft of security enhancements are being rolled out to managed isolation and quarantine facilities, including thermal CCTV cameras.

National will create a new border agency to protect the country from Covid-19 if elected in October, it announced.

Winston Peters said the court got it wrong when it ruled the first nine days of the nationwide lockdown were illegal.

The Greens called for guaranteed paid sick leave to be doubled to 10 days.

Act released its Covid response policy, including the promise that most returnees would be able to isolate at home.

Former president Barack Obama excoriated Donald Trump in a speech to the Democratic National Convention.

President Trump doubled down on his claim that NZ’s seeing “a big surge” in Covid-19 cases

5.25pm: Obama warns US democracy may not survive a second Trump term

Deputy editor Catherine McGregor writes: Like the previous nights of the all-virtual Democratic National Convention, night three, which wound up around 3pm NZT, featured speeches from a slew of Democratic Party stars. Yesterday marked 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment giving American women the right to vote, and tonight’s big name speakers were themselves largely female: progressive champion Elizabeth Warren, speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris and former presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, who begged liberals not to make the same mistakes as in 2016. Dressed in her trademark white to honour the suffragette movement, Clinton tried to convince voters of the stakes of the election, as she’d failed to do four years ago.

“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realise how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ ‘I should have voted.’ This can’t be another woulda-coulda-shoulda election,” she said.

Harris’s speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination closed out the night, but the speech that most people will be talking about tomorrow was by former president Barack Obama. While he spent much of it praising Joe Biden as a decent man and a vice-president who made his own presidency better, the most powerful moments came when he spoke directly about the threat posed by the Trump administration. The tradition that presidents do not publicly criticise their successors was left by the wayside as a grave-faced Obama made his sharpest criticisms of Trump since leaving office.

“For close to four years now,” Obama said, “he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

He went on: “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe. One hundred and 70,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

Watch the speech in full here:

4.35pm: Act calls for ‘alternative isolation’ as part of Covid response policy

The Act Party’s new Covid-19 response policy has a focus on “wellbeing”, the party says, employing a term that tends to be more commonly associated with the left. Rather than focusing only on elimination, the party says it wants all aspects of national and personal wellbeing to be considered, and for the costs and benefits of each choice made by the government to be taken into account.

“Being free of Covid-19 is one dimension of wellbeing. We also have to think about a generation of students’ one shot at life-defining exams, the mental health of small business owners run ragged, and non-Covid healthcare such as missed elective surgeries,” said Act leader David Seymour.

Rather than keeping all returnees in hotel isolation, Act would introduce “alternative isolation” (ie, at home), where safe, with electronic monitoring and strict punishment for rule-breakers. It also wants different countries and travellers to be treated with different levels of caution, and greater use of tracking technology including the Bluetooth-enabled CovidCard.

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2.00pm: ‘Politics is fu*ked’ – MP Chloe Swarbrick

A new short documentary focusing on Chloe Swarbrick has revealed the sitting Green MP’s true thoughts about politics.

“Parliament is a toxic culture that chews people up and spits them out. You become inhuman and disconnected from the people you purport to represent,” she said in the video.

Swarbrick is heading into a tough election race, hoping to unseat National in Auckland Central. She’s up against Labour’s Helen White and new National candidate Emma Mellow, who is replacing Nikki Kaye.

Also in the video, available on Loading Docs, Swarbrick opens up about her experience with mental health.

“There are not many politicians who are willing to go on the record about mental health… I discovered why when I spoke about it, and got emails from people telling me I am crazy, that I shouldn’t be near power,” she said.

Watch the full documentary here

1.00pm: Five new community cases of Covid-19; new line of investigation into Rydges case

Updated

New Zealand has five new cases of Covid-19, all linked to the community. Four are Auckland-based, and one has been connected to the previously announced Tokoroa cases. That case is currently in Waikato Hospital, Ashley Bloomfield announced. That brings the total number of active cases in the country to 101.

There are now 80 cases in the community: 78 have direct links to the Auckland cluster and two remain under investigation, including the Rydges Hotel worker. There is also one case that was announced yesterday that was initially thought to be linked to the cluster, which has now been reclassified as under investigation, with a link still to be firmly established, said Bloomfield.

Bloomfield said there is now a “strong line” of investigation into how the Rydges worker contracted the virus. “The maintenance worker used the same lift as a case from July 31, not at the same time, but very shortly after that person,” Bloomfield said.

