Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

SocietyJune 22, 2020

Live updates, June 22: Two new cases from managed isolation; new border measures announced

Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern speaks to media (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

For all The Spinoff’s latest coverage of Covid-19 see here. Read Siouxsie Wiles’s work here. New Zealand is currently in alert level one – read about what that means here. For official government advice, see here.

The Spinoff’s coverage of the Covid-19 outbreak is made possible thanks to donations from Spinoff Members. To support this work, join The Spinoff Members here

6.00pm: The day in sum

Two new cases of Covid-19 were detected in managed isolation. One was a teenage girl who had arrived from Pakistan, the other a man in his 30s who had arrived from India. Both had shared flights with previously reported cases.

Further measures to shore up New Zealand’s border were announced, including a new health order outlining that arrivals in managed isolation must submit to testing and medical exams on multiple occasions.

Internationally, the WHO reported its largest daily increase of cases since the pandemic began. There were more than 183,000 new cases, with the largest portion coming from Brazil.

There are now nine active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. One reason for the recent rise in numbers was that there are now twice as many arrivals as they were a month ago, and from more “high risk” countries, according to Jacinda Ardern.

With 900 more arrivals expected in the next two days, capacity has become an issue at managed isolation facilities, with some new arrivals bussed to Rotorua at short notice over the weekend.

5.30pm: Local transmission spike in Victoria

Australia’s second most populous state is experiencing a renewed spike in Covid-19 cases, casting doubt on the future of a potential Trans-Tasman bubble. On Saturday, Victoria reported 25 new cases of coronavirus in a 24-hour period – the largest daily increase in two months. On Sunday, 19 new cases were announced with a further 16 being added today.

Worryingly, Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said today that a total of 222 cases since the beginning of the outbreak were believed to be due to community transmission – an increase of 12 since yesterday which marks the largest single-day increase in community transmission for more than two months.

Victoria’s state of emergency has been extended for four more weeks to July 19, with restrictions on gathering sizes reimposed.

5.15pm: Today’s numbers, charted

4.10pm: New border measures announced

Jacinda Ardern has announced further measures to shore up New Zealand’s border. A new health order will be completed tonight spelling out more clearly the expectation that people in managed isolation submit to testing and medical exams on multiple occasions. In order to leave, a negative test result will be required.

There will also be a tightening of maritime rules, so that as of June 30 anyone who has been aboard the boat for fewer than 28 days must go into the isolation system. It was previously 14 days. The cruise ship ban will also be extended beyond June 30.

An ongoing surveillance testing programme will also be mandated. More details are to follow tomorrow.

Ardern said they would soon be considering the possibility of “co-payments” so that people in isolation cover part of the cost of the fortnight, but for now, it was money well spent as “the costs of another outbreak is far, far worse”.

Asked about reports of aircrew breaching requirements after returning from international flights, Ardern said the minister of health was meeting today with Air New Zealand “to reinforce again just how important it is that airline crew uphold those expectations”.

Housing minister Megan Woods, who was put in charge of managed isolation and quarantine facilities last week, said she and Air Commodore Darryn “Digby” Webb are confident there is capacity for more arrivals in the coming weeks. She said capacity was 4,607 spaces, of which 4,148 are currently filled.

Woods said tomorrow they are expecting 534 people to arrive and enter the facilities, with 320 exiting. The following day, they expected 305 to arrive and 146 to check out.

3.55pm: PM to give post-Cabinet update

Jacinda Ardern is set to give a media briefing at 4pm following her Cabinet meeting. Watch here:

3.15pm: Hotel may have to lay off staff if it can’t be used for managed isolation

Auckland’s Stamford Plaza Hotel may have to lay off staff if it can’t be used as a managed isolation facility. The hotel was meant to receive busloads of passengers last weekend, but they were diverted at the last minute to a hotel in Rotorua after objections from residents of the hotel’s upper floors. Now use of the Stamford is on hold until arrangements are reviewed.

If it doesn’t get the green light, general manager Tarun Abraham told the Herald “one of the largest consequences of the hotel not being able to be appointed as an isolated managed facility would include it having no alternative but to retrench its staff.” The hotel and the residences are separate and distinct components, Abraham said, and common access points between the hotel and the residences would be closed while people are in managed isolation there.

1.10pm: Two new cases in managed isolation

Two new cases of Covid-19 have been detected in managed isolation, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has announced.

The first is a female teenager who was staying at the Novotel Auckland Airport. She arrived in New Zealand on the 13th of June from Islamabad in Pakistan via Doha and Melbourne. The Doha and Melbourne legs are the same flights one of the cases reported last week also travelled on. She travelled with her siblings and mother, all of whom have tested negative. Her only symptom was a runny nose.

The other case is a man in his 30s who arrived in New Zealand from India on the 15th of June. He has been staying at the Grand Millennium. He has not reported any symptoms. The flight the man arrived on is the same flight as one of yesterday’s reported cases also travelled on.

Both new cases have been transferred to the Jet Park Hotel.

