Live updates, August 30: Ardern ‘incredibly angry’ over mistaken call for South and West Auckland testing

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 30, 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 catherine@thespinoff.co.nz

7.15pm: The day in sum

New Zealand recorded two new cases of Covid-19, both linked to the Auckland cluster

Auckland is set to move to level two – or what some officials are callling “level 2.5” – at midnight

Two University of Otago public health experts made separate calls for masks in all indoor public spaces to be made compulsory.

One of them, Michael Baker, also said that all Auckland secondary students should be wearing masks at school.

The prime minister said she was “incredibly angry” about a mistake that saw the Unite Against Covid-19 publish misinformation that claimed everyone in south and west Auckland should get tested.

4.00pm: Major increase in opposition to cannabis legalisation – poll

A new poll suggests a big jump in opposition to cannabis legalisation, with 46% against the proposed law – up from 33% in the same poll in March.

The same Research New Zealand poll found 39% are in favour, compared to 43% in March.

Research NZ partner Emanuel Kalafatelis told RNZ today that it was “a really big change, and most of the people who have now moved into the ‘not-in-favour’ camp have come from the group who were sitting on the fence.”

Research NZ also polled the End of Life Choice bill, and found support for that law change has dropped as well, though a significant majority are still in favour. Of those polled, 62% were in favour of legalised euthanasia, an eight point drop since December 2019, when the company last polled the public on the question.

1.05pm: Two new cases of Covid-19, PM ‘incredibly angry’ about call for all South and West Aucklanders to be tested

Updated

There are two new cases of Covid-19 today, both related to the Auckland cluster. One case is in Auckland and the other is a health care worker in Tokoroa.

The person in Tokoroa had originally tested negative, but tested positive after developing symptoms. The medical centre the person works at has been closed.

There are now 138 people linked to the new cluster who have been transferred to the Jet Park quarantine facility. That includes 86 people who have tested positive and their household contacts.

There are 10 people in hospital and two in ICU.

Two previous cases are reported recovered. So the active cases remains at 137; 20 of those are imported and 117 community cases.

10,487 tests were processed yesterday.

Jacinda Ardern on the move to level two in Auckland

The source of the cluster in Auckland remains unknown, said Ardern, but they were highly confident that the cluster was all linked together, with the sole exception of the Rydges case. She added: “We did anticipate being in level two while having to stamp out a cluster like this one.”

The “most important message”, she said, was: “Our system is good. It is designed to keep us on track with our elimination strategy at level two in the scenario we now have. But it will only work if people follow the guidance.” It was critical, she said, that complacency was not allowed to creep in. Holding a map of the Auckland region that showed where cases have been detected, she said: “There is no corner that has been untouched by this cluster. That’s why the rules are for everyone … no matter where in Auckland you are.”

As of midnight, Auckland goes into “what I’m going to call level 2.5”, she said. The main differences with the previous alert level two settings are mandatory mask wearing on public transport and restrictions on group gatherings to a maximum of 10.

Mask use is urged elsewhere. “I will not rule out mandating their use in the future if we see people failing to use them as we are encouraging them to now,” said Ardern.

A move back up the alert levels remained but a possibility, said Ardern, “but if everyone plays their part we can stamp out this outbreaks with the measures we are all being asked to follow today”.

Ask for symptom-free South and West Auckland residents to get tested ‘a mistake’

The call by Unite Against Covid-19 for all South and West Aucklanders to get tested was wrong, said Ardern. It was an “oversimplified communication. That is not the ask coming from officials currently”.

“The details were correct. The top line messaging was oversimplified and incorrect. We are not asking every single person in West and South Auckland to get a test – that is not our ask, that is not what we’re encouraging.

“We’re asking people who have cold symptoms, who have flu symptoms, and if they have any connection to the cases we’re currently very focused on, those are the people we want to get tested…. we are not asking over 700,000 New Zealanders to get a test at this point in time.”

The misinformation was shared on Unite Against Covid-19 social media, including its Facebook page and Instagram feed.

The error had made her “incredibly angry”, said Ardern. “We have to be very, very clear in our communication.”

The criteria remained: anyone with symptoms or links to the cluster should get tested.

Ardern said she had spoken to the All of Government group, which oversees Unite Against Covid-19, several hours ago and “asked them to very proactively make sure they were as a team contacting those who were reporting on it to make sure it us utterly clear what the ask is”.

The Spinoff has led with this erroneous information most of the morning and had no contact from authorities to correct or clarify.

As of 1.45pm, the message remains on the Unite Against Covid-19 Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages.