It was, said Bloomfield, “a matter of minutes” between the Covid-positive returnee from the US and the maintenance worker using the lift. However, he could not confirmed whether or not the returnee was wearing a mask while in the lift. “There are no cameras in the lift,” he said.

Meanwhile, a positive case visited Auckland’s St Lukes mall last week, Bloomfield said. “Anyone visiting St Lukes’ mall on the morning of Wednesday August 12, should contact their GP or Healthline should they become symptomatic.” The mall has been closed since the city moved into alert level three. The mall’s Countdown supermarket was yesterday closed for cleaning. Bloomfield said this case was tested when they became symptomatic a few days ago, so it’s possible they visited the mall before they were contagious.

Health minister Chris Hipkins asked Aucklanders to “stay in your bubbles, don’t go out unless you have to, and please wear a mask if you do have to go out. As the weekend approaches, those rules still do apply.”

‘No unseen transmission’ outside Auckland – Hipkins

As of today there are 1,626,500 registered users of the government’s Covid tracer app. Yesterday, 18,091 tests were processed, bringing the total test count since the recent outbreak to 154,000.

“Based on testing, we do have a strong indication that there has been no unseen transmission outside of the border and aside from the mystery Rydges case, and that does not seem to have resulted in any further transmission,” said Hipkins.

“I know there’s been a lot of comment in recent days on testing at the borders, clearly that hasn’t been happening at the speed and scale that we had expected however I do want to reiterate, these testing numbers show that the range of measures we’ve been taking to stop people getting infected in the first place have been working.”

Addressing another rumour, Hipkins shut down any suggestion that Oranga Tamariki would be taking away the children of those that test positive for Covid-19. He said rumours like this make people less likely to go and get a test when they may need one.

“Now is not the time to get complacent,” said Hipkins.

When questioned on the level of testing outside of Auckland, Bloomfield said he has been satisfied with the amount of tests taken in other centres. About two thirds of the testing has been done in Auckland, Bloomfield said, since the recent outbreak.

Earlier today, National announced its border policy which would require travellers to New Zealand to test negative for Covid-19 before boarding a flight. Hipkins said that doesn’t take into account the fact that people can contract the virus in transit, especially if they are going through more than one airport en route. The Opposition also want a new border agency established, but Hipkins isn’t convinced: “I’m not sure that another bureaucracy is going to help,” he said.

12.50pm: Bloomfield to reveal new Covid-19 cases

Ashley Bloomfield will be revealing how many new cases of Covid-19 are in New Zealand at today’s 1pm briefing. Yesterday, there were six new cases, with five linked to the existing cluster and one detected in managed isolation. The total number of active cases is 96.

Watch below:

12.45pm: Heightened police presence for gunman sentencing

There will be more police visible in Christchurch, as the sentencing of the man convicted of the March 15 terrorist attacks takes place next week.

Canterbury district commander superintendent John Price said police have been working closely with other agencies in preparation for the hearing

“This is an unprecedented event with a large number of victims and their families expected to attend court,” he said.

“A major security operation has been planned to help ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

12.40pm: New North & South magazine team in place

Four months after the publication was suspended, North & South magazine is back with a new team. Rachel Morris, founding editor of the Huffington Post’s Highline publication, is returning from Washington DC to become editor of the publication. She grew up in Hastings, went to the University of Auckland and got a Fulbright scholarship for the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

Morris will be joined by:

  • Imogen Greenfield, design manager of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, will be the art
    director.
  • Martine Skinner, former head of marketing at Bauer Media Group, has been appointed general
    manager.
  • Kelsi Hamilton, former senior account manager for the BBC in Australia, will take care of
    advertising sales.

11.45am: Trump doubles down on NZ Covid claim

Just two days after claiming New Zealand’s less-than-100 Covid cases was “a big surge”, president Donald Trump has come out swinging again.

“New Zealand, by the way, had a big outbreak, and other countries that were held up to try and make us look not as good as we should look, and we’ve done an incredible job,” he told a news conference today

“They’re having a lot of outbreaks, but they’ll be able to put them out, and we’ll be able put them out.”

The US has recorded more than 5,520,000 Covid cases. Over 170,000 people have died from the virus.

Read more: The brief history of Donald Trump v Jacinda Ardern

11.30am: Further resignations at Canterbury DHB expected

Another two executives at the Canterbury district health board are expected to quit, according to the senior doctors’ union.

