Live updates, February 23: Two new Covid-19 cases, teen and infant, linked to latest case

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 23. All the latest news from New Zealand, updated throughout the day. Reach me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

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The day in sum

Three new cases of Covid-19, in the community, were announced. They were a “casual plus” contact of one of the initial Papatoetoe cases, and two of their siblings.

New child poverty stats show that things are improving, slightly, but that 125,000 children remain in material hardship.

Judith Collins said the woman in managed isolation who is refusing to get a Covid-19 test should have been sent back to Australia.

You’ll soon be able to take sick leave from your very first day in a new job. New leave and pay entitlements are on the way in 2022.

7.25pm: New locations of interest after latest Covid-19 cases

Following this evening’s new Covid-19 cases, the Ministry of Health has released two new locations of interest. 

They are: Kmart in Botany Downs and Dark Vapes in East Tamaki. Anyone who visited these sites at the specified times is considered a “casual plus” contact and should remain isolated at home.

(Image : MOH)

7.00pm: Two new Covid-19 cases, teen and infant, linked to latest case

Two siblings – a teenager and an infant – of today’s positive Covid-19 case have now also tested positive, the Ministry of Health has just announced.

The parents and a third older sibling have returned negative tests. The family has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, the ministry said.

Today’s initial case, a Papatoetoe High School student now known as “Case I”, has not been at school. As reported in today’s 1pm update, Case I is a casual plus contact of the initial case at Papatoetoe High School and had been advised to self-isolate and get tested.

The teenage sibling, known as Case J, recently finished school and has been working at Kmart Botany. Case J was at work on Friday 19 February and Saturday 20 February between 4pm and 10pm. Kmart Botany is now regarded as a location of interest.

“Therefore anyone who was at Kmart Botany, 500 Ti Rakau Drive, Botany Downs, at these times is considered a casual plus contact. If you are a casual plus contact, you are advised to immediately isolate at home and call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice on isolation timeframes and testing requirements,” said the ministry.

Thirty-one staff at Kmart have already been identified as close contacts and are isolating and being provided with public health advice.

Other locations of interest for the three cases are continuing to be investigated and will be notified when available.

The infant, known as Case K, does not have childcare outside the home.

A testing centre was set up at the school early afternoon and 672 tests were done today. Testing will be available again at the school tomorrow. The school community has been requested to return to complete testing if they did not receive it today.

The ministry is advising everyone in a Papatoetoe High School household to stay away from work or any other school, educational facility or community setting (e.g. the supermarket or any other place outside the home). The school remains closed and no students or staff will be able to return until advised by a Medical Officer of Health.

At this point, household members who are not students or staff do not need to be retested, unless they have symptoms or are asked to do so.

A further update – including the latest genome sequencing – will be released tomorrow.

6.45pm: Facebook to restore news in Australia

Facebook has just announced that it will start the process of restoring news to its Australian platform, and allowing Australian publishers’ work to be viewable and shareable worldwide.

This followed a shock announcement early last Thursday that news would be wiped from the platform in Australia, in response to imminent legislation which would have forced it to commit to paying publishers an unknown amount for allowing links to their stories to be shared on Facebook.

Read more: The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive takes a look at what’s gone down.

On The Spinoff: Allen v Farrow finally places Dylan at the centre of her own story

Woody Allen has today denounced the new HBO documentary looking into the years of sexual abuse allegations thrown at him.

The new doco – Allen v Farrow – is streaming now on Neon and our very own Sam Brooks has given his thoughts.

Here’s an extract:

The question of how to engage with art made by problematic people is one that’s never really been resolved. If you cancel the artist, do you cancel the art? How do you resolve your relationship with art that’s so important to you, knowing that the person who made it has done so many gross things? Personally, I believe that you should engage with whatever art you want, but for the love of god, don’t publicly self-flagellate over it. Keep it between you and your own conscience. If it makes you feel bad, interrogate that. If it doesn’t bother you, all power to you. The world keeps turning forward.

A while back, I rewatched Woody Allen’s tremendous Hannah and Her Sisters, featuring a Dianne Wiest performance that remains one of the best to ever win an Academy Award. It’s a film which holds a thorny place in my heart. At the time of my rewatch, it was decades after Dylan Farrow made her first sexual assault allegation against Allen, her adoptive stepfather, after which she had been dragged through and then sceptically interrogated by the media. It was also only a few years since those allegations had reared their head again, around the time Cate Blanchett was winning a mantlepiece’s worth of awards for her performance in Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Still, despite all this uncomfortable knowledge, I watched Allen’s 1986 masterpiece with joy.