12.40pm: PM to announce case numbers – watch here

Jacinda Ardern will be fronting today’s 1pm media conference where she’ll share the latest case numbers and official updates as Auckland counts down to its move to level two – or “level 2.5”, as many are calling it – at midnight tonight. She will be joined by director of public health Caroline McElnay.

Watch below and, as usual, we’ll have full coverage here on the blog.

11.30am: Government ‘ploughing ahead’ with level two move – Hipkins

Health minister Chris Hipkins has ruled out a last-minute change to plans for Auckland’s move to level two. Speaking to radio station Magic Talk this morning, Hipkins rejected speculation that the ongoing levels of transmission could prevent the city leaving level three at midnight tonight, as scheduled.

“We’re still ploughing ahead with level two today. The key thing for us is looking at that cluster – are all the cases, within the cluster, are they known and identified? The evidence so far is yes, they are.”

He noted that the level two the country will experience from tomorrow will in fact be more like “level 2.5”, including mandatory masking on public transport and limits on social gathering numbers, with lower limits in Auckland.

Hipkins said the case numbers for today are “slightly” lower than yesterday, when there were 13 cases, 11 of them in the community. Today’s case numbers will be announced by the prime minister at a media conference at 1pm today.

11.05am: Experts call for indoor mask mandate

The government should consider introducing compulsory masking for all non-home indoor spaces, not just public transport, say two public health experts. Speaking on RNZ this morning, University of Otago professor Michael Baker said people needed to start wearing masks in “shopping areas, workplaces, secondary schools, restaurants and bars, and waiting rooms” and that the best way to ensure compliance would be for the government to make it mandatory.

Baker’s colleague Nick Wilson, also a professor of public health at Otago, said the current policy of encouraging mask use, but not requiring it, isn’t working. Speaking to TVNZ’s Q&A this morning, he noted that in other western countries with a high level of mask usage “it’s nearly all mandated”.

“So there’s no problem once there is a clear direction. When you see everyone else around you wearing masks it makes it much easier to do.”

Wilson said the government should have introduced rules on masks when the country was in level four in April, so people could get used to wearing them and get their mask supplies in place.

He said public health experts like himself “have been strongly recommending that the Ministry of Health move on masks for about four months now. It will be seen as one of the failings of the government’s response not to have moved on this low cost and highly effective technology.

“Because of the success achieved with the border control and the lockdown there was a sense of complacency, that we didn’t need these other tools. But that was a mistake.”

Baker told RNZ it is important that older children wear masks while at school, noting that in the current Auckland outbreak about 30% of the cases are in people under 20, including children under 10. The World Health Organisation is now recommending mask use for children 12 years and over, he said.

“We know that particularly older children, secondary age, are very good at transmitting this virus. They don’t have many symptoms but they have a very high viral load. So everyone at secondary school, both at school and on school buses, should be wearing masks now to dampen down transmission, in Auckland at least.”

Baker said mask usage would be the vital factor in the success or failure of Auckland’s move to level two, scheduled to take place from midnight tonight. The number of cases still being detected in Auckland  – including cases not detected by contact tracing – is worrying experts like himself, he said, noting that the relatively significant level of transmission still occurring in the community suggests that cases “may start to track up over the next few weeks” if controls are loosened tomorrow.

“So it does raise the question of what else must we do to dampen down transmission at this point. And some of us are talking about immediately requiring mask use in all indoor environments because we don’t have many other interventions we can throw at this virus at the moment.”

9.00am: Government calls for all South and West Aucklanders to be tested

Important update: This information was promoted in error by authorities, leaving Jacinda Ardern “incredibly angry”. Please refer 1pm entry for more information.

The government has called on all people who live in South or West Auckland to be tested for Covid-19, even if they’re experiencing no symptoms.

“If you’re in South or West Auckland, or if you have a greater risk of poor health outcomes if you were to get Covid-19, even if you don’t have symptoms, please have a test,” the post reads.

While the Unite Against Covid-19 Facebook page has made the call a number of times over the past few days, yesterday’s post appears to have caught the attention of more people than usual. The post has attracted more than 1400 comments so far, with many commenters expressing frustration and confusion over the directive.

“Hold on? Last week you said if you have no symptoms DON’T get a test. Now you’re saying if you don’t have symptoms you should get a test? Is this some kind of joke? Do the rules of the virus change when it’s convenient to you guys?” read one comment.

8am: Yesterday’s key stories

There were 13 new cases of Covid-19 – 11 in the community, two in managed isolation.

Six of the new community cases are associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Church.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw apologised to members for signing-off on funding for a private school.

A protest fuelled by conspiracy theories around Covid-19, the UN and vaccination took place in Auckland’s CBD.

Former MPs Ross Meurant and Don Brash are among a group that has set up a company to bring Russian-made vaccine Sputnik V to New Zealand.

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



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