Live updates, August 31: Nine more cases of Covid-19, five in community

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for August 31, bringing you the latest on New Zealand news and the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole country is now in alert level two, with extra restrictions in Auckland. Official information here. Contact me at stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7pm: The day in sum

Auckland has moved to join the rest of the country in alert level two, but with some added restrictions.

Face masks are now mandatory on public transport nationwide.

There were nine new cases of Covid-19, including five in the community.

The PM said the public can trust her and the government, despite a communications bungle about testing over the weekend.

The government plans to “modernise” the Earthquake Commission (EQC), and make it more friendly to claimants, following an inquiry.

School repairs and upgrades would be fast-tracked under National’s $4.8 billion education policy.

6.30pm: Collins responds to husband’s anti-Ardern posts

National Party leader Judith Collins has defended her husband, David Wong-Tung, after he reposted a series of Facebook posts mocking Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Stuff reports.

“We’ve been together for 41 years I’ve never been able to get him to do anything I tell him to do,” she said. “It’s not something I would do, but he’s an adult, he makes his own decisions I think he gets sick of people having a go at him and me.”

She added that she didn’t think the posts, which depicted Ardern in a number of off-colour ways, were sexist.

“He’s one of the least sexist men I know, he’s married to me, how could he be sexist?”

“He’s an adult, he’ll make his own decisions and let’s put it this way, I don’t have to answer for him because I haven’t been able to control him in 41 years.

“If you’ve got the secret to how you control a man who is 64 years old, used to play a lot of rugby and was a policeman, good luck and let me know,” she said.

3.45pm: Phil Goff has coffee in coffee face mask he bought at coffee shop

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff has met with prime minister Jacinda Ardern at a suburban cafe this afternoon, on the first day of the supercity’s shift to alert level two.

Jacinda Ardern gesticulates (Photo : Eddy Fifield)

Earlier, Ardern said she believed, from travelling around the city, that Aucklanders were following the latest health advice and wearing face masks in public.

Goff, certainly, has complied thoroughly with the rules – wearing a mask laden with various, niche, coffee varieties. There’s no Coffee Supreme or Mojo in sight on this bespoke face covering.

Phil Goff in his highly caffeinated face covering (Photo : Eddy Fifield)

Goff, responding to a query from The Spinoff, revealed the mask was purchased from Crave Cafe, where the meeting with Ardern took place.

“[Crave Cafe] were selling reusable face masks. They looked a bit smarter than the paper disposable mask I was wearing so I asked the proprietor about them,” Goff said.

“He said his mum made them and at that point what could I say but can I buy one please!”

Too true, Phil.

3.05pm: Victoria Covid-19 death toll surges

Victoria has recorded another 41 deaths from Covid-19 overnight – the highest number of coronavirus fatalities in the Australian state.

There were also 73 new cases reported, taking the total number in Victoria to 4338. Today’s death toll includes 22 people who died in the weeks leading up to August 27 and were reported by aged care facilities yesterday.

A total of 565 people have now died in Victoria alone.

2.00pm: National unveils $4.8b education infrastructure policy

School repairs and upgrades would be fast-tracked under a new National government. The party’s unveiled its education infrastructure policy, which includes $2 billion to develop a “Fix New Zealand Schools Alliance” that will bring together builders, educators, architects and engineers to fast-track school repairs and upgrades.

The announcement has been made in New Plymouth today – the same city, perhaps coincidentally, where you can find the infamous “Green School” that received $11.7 million from the government’s shovel-ready infrastructure fund.

“Many schools need to repair leaky buildings, earthquake strengthen, address mould and dampness issues, modernise, and make health and safety improvements,” National leader Judith Collins said in a statement. “All children should have safe, warm and modern classrooms to learn in. That is why we are committing an extra $2 billion to repair, redevelop and rebuild our schools.”

The alliance will operate over a five year period, and be used to streamline “major repair and redevelopment projects” that cost more than $100,000.

In addition to funding the alliance, National has revealed a 30-year “school growth” plan. The party will commit $2.8 billion over the first decade of this plan, to see about 60 new schools and sufficient new classrooms built at existing schools to meet demand for an extra 100,000 students within a decade.

1.00pm: Five more Auckland community Covid cases on day one of level two

Updated

There are five new community cases linked to the Auckland community on the first day of the city’s move to alert level two, deputy director general of health Robyn Shearer confirmed. All have clear epidemiological links to the existing cluster. “Three cases are linked to the Mount Roskill evangelical church,” Shearer said. “The other two cases are both household cases of two separate, previously reported cases.”