After Allen v Farrow, I can definitively say that I will never watch Hannah and Her Sisters again.

Read the full review here

2.35pm: Collins calls for woman refusing Covid-19 test to be deported

Judith Collins said the woman in managed isolation who is refusing to get a Covid-19 test should have been sent back to Australia.

Lucinda Baulch – who will be released from the Grand Mercure today – has spent 28 days in managed isolation after choosing not to get tested for Covid-19. As RNZ reported, the woman flew to the country almost a month ago to deliver three foster children to their caregivers.

The National Party leader told her if the roles were reversed, Baulch would have been sent back to New Zealand immediately.

“If a New Zealander went to Australia and refused to get tested in an MIQ facility, what do you think would happen to them?” Collins said.

“We shouldn’t put up with this behaviour from anybody.”

The Ministry for Business and Innovation have since confirmed the woman will leave MIQ and subsequently file a judicial review proceeding.

1.35pm: Faecal matter unlikely to be cause of Pullman Hotel outbreak

Chris Hipkins has faced questions of a faecal nature at today’s unexpected Covid-19 press conference.

A Ministry of Health report released today is considering whether the recent spread of Covid-19 at the Auckland Pullman hotel could have been caused by “airborne particles generated by bowel movements”. In other words, poo.

As reported by RNZ, the report said because airborne virus can be generated by bowel movements, the ministry wants to check the hotel’s bathroom exhaust fans meet Building Code fresh air standards.

Asked about the report at today’s press conference, Ashley Bloomfield said he believed the faecal particle theory was unlikely.

Chris Hipkins, on the other hand, pulled this face.

1.00pm: New Covid-19 case had not returned to school; students, teachers to be retested

Updated

The new Covid-19 case – a student at Papatoetoe High School – had not returned to the college after last week’s coronavirus outbreak, Chris Hipkins has confirmed.

The school’s students and teachers have now been asked to get retested, along with some of their household contacts.

The new case is a casual plus contact of one of the original cases. “A casual plus contact… is someone who had limited to exposure to the original case, but had been asked to take additional steps to reduce the chance of transmission,” said Hipkins.

There had been multiple attempts by contact tracers to contact the student’s family since last week’s outbreak.

The school has stayed at a heightened state of alert, Hipkins said, and the student had been asked to stay at home and self-isolate before returning to school. Hipkins praised the “outstanding leadership” seen from the school.

Household members are asked to go to the community testing centre rather than to the testing site that is being set up again at the school. The investigation into this case is in its early stage, said Hipkins, and he asked people to give the school some space.

All families of those at the school are being asked to stay isolated until negative results are through, added Ashley Bloomfield.

There are now nine cases associated with the latest cluster. Catching these cases through ongoing testing is a sign the system is working, said Hipkins.

The latest case lives in a household bubble of six people, Bloomfield said, with a sibling who also attends Papatoetoe High and who has also not been at school. Public health staff have been interviewing the student and their family and will provide an update if there are any locations of interest.

Bloomfield acknowledged the school community would be feeling “testing and isolation fatigue”. He said new cases in this cluster were expected as the virus “has a long tail”.

Whole genome sequencing is under way, with results expected later today. There’s nothing to suggest this is a new strain, Bloomfield added.

We want to be sure there weren’t some potential cases who returned a negative test originally but in whom the virus developed later and are now back at school, said Bloomfield, hence being asked to be retested.

10 students from the school are being followed up, eight are being tested, the rest have not been contacted.

None of the new case’s family members are symptomatic, said Bloomfield, and there was not yet any news on whether the family had been complying with the request to isolate or not. “It’s not helpful for anyone to pass judgement on what other people are doing,” he added.

Hipkins said it was important the investigation is allowed to take its course. “I’m aware of the reaction these types of cases generate on social media and the last thing we want is for people to not come forward for testing because they don’t want to be subjected to that.”

Asked about whether this new case could have changed the alert level decision announced yesterday, Hipkins said no. “I’m confident that our contact tracing system will be able to do its job,” he said.

The test done yesterday was the first test the student had had, Bloomfield confirmed, despite being previously identified as a casual plus contact. They had muscle aches and pains as opposed to respiratory symptoms, then yesterday reported loss of smell and taste, said Bloomfield.

