Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/Getty Images)
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/Getty Images)

SocietyJune 23, 2020

Live updates, June 23: Two new cases; air crew and border workers to be tested

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/Getty Images)
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Photo: Kevin Stent – Pool/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

6.30pm: The day in sum

There were two new cases of Covid-19, both men in their 20s and both caught in managed isolation.

Air crew and airport staff will be tested regularly under an enhanced Covid testing strategy. The new regime also allows health providers to offer testing to anyone with possible symptoms, no contact with overseas travel necessary.

The story of a homeless man who allegedly posed as a new arrival in the country and stayed in managed isolation at a five-star hotel in Auckland for two weeks was “probably an urban myth”, said Ashley Bloomfield.

There are now more than 9 million confirmed cases worldwide, with more than 2.2 million of those in the US alone. More than a dozen countries have now crossed the 100,000 case mark.

Jacinda Ardern rejected claims an Ihumātao deal is imminent. Media had reported that a deal was about to be struck, with the land potentially to be acquired under the Housing Act.

4.20pm: Air crew and border-facing workers to be subject to regular testing

The country’s Covid-19 testing regime will be stepped up under a new strategy announced by health minister David Clark this afternoon. The new measures are primarily targetted at air and maritime crew, along with people who work at the border, including those in customs, biosecurity, immigration and aviation security, and airport cleaners. The rules will also affect staff in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, including those who drive people entering the country from the airport to the facilities

The minister also announced an enhanced testing programme through DHBs. Anyone presenting with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 will now be offered testing even if they have no history of international travel or contact with travellers.

3.30pm: Case reporting technique ‘pessimistic’

Epidemiologist Michael Baker has spoken on current case reporting practice, saying it should focus on our elimination status instead of new cases in managed isolation and quarantine.

He told Breakfast that because currently active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand are all at the border and not in the community, reporting them as new cases can make it appear as though we’re not maintaining our elimination status.

“I think the way we report these cases sometimes looks a bit pessimistic,” he said.

“I sometimes think we should say instead we’ve gone for 40 days or 50 days without any local transmission and we’ve maintained our elimination status.”

Read more from TVNZ here.

3.00pm: PM rejects claims an Ihumātao deal is imminent

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said some reports that the government is close to acquiring the South Auckland land of Ihumātao are inaccurate.

“When we have an announcement to make we’ll obviously make it,” she told Newshub. “But it is fair to say that it’s been an issue that obviously we’ve worked on for some time and are still seeking to reach a conclusion.”

Ihumātao was confiscated from local iwi in 1863 by Governor Grey (his statue’s fate TBD) and eventually sold to Fletcher Building. It has been occupied by protesters since 2016 to prevent Fletcher from building on the site, with increased activity in the second half of last year after tension between the land protectors, police, and Fletcher increased. Ardern ordered building on the site to be paused.

In January, land protection group SOUL felt a resolution was close. The government is expected to purchase the land for $30 million under the housing act, which would usually imply the building of new houses. On Q+A last night, SOUL organiser Pania Newton said it was not their intention to build housing on the whenua.

She also spoke of her frustration at the lack of resolution. “I’ve seen, over the process, priority is given to other matters,” she told Q+A. “I am holding [Ardern] to her word that she is going to find a positive resolution for our whenua, and I hope that is to preserve it and have it recognised for its significance.”

2.25pm: Today’s cases, mapped

1.50pm: Today’s cases, charted

1.00pm: Two new cases of Covid-19

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, both detected in managed isolation, the director general of health has announced. Both cases were picked up on day three testing, said Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Both of the new cases are men in their 20s, one of whom arrived in New Zealand from India on June 19 and had been staying in managed isolation at the Pullman hotel. He was symptomatic and has now been moved to the quarantine facility at the Jet Park Hotel. The second man arrived from Los Angeles on June 18 and went straight to the Jet Park Hotel despite not yet showing symptoms, after apparently going with the wrong group. He tested positive after showing respiratory symptoms.

One person who was in isolation in Wellington has recovered, so New Zealand now has 10 active cases, said Bloomfield. The total number of confirmed cases is now 1,165, and only the St Margaret’s rest home cluster remains open. Yesterday, 4,303 tests were processed, bringing the total to 348,822.

Responding to suggestions that all arrivals should be tested at the border in addition to the in-isolation testing at days three and 12, Bloomfield said arrivals were screened for symptoms, rather than tested at the border. This is because by day three of their managed isolation in New Zealand, most are up to about day five of their journey, and testing then is more likely to pick up infection than earlier testing when people may be incubating the virus but not test positive, he said. Testing at day 12 provided extra security against the potential of false negatives and was important for planning for people’s departure from isolation.