This brings New Zealand’s total number of confirmed cases to 1,163 cases, nine of which are active.

Yesterday 3,402 tests were completed, bringing the total to 344,519.

On Saturday, 430 tests were carried out in the Auckland managed isolation facilities, and 61 in the Christchurch facilities.

One significant cluster remains open: the St Margaret’s cluster in Auckland.

Increased testing in managed isolation

Bloomfield revealed some new numbers around people in managed isolation. From June 9 until June 16, when compassionate exemptions were suspended, 55 people had been granted them, he said. Of those 55, 50 have been followed up and have been tested and returned a negative test. Four were children, and it was deemed not appropriate for them to be tested. There’s one remaining person who is being followed up today.

Everyone who was in monitored isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie with the two sisters who tested positive after being granted a compassionate exemption had now returned negative tests, as had health and hotel staff, Bloomfield said. There were 190 people staying there as regular hotel guests during the same period, and 176 of those have been contacted and referred for testing. Negative results have so far been returned for 156 of them.

Bloomfield also said they were actively considering a new rule that would require arrivals to remain in their hotel rooms until such point as a negative test has been returned. New protocols require a test to be undertaken on day three.

Asked whether the fact the new cases weren’t experiencing symptoms raised concerns there may have been undetected cases in managed isolation before widespread testing was being carried out, Bloomfield said, “It does raise that possibility.”

He said that just because they were not reporting symptoms yet didn’t mean they were asymptomatic. “What we’ve found in a number of cases this week, on very tight questioning people have had quite mild symptoms,” he said, emphasising that testing is not failsafe and is supplementary to the 14 days’ isolation. “It’s also helping identify how good symptom reporting is,” he said, adding that because today’s new cases travelled on the same flights as earlier cases, “we’re also looking at what’s happening at the point of departure in terms of screening”.

Asked whether New Zealand’s 24 days of zero cases was accurate, considering how many people were coming into the country during this time and that widespread testing of those in managed isolation wasn’t happening, Bloomfield said he believed it was. Those with symptoms were going straight into quarantine and being tested, he said, and out of “many hundreds” of tests, only 35 had returned a positive test. He attributed the recent cases to an increase in the number of people arriving at the border and the acceleration of the pandemic overseas.

12.45pm: Watch Ashley Bloomfield’s 1pm media briefing here

12.05pm: WHO records largest single-day increase in new cases

The World Health Organisation has recorded its largest single-day increase in new Covid-19 cases to date, with more than 183,000 new cases in the last 24 hours. Brazil contributed the largest number of cases, with 54,771, ahead of the US (36,617 new cases) and India (15,400). Overall the WHO has now recorded  8,708,008 cases of the virus worldwide. 

11.45am: Ashley Bloomfield to update case numbers at 1pm

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will hold a media briefing at the usual time of 1pm today. It is expected he will have at least one new case of Covid-19 to announce, after reports that an isolation facility was put into lockdown last night (see 7.45am update). In her media rounds this morning, prime minister Jacinda Ardern declined to confirm whether or not this meant there was a new case, saying “I am always going to leave [the Ministry of] Health to do the reporting on cases”. We’ll have a live stream and updates from Bloomfield’s briefing from 1pm.

11.00am: NZ Post ‘super depot’ will help double parcel capacity

NZ Post is investing $170 million to double its parcel-processing capacity over the next 10 years. “This investment is good news for New Zealand businesses who are looking to grow their e-commerce presence or are already successful in this space, and for the customers who use those services,” said associate minister for state owned enterprises Shane Jones at the ground-breaking and blessing ceremony for a new “super depot” in Wellington this morning. Construction of the new depot, which is due to open in 2022, will employ around 350 people, Jones said.

10.45am: Not all reports of rule-breaking at isolation hotels are true – PM

Not all reports of rules being broken at managed isolation hotels are necessarily true, according to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who told The AM Show this morning that sometimes the complaints will be false. “In some of those cases actually, officials went back and checked on CCTV footage – some of those claims didn’t always necessarily match,” she said. Asked for specific examples, Ardern cited one example where it was claimed there was no staff to supervise people and enforce the rules, but CCTV footage showed there was in fact staff.

10.00am: Rotorua MP annoyed his city being used for managed isolation

National Party MP Todd McClay is mad at the government for sending new international arrivals to Rotorua for their mandatory two weeks of managed isolation due to a shortage of accommodation in Auckland. “The Jacinda Ardern government has shown no understanding or respect for the people of Rotorua,” McClay told RNZ. “They woke on Sunday morning to find out their city is being used for quarantine, [and] it wasn’t until midday that we started to get any assurance that actually the government was thinking about public health and safety.” McClay, who is the MP for Rotorua, said there should have been a public consultation first, and that residents were now worried and angry.