Asked about previous casual plus contacts outside the school community, Bloomfield said they do not need to seek a test. “At the moment, we are focused on the school community,” he said. The vast bulk of people from the school have been tested, and the precondition for returning to school is having had a negative test, confirmed Hipkins.

Meanwhile, there were also five cases in managed isolation today, taking the total number of active cases to 60. Yesterday, 4,123 tests were processed, with a seven day rolling average of 10,096 tests.

In reference to a Ministry of Health report into the Pullman hotel outbreak, Bloomfield didn’t believe virus particles being shed in faecal matter was a likely route of infection.

12.50pm: Hipkins, Bloomfield to reveal new details on unexpected Covid-19 case

There’s a new community case of Covid-19 linked to the recent Auckland outbreak. Few details are known at this stage, but the latest case is a “casual plus” contact of a recent confirmed case.

In a post on Facebook, Papatoetoe High School confirmed the new case has links to the college.

(Image : Facebook)

“This student has not been at school this week. We will begin re-testing of staff and students before they leave school this afternoon. More information will be emailed this afternoon around additional testing of households.”

Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are about to give an unplanned press conference to reveal all the latest information.

Watch below:

12.25pm: So, what’s a ‘casual plus’ contact??

We now know that a “casual plus” contact from the recent Covid-19 outbreak has tested positive for the coronavirus. But, what exactly does that mean?

According to the Ministry of Health, a casual plus contact is some who has had exposure to a case, but who hasn’t had direct contact with a confirmed case.

To be casual plus as opposed to just casual, contact must have occurred when there was “higher risk for transmission/spread, including variant cases”.

The ministry advises casual plus contacts to:

  • Get a test around day five after last exposure and stay at home until negative test result is received;
  • Self-monitor for Covid-19 symptoms for 14 days;
  • If symptoms develop, get a test immediately and stay at home until negative test result is received.

The ministry said the newest case “had been advised to self-isolate and get tested”, although it’s not yet known whether they did this.

11.55am: New community Covid-19 case; 1pm press conference announced

There’s a new community case of Covid-19 in Auckland, the Ministry of Health has announced. The individual is a “casual plus” contact who had been advised to self-isolate and get tested. It is not yet clear whether they followed that instruction.

No further information on the case has been announced at this stage.

“We are working actively with Auckland Regional Public Health staff on next steps and will release further information at a 1pm media conference at parliament,” the ministry said in a statement.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins will front the presser alongside director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

As always, we’ll bring you that news conference live at 1pm. Stay tuned!

11.45am: Almost 50 people referred to police over double voting

The police have been referred 48 people over claims they voted more than once in last year’s general election.

According to Newshub, the Electoral Commission passed the details over to police. It is, of course, an offence to vote more than once in an election.

“As these matters are now with the police, the Electoral Commission will not be commenting further,” a statement said.

“There were 37 referrals for dual voting after the 2017 general election, 126 after the 2014 general election, and 63 after the 2011 general election.”

11.00am: Child poverty stats improve, but still 125,000 in material hardship

More than 125,000 New Zealand children are living in households in material hardship, according to the latest child poverty statistics.

That figure – representing 11% of children – is a drop from the 13.2% recorded in the year ending June 2019.

Māori, Pasifika and households with disabled children are also more than twice as likely to be experiencing poverty compared to Pākehā, according to Stats NZ.

The annual measure only takes into account the nine months to March 2020 – with the Covid-19 lockdown preventing accurate data records.

Child poverty has been a core issue for Jacinda Ardern during her tenure as prime minister, with the opposition often pointing out the down trending stats.

In a statement, Ardern said government action had reduced child poverty against all nine official measures.

“Today’s numbers demonstrate our actions to reduce child poverty are making a real difference in children’s lives, and they are a promising indication our goal of halving child poverty within 10 years is on track,” the prime minister said.

Of the three primary measures for recording child poverty, two have decreased in the year to March 2020. One, however, has risen by more than one percent. The percentage of children living in households with less than 50% of the median equivalised disposable household income before deducting housing costs has shifted up to 14.6%, Stats NZ said.

As the figures don’t include the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns, it’s hard to know how accurate they still are. Ardern said the raft of post-Covid changes will have made a difference.

“These numbers don’t yet include the impact of the raft of changes we have made to support children living in poverty since the start of Covid; including the $25 benefit increase, indexation of benefits to average wage increases, doubling the winter energy payment last year and increases to abatement rates. All these actions will further reduce child poverty,” said Ardern.