There are also four new imported, Shearer said, taking today’s total new cases to nine. These cases are a woman in her 20s, a woman in her 30s and a child who arrived from India on August 22 and tested negative on their day three tests. They were retested as they were contacts of previously reported cases and subsequently returned positive results.

The fourth imported case today is a woman in her 30s who arrived from India on August 27.

2,621 close contacts of current cases have been identified, of which 2,505 have been contacted and self-isolated, said Shearer. As of this morning, 28 close contacts of the Tokoroa health professional who tested positive have been identified and 16 of them have been contacted.

128 people linked to the community cluster have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, including 85 who have tested positive and their contacts.

There are 11 people in hospital with Covid-19, two in Auckland City, three in Middlemore, three in North Shore, two in Waikato and one in Christchurch. Nine are on a ward and two are in ICU at Middlemore and Waikato.

There are 15 previously reported cases who have recovered, bringing the total number of active cases to 131 – 24 of which are imported cases, and 107 from the community. The total number of confirmed cases is 1,387.

Health minister Chris Hipkins said contact tracing, and using the Covid tracer app, remain important as the alert levels lower. People without smart phones should be manually recording their movements, Hipkins said. The next update to the app is expected to be released on Thursday. It will allow people to save their national health number into the app, to help speed up the contact tracing process. People will also be able to edit their diary entries, even if they came from QR codes.

Anecdotally, Auckland Transport is seeing nine out of every 10 passengers on public transport wearing a mask, said Hipkins. Anyone who has symptoms, or who has a connection to a known cluster or location of interest, should contact Healthline or their GP, Hipkins said, or seek a Covid-19 test. Around 50% of people on Auckland streets are also wearing masks, he said.

On Friday, the display of QR codes will be mandatory on public transport, said Hipkins. The number of app scans each day is now averaging 1.6 million.

Incorrect information on Ministry website a ‘miscommunication’ – Hipkins

Chris Hipkins said people can trust the information published on the Ministry of Health website, despite incorrect information about testing being available online for three days. The information asked all South and West Aucklanders to get a Covid-19 test, even if they had no symptoms.

Hipkins said this was a “miscommunication” and that “there were some issues that were lost in translation”.

“I’m confident they’ve been addressed and there’s been some reflection on how that came to be in the first place to ensure that those sorts of misunderstandings don’t happen again.” He said he first learnt of the mistake sometime yesterday morning, despite it not being corrected until the prime minister’s 1pm press conference.

“A relatively long set of guidance around who should be tested was translated into a couple of sentences that was put into a social media ad and I think a lot of work has gone into how that information could have been clearer,” he said.

Responsibility for the mishap was accepted by the government, Hipkins said, however he did not believe the messaging was run past the government. “I clearly accept responsibility… as does the prime minister, but I do want to point out that neither of us saw these communications before they went out,” he said.

Any added pressure on the testing system as a result of the misinformation was short-lived, Hipkins said, despite some media reports of panic. “There was a bit of a flurry of activity around a couple of testing sites in the morning and that had faded away by the afternoon.”

‘Get your kids back to school’

Chris Hipkins, who is also education minister, has issued a strong directive to parents anxious about Covid-19. There have been reports that some parents have chosen to keep their children in Auckland at home today, despite the move down to alert level two.

“I understand parents’ anxiety but our message is do get your kids back to school, their futures depend on it,” Hipkins said.

He said he was in conversation with the Ministry of Education and schools about what extra support could be provided for students facing NCEA exams.

Mount Roskill ‘sub-cluster’ still not linked to main cluster

The Mount Roskill sub-cluster is yet to be epidemiologically linked to the main Auckland cluster, said Hipkins, but contact tracing teams “are working their way through potential scenarios”. Three of today’s new cases are linked to the Mount Roskill evangelical church.

Asked whether claims that church groups in the suburb had met after the level three restrictions were imposed in Auckland, Hipkins said, “I don’t have anything to say on the potential meetings that may have occurred at this point”, but contact tracing teams were investigating.

12.45pm: Ministry to update new Covid cases on day one of Auckland level two

Ashley Bloomfield is still MIA today, but the 1pm Covid-19 briefing must go on. Health minister Chris Hipkins and the deputy director general of health Robyn Shearer will be providing today’s update.

Today marks the first day for Auckland in alert level two. Yesterday, there were just two new cases of Covid-19.