9.00am: ‘Small proportion’ of businesses fail after claiming wage subsidy

Over 70 companies who collectively claimed almost $8 million in government wage subsidies to support 1,164 employees have since gone into receivership or liquidation, a Stuff investigation has found. While one receiver said “there would be questions” around some companies’ use of the scheme, the Ministry of Social Development said as long as the wage subsidy had been passed on to the employees for whom it was intended, “there is no onus on the employee or employer to repay that money”.

Business NZ CEO Kirk Hope said these companies only represented a small proportion of all that had applied for support, and this showed how well the wage subsidy scheme had worked. “Even if we had ended up with 100 or 200 in this position, it’s still a very small proportion,” he said. Any businesses found to have abused the system could face prosecution, the government has said.

8.30pm: Police officer’s funeral delayed because overseas family in isolation

The funeral for police officer Matthew Hunt, who was killed during a traffic stop on Friday, has been delayed because family from overseas are in managed isolation, RNZ reports. The constable’s family were among those passengers bussed to a hotel in Rotorua at the weekend due to a shortage of managed isolation facilities in Auckland. Last week health minister David Clark announced that compassionate exemptions allowing people to leave isolation early had been temporarily suspended until the government had “confidence in the system”.

8.00am: PM doesn’t know how many have left isolation without a test

Jacinda Ardern says she doesn’t know how many people have left managed isolation facilities without being tested, but what’s important is that they spent 14 days there. In an interview on Newstalk ZB this morning, the prime minister said none of the 20,000 people who have been through the quarantine system so far have passed on Covid-19 to anyone outside of quarantine. 

The recent emergence of new cases in managed isolation facilities was partly because there are now double the number of people coming back to the country than there was a month ago, including more flights from “high risk” countries like India, Ardern said. There are currently 4,272 people in managed self isolation or quarantine facilities in New Zealand.

Ardern wouldn’t confirm whether or not there had been a new case at the Novotel Auckland Airport last night, saying “I am always going to leave [the Ministry of] Health to do the reporting on cases.” She said people who are moved from isolation into quarantine facilities could have tested positive or simply be showing symptoms.

Asked about the flight to Christchurch where people at different stages of isolation and from different hotels were relocated together, Ardern said people being put into other facilities were required to be tested first before they’re relocated. Staff number in facilities had been doubled since failings in the system were revealed last week, she said.

7.45am: Updates from today’s edition of The Bulletin

Quarantine and managed isolation facilities are continuing to dominate the news, after a weekend of new developments. The news broke last night on Radio NZ that the Novotel Hotel in Auckland had been put into lockdown, following the discovery of a new case – that means around 300 people are currently confined to their rooms. There isn’t necessarily any reason for alarm for the wider public here, because the case was spotted in a facility. Officials are refusing to comment until today’s 1pm media briefing.

But for those facilities – the single most important mechanism for stopping new Covid-19 outbreaks – the situation is currently very difficult. Right now they’re at capacity, reports the NZ Herald, and several busloads of returning New Zealanders had to be taken to Rotorua to do their isolation there instead. That news didn’t go down very well with some who had to do their isolation outside of Auckland, which is understandable even if the move was necessary. As Radio NZ reports this morning, there are currently more than 4200 people in facilities, and another 900 are expected in the next few days. To reiterate – the vast majority of these people are returning New Zealanders, and according to minister Megan Woods, “there is no legal basis to prevent them from returning home, nor would we.” A review of all facilities will be taking place this week. Meanwhile Radio NZ reports requests for special exemptions to come into the country are on the rise.

It follows a week in which faith in the quarantine facilities was severely tested, and the government made rapid changes in response. The events of the week have been laid out by Justin Giovennetti, who wrote that “the reliability of assurances that the border was safe was shredded within hours of the news that the two women who’d been let out on compassionate grounds had tested positive. Ardern initially blamed an “unacceptable system failure” at the border but then said she’d lost confidence in the system altogether as stories continued to emerge.”

New stories here are still emerging too – One News reporter Kristin Hall had a piece last night about a contact of a confirmed case, who was moved between three different facilities without being tested. Regarding one of the biggest concerns out of last week, we got some numbers on how many people had been released from quarantine without being tested. This Radio NZ story concluded with the detail that “there were about 2400 people who had left a managed isolation facility but had not had a test”. Follow up testing is now taking place for all of them.

And as for new cases over the weekend: There were two others on Sunday announced at the official briefing, but they were both related to the border. As far as we can tell, there still hasn’t been any community transmission for weeks now – long may that particular streak continue.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were two new cases of Covid-19. One is the young child of the couple announced on Saturday as having tested positive; the other is a 59-year-old woman who arrived from Delhi on June 15 and had been in managed isolation. She has now been transferred to quarantine.

Two new managed isolation facilities were activated in Rotorua as a result of capacity being reached Auckland. The move came after Saturday’s last-minute decision not to use the Stamford Plaza Hotel due to contamination concerns.

Defending the about-turn, minister Megan Woods said it was an example of the system working as it should. But Rotorua MP Todd McClay said it was “outrageous” that the passengers were bused into his electorate “under the cover of darkness”.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.

Keep going!