As RNZ reports, the resignations come after five of the board’s 11 member executive leadership have left, including the chief executive David Meates who is also set to leave his role.

There will be just four members left on the executive leadership team once the next two resignations are confirmed.

Read the latest here

11.00am: National’s wishlist for border protection revealed

National has revealed its border protection policy this morning. It follows more than a week of criticism hurled at the government’s current Covid-19 response, after the virus returned to our community.

The Spinoff’s political editor Justin Giovannetti filed this report:

National says it will create a new border agency to protect the country from Covid-19 as part of its campaign promise to strengthen the response to the coronavirus.

There’s no tearing down of the system of managed-isolation and quarantine built up by the Labour-led government in National’s plan, nor will there be any big exemptions for universities or businesses to open their own private isolation facilities. “The threat of Covid-19 will be with us for years to come and National is committed to safeguarding the health of all New Zealanders, as well as the wider economy,” National leader Judith Collins said in a statement.

The opposition says a new crown agency, the NZ border protection agency, would be put in charge of managing Covid-19 at the country’s points of entry. A single agency would better coordinate a government response that cuts across ministries—no more press conferences with ministers and officials from multiple departments.

The plan would also require all international travellers headed to New Zealand to provide a negative test before boarding a flight. Finally, all border workers, as well as health staff who treat patients infected with the virus, would be required to use some form of contact tracing technology.

The rest of the plan is a wish list of things they’d investigate if they were elected. There would be more support for Bluetooth-based contact tracing like the CovidCard. A National government would be “striving towards” reducing wait times for Covid tests to an hour, along with making more testing available. There’d be regular testing of workers in aged-care facilities. The government would also work on more planning to control future outbreaks. There’s nothing on that wish list that Labour wouldn’t also support.

NZ First put forward a border plan yesterday that it will campaign on that shares some similarities, notably the creation of an NZ border protection force. However, deputy prime minister Winston Peters’ party called for turning over the entire system of quarantine and isolation to the military, going so far as to call for the border facilities to be moved from central Auckland to isolated army camps.

10.40am: ‘Thermal CCTV’ among security enhancements for MIQ facilities

A raft of security enhancements are being rolled out to managed isolation and quarantine facilities, minister Megan Woods has announced.

The estimated $6 million worth of upgrades follows yesterday’s announcement of a 500-person boost to defence force personnel in manage isolation and quarantine facilities.

The government’s proposing to add the following security enhancements to each facility where feasible:

  • Thermal CCTV (night and day vision) around the perimeter with geo-fenced alarming. This technology would create an alarm when people move within a defined area;
  • CCTV in public and exercise areas to monitor distance breaches;
  • CCTV in accommodation corridors to monitor any breaches between rooms;
  • Security Control Room/Desk;
  • Audible alarms on fire exits; and
  • Electronic access systems to restrict or track movement around a facility.

The government will also be commencing a pilot of the CovidCard, Woods announced, with staff inside a managed isolation facility, with a view to a wider roll out in the coming months.

“Keeping Covid-19 at the border is a priority for the Government and these security enhancements are another tool in our toolbox to ensure returnees stay in the facilities and limit risk to the community,” she said.

The opposition will be unveiling their border policy later this morning.

10.30am: What are fomites, and how much do they transmit Covid-19?

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles explains how transmission of Covid-19 from infected surfaces might not be as common as scientists initially thought, and how it’s far more likely for the virus to be spread via airborne droplets – which is why we should be using masks as part of our Covid toolkit. Featuring illustrations from Toby Morris.

Watch below:

10.10am: Petition calls for targeted assistance in hospitality industry

A nationwide petition’s been launched calling for the government to adopt a scheme similar to the UK’s “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative, to assist the struggling hospitality industry in the wake of Covid-19. The resurgence of the virus in our community has been a further set back for hospitality providers still battling after the first lockdown.

The petition calls on the government to provide targeted support for the hospitality industry. Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois said: “Despite contributing more than $11 billion to the economy and employing over 133,000 people nationwide, there has not been any targeted support for the industry.”

Bidois said New Zealand needs an equivalent of the UK’s scheme, where the government foots the bill for 50% of a meal eaten at a cafe, restaurant or pub from Monday to Wednesday until the end of August.