Regarding the two sisters who tested positive last week after being allowed out of managed isolation and travelling to Wellington, Bloomfield said health officials were still working to contact three people who were in managed isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie at the same time as the women, out of a total of 190. In addition, two staff remain to be tested. Between June 9 and 16, 2,159 people left other managed isolation facilities having completed their 14 days of isolation, Bloomfield said, and work is ongoing to contact them “as a precaution”.

Bloomfield said New Zealand was one of very few countries that required both 14 days’ mandatory managed isolation and double testing of people arriving in the country from overseas before they are allowed to go out into community

On the story of a homeless man who allegedly posed as a new arrival in the country and stayed in managed isolation at a five-star hotel in Auckland for two weeks, Bloomfield said, “As far as we can tell, this cannot be verified and may well be an urban myth. Sorry to disappoint you there.”

Of the 2,159 people who left managed isolation between June 9 and 16, Bloomfield couldn’t provide details on how many were tested. “Yes, I would like to have that number for you,” he said, but work was still ongoing to figure it out. He said those people posed “a very, very low risk to the community”.

Asked whether the 37 days of no cases with links to overseas being reported was a result of not testing enough, Bloomfield said due to very widespread testing around the country, “if there’d been any infections leaving managed isolation we would have picked them up”. He conceded there may have been some people who had the virus but were asymptomatic, but said we were “celebrating zeros” because “we were very confident there was no infection out in our community”.

12.45pm: Case numbers to be updated – watch live

10.40am: ‘Like people who finally make it to the lifeboat complaining they got wet’

The popular national pastime of berating ungrateful whingers is in full swing at the moment. There’s plenty of distasteful and hysterical haranguing, including from would-be MPs, but there are some stories that read like extended trolls. Such as this in the Herald this morning, which opens with a reference to a returning citizen who “endured” a fortnight at a flash Auckland hotel, and “felt like she was being held ‘hostage'”. And – Blitz spirit everyone – “to add insult to injury she had not received breakfast by 9.42am.”

This might just be the sort of thing economist Rodney Jones was talking about on Q+A last night when he chastised some of the complainants as “like people who finally make it to the lifeboat complaining they got wet.” The speaker of the house of representatives, Trevor Mallard, had a different metaphor: “Give her a cement pill for breakfast so she can harden up.”

But bear in mind, too, that this is not for most of the people involved a holiday: many have been waiting for weeks to try to find a flight home and face a host of unenviable personal circumstances. And let’s not throw the whistleblowers out with the bathwater. As TVNZ reporter Kristin Hall put it yesterday, “returned travellers speaking out about the lack of organisation in these facilities is exactly why rules have been changed, reviews and inspections are being carried out, and there is no community transmission (yet). The ‘you should be grateful’ sentiment helps no one.”

10.10am: Bloomfield presser at 1pm

The second series of Ashley at One continues today, with the director general of health fronting a press conference in Wellington at 1pm. We’ll have all the details here. In the meantime, to put the new cases that are popping up at the border into perspective, please read Siouxsie Wiles’ post this morning.

9.10am: More grim international milestones

The number of cases and deaths worldwide continue to rise at a dizzying pace, according to the reputable Johns Hopkins University tracker.

There are now more than 9 million confirmed cases, with more than 2.2 million of those in the US alone. More than a dozen countries have now crossed the 100,000 case mark.

In Brazil, the situation is particularly severe. There have now been more than 50,000 deaths, and more than a million cases, making it the second worst outbreak in the world in numerical terms behind the US.

Overall, the death toll from Covid-19 is now 470,000, and is showing no sign of slowing down. As always with these figures as well, the true toll could in fact be much higher, but hidden because of accidental and deliberate under-reporting.

8.15am: Flyers could be required to wear PPE

Health minister David Clark told Q+A last night that the government is in talks with Air New Zealand over whether to make PPE compulsory on flights. Currently, crew wear masks, but it is optional for passengers.

As Dr Siouxsie Wiles wrote in May on the move to level two, “the most important thing to remember about surgical and cloth masks is that they will likely stop you shedding some virus if you are infected, but they won’t protect you from becoming infected.”

That potentially has some value for managing the risks of cases being brought in through the border, because if an infected person is on a plane, it would lower the chances of them spreading the virus to others.

7.40am: How managed isolation conditions compare in Australia

The conditions in Australian quarantine hotels are more strict than in New Zealand, according to an illuminating anecdotal report from Melbourne. Tom Crampton, a New Zealander who came home just before lockdown, has since gone back to his regular job over the ditch. He told Radio NZ that under the Australian system, arrivals into the country are confined to their rooms 24/7, with 15 minutes set aside each week for a short walk outside. Meals are delivered to rooms along with any care packages that might get sent in, and there is no cost to Crampton to use the hotel.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Victoria now accounts for 83% of Australia’s new cases. Clusters are largely based around families, though in a few instances staff at quarantine hotels have become infected.

