Live updates, August 22: Six new cases of Covid-19; two more Auckland Countdowns close for cleaning

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 21, 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 aliceneville@thespinoff.co.nz

6.00pm: The day in sum

There were six new cases of Covid-19, all in the community. Four were connected to the existing cluster, with two under investigation.

Nine people are in hospital with Covid-19, including three requiring intensive care.

Around 50 anti-lockdown protesters gathered in Auckland’s Aotea Square.

Seventy NZ Post workers went into self-isolation after two of their colleagues tested positive for Covid-19.

A week since the policy was introduced, 40 people wishing to return home have been exempted from managed isolation fees.

The director general of the World Health Organisation issued a warning to countries experiencing fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 after long periods with no cases.

5.45pm: Labour’s ‘Ashley Bloomfield’ ad scandalous – Seymour

Act leader David Seymour says an ad the Labour Party has posted on Facebook featuring a brief appearance by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield is “scandalous”, reports the Herald.

The ad shows the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, visiting ESR and the national contact tracing centre.

“To even think it might be OK to go and use a government department to shoot a political ad is just extraordinary,” Seymour said. “One of the hallmarks of a democracy is you don’t get to use the power of government for your own re-election.”

5.30pm: Two west Auckland Countdown stores close after shopper tests positive

Two west Auckland supermarkets have been shut for cleaning after being visited by a person who later tested positive for Covid-19. The same person visited Countdown in Te Atatū South on August 12 between 3pm and 4pm, and Countdown in LynnMall on August 16 between 4pm and 5pm and again on August 17 between 6.30pm and 7.30pm, said Countdown general manager of health and safety Kiri Hannifin. The stores closed just after 4pm.

“The Ministry of Health has advised us that these visits are deemed low risk and casual contact exposures,” Hannifin said in a statement.

5.20pm: Victoria’s Covid-19 cases continue slow trend downwards

Victoria recorded 182 new coronavirus cases and 13 deaths today, the second day in a row of case numbers dropping below 200. Before yesterday, the last time the Australian state had seen cases in the 100s was July 13.

The state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said Victoria is on track to hit fewer than 150 cases per day next week, adding that the trend downwards was reflected in a stabilisation of hospital figures too.

1.45pm: Auckland Business Chamber rallies against further lockdowns

Nearly one in five businesses that responded to an Auckland Business Chamber survey said another lockdown would be the end of them, while a further 28% said they could survive only one more. 

“Lockdowns this severe are not sustainable, they are telling us,” said Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett in a press release. “The effect reverberates beyond the region but across New Zealand stifling attempts at economic revival and recovery.”

According to the press release, many of the businesses that responded called for a grant to help with cash flow. On Newshub Nation this morning, finance minister Grant Robertson said cash-flow grants were not being considered. 

“Shutdowns and blanket bans on certain sorts of enterprise are not the answer,” said Barnett. “Business must be allowed to operate and manage their own bubbles with a safe operating plan.”

The Takapuna Business Association, meanwhile, is calling for a move to “level 1.5”, which the director general had pointed to as an option earlier in the week. “As it stands, level two would still present crippling barriers to many Auckland businesses and consumers,” said the association’s chief executive, Terence Harpur.

“Stepping down to the next alert level must safeguard the general public, but it also has to support our SMEs which are the lifeblood of our town centre and achieving an open economy,” he said.

1.10pm: Six new cases in the community

There are six new confirmed cases of Covid-19 to report in the community in New Zealand today, according to the Ministry of Health.

Four are epidemiologically linked to the cluster in Auckland, two being household contacts and two church contacts. The other two cases remain under investigation. The six new cases bring the total number of confirmed cases to 1,321, 111 of which are active. Sixteen of those active cases are from managed isolation facilities, while the rest are in the community.

There are now nine people with Covid-19 in hospital – two in Auckland City Hospital, four people in Middlemore, two people in North Shore Hospital and one person in Waikato Hospital. Six people are stable on a ward, and three people in Middlemore are in ICU. All of the cases who are in hospital are isolated and carefully managed separately from other patients, says the ministry.

There are now 145 people linked to the cluster who have been moved into the Auckland quarantine facility, comprising 75 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts, says the ministry.

As of this morning, 2,060 close contacts had been identified, 2,004 of whom have been contacted and are self-isolating. The Ministry of Health is in the process of contacting the rest.

For the period August 13-19, the ministry says 84% of close contacts were contacted and isolated within 48 hours of the case being notified to the local PHU.

Laboratories processed 12,256 tests for Covid-19 yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 685,476.

More than 10,000 applications for exemptions from the regulations around entering and leaving Auckland have been received. These applications are being assigned to teams for processing as soon as they come in – to date the team has approved more than 1,400 applications and declined around 300.

Urgent exemptions, for example, to visit a dying relative, are prioritised and dealt with promptly, says the ministry.

12.45pm: Case numbers to be updated, no media conference

There are no 1pm Covid-19 media conferences scheduled this weekend, so the latest case information will be conveyed via press release. It’s due to land around 1pm and we’ll bring you all the details here.

If you’re missing Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s dulcet tones, here’s something we prepared earlier:

12.25pm: Anti-lockdown protesters gather in Auckland

Around 50 people are protesting against Covid restrictions in Auckland’s Aotea Square, reports the Herald.