It sees a maximum saving of £10 per person applied to meals at more than 70,000 venues and was used more than 10.5 million times in its first week. “Our ‘dine out to help out’ initiative will put much needed cash back into the pockets of hospitality businesses that are really struggling whilst also helping Kiwis to get a freshly prepared meal at a discounted price,” Bidois said.

8.30am: CovidCard for travellers? National to announce border plan

The Opposition have had plenty of chances over the past few weeks to criticise the government’s Covid-19 border plans. Today, Judith Collins will be unveiling National’s plan for keeping the virus out of New Zealand.

According to the Herald, the policy will involve all overseas arrivals and all high-risk border-facing workers to carry a CovidCard to enhance contact-tracing. Additionally all border-facing workers would be required to keep a diary of where they’ve been in the short-term. The Herald’s also claiming National have backtracked on their policy of allowing international students back into the country.

8.00am: Greens call for paid sick leave to double

The Green Party want you to get an extra five guaranteed paid sick days, as part of the response to Covid-19. Currently, the minimum sick leave allowance for employees is just five days.

The Greens’ workplace relations spokesperson Jan Logie said that’s not enough: “The Green Party is calling for this to double to ten days, so people can do their part by staying home and reducing the risk of spreading Covid-19,” she said.

“We’ll also explore ways to support small businesses to adapt to this change.

“We all have an incredibly important role to play in keeping Covid-19 out of our communities, and that includes staying home when unwell.”

Logie said that, due to Covid-19, the Ministry of Health has set very firm guidelines telling people to stay home if they’re sick, but the government needs to make sure people can do that without worrying about paying the bills.

“Self-isolating when unwell is a crucial part of the public health response. However, it shouldn’t be working people having to shoulder the burden of this by being made to take unpaid sick leave. Working people have raised this concern already, and we should listen to them,” she said.

New Zealand currently has lower sick leave provisions than almost all other OECD countries, Logie said, with most countries providing at least two weeks’ paid leave – including Australia.

7.45am: The court ‘got it wrong’ on lockdown legality – Peters

The deputy prime minister has slammed the court ruling that the first nine days of the nationwide lockdown were illegal. The High Court yesterday ruled that while the lockdown was “justified”, it was not lawful.

Winston Peters told Newstalk ZB this morning that the “laws of this country were not sufficient” and the safety and security of the public was more important.

“It was only nine days for god’s sake,” he said. Peters said that, in this case, he thinks the court got it wrong.

Meanwhile, Peters also discussed his new border policy that he announced yesterday. He wants to create a completely new agency, which would be responsible for border management. The country’s managed quarantine and isolation facilities would also be moved from hotels into army bases.

“We asked for the military to be used before we went into lockdown in the first place,” Peters told the programme.

“You have your biggest city in the country, we’re bringing people into there, threatening the huge population. We could have isolated properly and ensured people were safe and we were not endangering the population of the country.”

Peters said there are a number of army bases that could be used, naming Whangaparaoa, Ohakea and Waiouru, and the cost would be far less than it is to house people in hotels.

“We have got the facilities, we have got the land and we have the soldiers. The cost put against the hotels could be $1 to $5,” he claimed.

The military, Peters said, are “used to taking orders” which would prevent the risk of further breaches. Doubling down on his claim that the Auckland cluster and the Rydges Hotel case have been caused by slip-ups at the border, Peters said: “We’ve got two border breaches” and said there is no evidence yet it’s been contained.

Never passing up a chance to criticise the National Party, Peters said they would have done an even worse job if they were in charge of the Covid response: “they’d have run this country down.”

7.35am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Six days ago, when the prime minister announced that Auckland would remain in alert level three and the remainder of New Zealand in level two until the end of Wednesday August 26, Jacinda Ardern also promised that the settings would be reviewed – and that review comes tomorrow.

Cabinet will be given three options to consider, reports veteran press gallery journalist Richard Harman on his Politik site this morning. According to information leaked to him, “the options at the moment range from pessimistic to optimistic based on the Covid situation”. Those three options? The most pessimistic read on the state of the outbreak would see Auckland remain at level three for a further fortnight, and the rest of the country stay at level two.

The second option would drop Auckland to “level two plus”: a more restrictive version of the current settings across the remainder of the country; the rest of New Zealand would return to alert level one (or, perhaps the “level 1.5” floated by Ashley Bloomfield in recent days). Option three would put Auckland at level two and the rest of New Zealand at level one. Harman’s pick? The middle option.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

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




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