7.10am: What new polling shows about government’s Covid-19 response

A week that saw the government on the back foot in its Covid-19 response, with the prime minister acknowledging failures in the self-isolation and quarantining system and calling in the military to oversee the process, has led to a marked, if hardly cataclysmic, drop in the popular backing for the government response to the pandemic.

The sixth in a series of demographically weighted polls by Stickybeak for The Spinoff conducted over recent months sees overall support for the government response fall just shy of 75%. That’s a drop of 10% from our previous poll, which was completed at the start of last week. Across five previous polls, beginning in late March, the average total backing for the government response was 84%, and this is the first time it has dropped under 80%.

A week ago, we reported 74% of respondents judging the response “excellent”; today that number is 53%.

The survey also asked respondents for their views on fears of a second wave, confidence in the contact tracing system, and whether a travel bubble should be a priority for the government. You can see all the results here.

7.05am: Key stories from today’s edition of The Bulletin:

The Auckland water crisis isn’t getting any better, and the city’s leaders are getting extremely nervous about the coming months. That is clear from the news yesterday that mayor Phil Goff has pitched for an application for water from the Waikato River to be part of the government’s fast-tracked Resource Management Act process. As the NZ Herald’s Bernard Orsman reports, the Waikato-Tainui iwi have objected to that, on the grounds that the project isn’t at all Covid-related, and therefore shouldn’t be part of a targeted Covid scheme. And a second point has been made by Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimington, who says that Auckland delayed far too long to introduce water restrictions, starting them in May compared to Hamilton which had them in place last October. Even if the application were to be approved today, it would still take about a year to get pumping.

How bad is the situation right now? It’s very concerning. Watercare keeps stats on storage dam levels, and at the moment they’re sitting at about 45% full – the average for this time of year is more than 75% full. Total water use is coming down slightly, and there have been some good days of total use coming in under the target – for example yesterday Watercare tweeted that “AKL used 389,601m3 and on Sat the usage was 397,729m3 – both well below our daily target of 410,000m3.” Households can of course do their bit here, and that accounts for more than half of the water used across the city. There are looming concerns though that commercial and industrial water users will start to see much heavier restrictions, which would put thousands of jobs at risk, reports Stuff’s Todd Niall.

And how bad will it get by summer? Unless there is either extremely heavy and prolonged rain, or a massive improvement in water saving, it’s going to be a shocker. Stuff reports that further household savings will be harder to achieve, because there are already bans on outdoor use – wasteful activities like washing the car and the like. That piece describes the chances of severe restrictions this summer as “touch and go”.

What is the long term picture? At the moment the drought is being described as a ‘one in 200 year’ event, but that’s based on normal climate patterns, which are gone forever. The reality is captured in this excellent feature by Radio NZ’s Kate Newton, who has looked at weather projections for the next few decades. It’s going to get much hotter and drier, and currently it’s not at all clear that we’re ready for that.

The government has confirmed that returning New Zealanders are a much higher priority than those needing limited quarantine facilities for economic reasons, reports Interest. The cost at this stage is in the tens of millions of dollars, and in the future returnees may be required to cover some of that for their stay. Despite what you may have seen with some Vision NZ party grandstanding yesterday, the border largely does remain closed. When it comes to returnees, it would not be legal to block New Zealanders from coming home – nor would there be any sound moral case for it. A range of other legal and border measures were announced yesterday, which you can read about in our live blog.

As for new cases, there were two more yesterday, with both people in managed isolation. Dr Siouxsie Wiles has put together an excellent piece outlining why the types of new cases we have seen so far do not give any reason to panic. Yes, some aspects of the quarantine system have been badly managed, and need urgent correction – but just to reiterate the point made in the last few Bulletins, there is still no evidence of renewed community transmission. And that remains a very unusual situation compared to what the rest of the world is going through.

A complaint has been laid with the IPCA over an arrest in which police brutality has been alleged. The incident was captured on video, and Radio NZ has a story about what happened – the established facts are that a man was tagging a wall, before being arrested by several officers who tackled him to the ground, which caused injury. The police allege he “violently resisted” arrest, while the man says he didn’t resist at all. It has sparked debate about the use of force by police over minor crimes, with Manukau barrister Kingi Snelgar arguing that it was concerning and disproportionate.

The chances of New Zealand co-hosting the 2023 Women’s Football World Cup with Australia just got a lot better. The NZ Herald has bounced off the news from Japan that the country has pulled out – of the three bids that were still in play, Japan’s bid was seen as the next best option for FIFA. It seems strange to think about international sporting events happening right now, but by 2023, who knows, we might have sorted some of the problems out. A decision is likely by the end of the week.

7.00am: Yesterday’s key stories

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.

Read yesterday’s live updates here.

Keep going!