Very few are wearing masks, and they’re carrying signs reading “Stand up for freedom, we will not be silenced” and “Freedom’s Rights Denied NZ Govt”.

Auckland City Police inspector Scott Gemmell told the Herald police were aware of the planned protest. One masked and gloved officer is present, according to the report.

10.50am: 70 NZ Post workers in self-isolation

Staff who worked the day shift at an Auckland parcel-processing centre are self-isolating after two of their colleagues tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement, NZ Post chief operating officer Mark Stewart said staff at the processing centre in Highbrook will be stood down on full pay. “Following advice from health officials late last night our 70 people on the processing day shift are now in self-isolation until Saturday 29 August. This is for the remainder of the two week incubation period from when the last infectious staff member was on site, which was Friday 14 August.”

More than 300 people at NZ Post’s Auckland Operations Centre have been tested since the two positive tests. There have been no further positive results, although Stewart said two people were unwell.

A second deep clean of the facility is being undertaken today.

10.15am: Reti pressed on National’s border policy, advocates postcode lockdowns

National’s health spokesperson has doubled down on leader Judith Collins’ refusal to reveal which epidemiologists the party worked with on its new border policy.

Appearing on Newshub Nation, Shane Reti said the party has “deep relationships through the academic and science community”, but said it was up to the scientists National worked with to reveal themselves. “We’re grateful for those networks of trust and those relationships. If they want to identify themselves, they will.”

Pushed by host Simon Shepherd, who suggested that for the sake of transparency and credibility, it would be better for New Zealanders to know with whom the party worked, Reti said, “I think the policy should stand on its own merits. We trust New Zealanders to understand common sense.”

On the party’s policy that would require New Zealanders to present a negative Covid test before being allowed to fly home, Reti said legislative change may be required to implement it. “We’re not concerned at this point that we’re breaching any legislation that would disable the policy,” he said, adding, “It may need legislative adjustments.”

Reti denied the policy may result in New Zealanders being left sick and stranded overseas, as the Green Party has suggested, saying “most people are coming from Australia”. But he conceded people in more “far-flung countries” may have trouble securing tests within 72 hours of boarding a flight home.

Reti also said National believed the current Auckland lockdown could have been “finessed”. The current community outbreak has cases spread from Tokoroa in the Waikato to Torbay on Auckland’s North Shore, and the entire Auckland region is under level three restrictions, but Reti said a location-based lockdown could have focused on “pockets of concern”. “I think we could be more sophisticated,” he added.

9.15am: One week in, 40 have been exempted from managed isolation fee

Just over a week into some arrivals to the country being required to pay for managed isolation, 40 people wishing to return home have been exempted, reports RNZ.

Any New Zealander coming into the country for less than 90 days, or who leaves after the regulations came into force, is now required to pay the roughly $3000 fee.

A managed isolation and quarantine spokesperson said the 40 are among 78 New Zealanders who have asked for exemptions. So far one has been denied and a further 37 are still being processed. Waivers are given on a case-by-case basis, for a range of special circumstances. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is receiving up to 60 calls a day from people asking about the managed isolation fee and waiver process.

8.45am: Siouxsie & Toby on contacts, community transmission and clusters

You’d be forgiven for feeling a bit baffled by the many interconnecting threads of New Zealand’s new community Covid-19 outbreak. Fear not: the latest explainer from dream team Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris it is all about contacts (both close and casual), community transmission and clusters.

The below gif is a nifty teaser – check out the full story here.

8.30am: ‘Progress does not mean victory’ – WHO director general

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organisation, has issued a warning to countries experiencing fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 after long periods with no cases.

While not mentioning New Zealand, which recently experienced a new outbreak after 103 days of no transmission, it seems clear Tedros had us in mind.

“Several countries around the world are now experiencing fresh outbreaks after a long period with little or no transmission,” he said in a media briefing overnight. “These countries are a cautionary tale for those that are now seeing a downward trend in cases.

“Progress does not mean victory. The fact remains that most people remain susceptible to this virus,” he continued. “That’s why it’s vital that countries are able to quickly identify and prevent clusters, to prevent community transmission and the possibility of new restrictions. No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine.

“A vaccine will be a vital tool, and we hope that we will have one as soon as possible. But there’s no guarantee that we will, and even if we do have a vaccine, it won’t end the pandemic on its own.

“We must all learn to control and manage this virus using the tools we have now, and to make the adjustments to our daily lives that are needed to keep ourselves and each other safe.”

Tedros also spoke of the inefficacy of lockdowns long term. “So-called lockdowns enabled many countries to suppress transmission and take the pressure off their health systems. But lockdowns are not a long-term solution for any country. We do not need to choose between lives and livelihoods, or between health and the economy. That’s a false choice.”

You can listen to his comments in full below, with the relevant section beginning at about 5:50.

8.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

Jacinda Ardern confirmed cabinet will be reconvening on Monday to decide whether or not Auckland will be shifting out of alert level three, which won’t be happening before midnight Wednesday.

There were 11 new cases of Covid-19, nine in the community and two at the border.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield revealed an earlier confirmed case was connected to the cluster, possibly having caught the virus on the bus.

Reserve Bank data showed almost 11,000 homeowners were in arrears with their mortgages.

President Trump once again referred to New Zealand’s “massive outbreak”.

The annual suicide statistics were released, in the hope it would end speculation about suicide numbers during lockdown.

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




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