“We know that there is more work to do, but we estimate over 100,000 households with children are on average over $100 a week better off as a result the full range of changes the government has made to date.”

9.30am: Experts propose seven-tier alert level system

Auckland has joined the rest of the country in alert level one overnight after a week of Covid-19 restrictions following the Valentine’s Day cluster.

Now, some of our country’s top epidemiologists have proposed changing the alert level system to factor in things like mask use and regional restrictions.

Michael Baker – who is behind the alternative system along with professor Nick Wilson and Dr Amanda Kvalsvig – told Stuff the current system lacked clear and consistent guidelines around “in-between” levels.

In-between levels such as 2.5 need to be built into the system, Baker said, as does guidance around mask use. People were often confused about when they were necessary, he claimed, saying “it creates conflict and uncertainty”.

Current border response ‘highly problematic’

Professor Nick Wilson said our current border response is putting the country at risk.

Speaking to the Herald, Wilson – one of those behind the proposed seven-tier system – said the current response was “highly problematic”.

“The failure rate is just so unsustainably high, with now 11 border failures since last August,” he said.

The tap should be turned down on the number of returnees, he said, “so we have time to get our act together at the border”.

7.50am: Changes to leave entitlements on the way

You’ll soon be able to take sick leave from your very first day in a new job.

The government’s announced it has accepted all of the recommendations made by the Holidays Act Taskforce, established to have a look at the way our current leave and pay entitlements operate.

Workplace relations minister Michael Wood said employers have found the current legislative requirements “hard to administer”, which has meant costly fixes and employees missing out on their entitlements.

“The changes put forward by the Holidays Act Taskforce will make it easier to calculate entitlements and pay, giving employees and employers certainty and transparency. Business and union representatives reached consensus on these changes and we are delivering on our election commitment to implement them,” Wood said.

Speaking on RNZ, Wood said the existing Act is just too complicated. “The government’s acceptance of [the Taskforce report] should be the end to years of confusion, underpayment and costly settlements,” Wood said. “There have been around a quarter of a billion dollars worth of settlements across the private and public sectors because the rules were too complicated.”

These changes, Wood said, would cope with “the range of situations that happen in the modern workplace”, such as weekend work and shifts.

Wood called the parental leave change – where parents returning to work will be paid their full rate – a “win all around”.

The changes recommended include:

  • Entitling eligible employees to bereavement leave and family violence leave from their first day of employment;
  • Giving eligible employees one day’s sick leave from their first day of employment, with an additional day given per month until the minimum entitlement is reached;
  • Extending bereavement leave to include more family members, including cultural family groups and more modern family structures;
  • Removing the current parental leave “override” to address discrimination against parents who take time off to care for their young children. Removing this provision will mean that employees returning to work following parental leave will be paid at their full rate for annual holidays
  • Requiring payslips, so employees know what their used and remaining leave entitlements are, and how these were calculated.

Wood said there are “complexities” in any system involving leave, but he is confident these changes will work – and be better. Legislation will be introduced early next year, said Wood.

7.30am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Auckland is back to level one again today, after a very brief lockdown relative to the others. As our live updates reports, it follows a solitary new community case which has been contained and is linked to the existing cluster. There is still no source for the original outbreak, but health officials clearly feel they have a handle on it.

The approach represents something a bit different in the fight against Covid-19, in that it has been less overtly cautious. That theme has been picked out by several journalists and commentators, and perhaps gives an indication of what future lockdowns look like – if they happen at all. There was an insightful piece from Marc Daalder at Newsroom on this, who noted that it represented a higher degree of risk being taken on. Writing in the (paywalled) NZ Herald, economically liberal commentator Matthew Hooton gave praise to the “maturity” of the government in making the call last week – and it’s fair to say he doesn’t often have much good to say about how the government handles itself.

The short and sharp lockdown could also have an impact on other policies.Politik reports that the new mood has raised the prospect of a trans-Tasman bubble being put in place, which would massively free up capacity in managed isolation. That may not be a popular policy though – new Stickybeak polling shows the closed border policy continues to be overwhelmingly supported by the public.

Even so, things won’t go back to being exactly the same before this outbreak. Masks will now be required on public transport nationwide – regardless of alert level. Businesses will also still be required to display a QR code. It all feels like another step in the long process of tightening up public behaviour, so that blunter tools like lockdowns don’t become so necessary.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here




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