Watch live:

12.30pm: Government to ‘modernise’ EQC, following inquiry into Canterbury quakes

The government plans to “modernise” the Earthquake Commission (EQC), and make it more friendly to claimants, following an inquiry undertaken by Dame Silvia Cartwright. The inquiry, released earlier this year after commencing in late 2018, was established to make recommendations to improve the commission’s readiness to respond to future events.

The minister responsible for the EQC, Grant Robertson, said the commission was “not prepared” for the 469,431 claims it received following the Canterbury earthquakes. This week marks a decade since the first quake.

“There was also no plan for a managed repair programme, yet EQC was asked to implement one, while also processing claims,” Robertson said.

“We expect to introduce legislation in the middle of next year to modernise the EQC Act. The new act will respond to many recommendations in the inquiry’s report, providing certainty for claimants and agencies involved in responding to natural disaster.”

The government intends to accept, accept in principle, or consider further, all recommendations of the inquiry.

The minister for greater Christchurch regeneration, Megan Woods, said: “EQC has already made a number of changes to their operations, including introducing case managers and are committed to becoming a more claimant centred organisation, but Dame Silvia has identified other areas for improvement which will also be implemented.”

11.50am: Public can ‘absolutely’ trust government, despite comms bungle – Ardern

The prime minister has moved to reassure the public they can trust her, following a communications bungle regarding Covid-19 testing over the weekend.

The official Covid-19 social media accounts, along with the Ministry of Health website, had asked all West and South Aucklanders to get tested for the virus this weekend. That went against official advice, which only asked those with symptoms or links to known clusters to seek out a test.

Speaking to media in Māngere today, Jacinda Ardern said the public can “absolutely” trust her and the government.

“What we’ve said has been utterly consistent,” Ardern said. If the government was going to ask hundreds of thousands of people to get tested, it wouldn’t be posted to Twitter or Instagram, Ardern said – or even the Ministry of Health website. “That is something we would communicate directly,” she said.

Ardern defended the time it took to fix the incorrect messaging, saying the government moved “very quickly”. That’s despite the fact it was on the Ministry of Health website for three days, and was widely reported in the media through until yesterday. The information was not fixed until Sunday’s 1pm health briefing.

Meanwhile, Ardern said she believed Aucklanders were heeding advice on mask wearing, in the first day of alert level two.

“From the trips I’ve made across town… the usage has been high,” she said. “Auckland has been going through a particularly hard period… treat [Aucklanders] with the thanks and the care that they do deserve.”

A review of the current alert levels will take place before the end of this weekend, Ardern said, but new cases of Covid-19 will be discovered throughout the week. “We know it’s going to have a tail,” she said. When pushed on whether it was possible Auckland could stay at level two while the rest of the country drops down to level one, Ardern wouldn’t rule anything out.

11.00am: Man charged with threatening to kill Mike Hosking

A man’s appeared in court this morning, charged with threatening to kill Newstalk ZB broadcaster Mike Hosking.

Sinapati Tuugasala faces one charge of threatening to kill Hosking on August 26. According to the Herald, he appeared briefly in the Manukau District Court today.

A spokesperson for NZME – owner of Newstalk ZB – said the matter was subject to court proceedings and therefore the company would not make any public comments on the incident.

9.40am: Incorrect Covid-19 information caused panic, says local councillor

A councillor in South Auckland has described the impact of the Covid-19 comms debacle on the local community.

Over the weekend, the official Covid-19 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts asked all South and West Aucklanders to get tested for Covid-19 – even if they were asymptomatic.

Manukau ward councillor Efeso Collins told Newshub the misleading information caused chaos in his community.

“I’ve been fielding calls all day… from people who are scared, who are anxious,” he said.

“When I saw the actual message myself I couldn’t believe they’d put on our official Covid-19 website a message asking for three-quarters of a million people to go and get tested.”

Collins said at first he hadn’t seen the posts online, but when he finally did he was alarmed.

“Are we in danger? … There were only 12 or 14 words in that tweet [and] it just made people worried.”

Jacinda Ardern has apologised for the botch-up, saying there was “no excuse” for the mistake. However, it took her until yesterday’s 1pm media briefing to clear up the miscommunication. By that stage, there were already reports of huge queues at Auckland testing stations.

8.30am: Worldwide Covid cases top 25 million

As New Zealand enters its “new, new normal”, in alert level two, this morning, worldwide cases of Covid-19 have ticked over 25 million, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Global deaths have now exceeded 843,000, while more than 16.4 million have recovered.

According to the university, the US, Mexico and Brazil represent more than 40% of the global death toll.

8.00am: Auckland Airport packed as city leaves level three

With the shift down to alert level two overnight, there are reports online of Aucklanders trying to flee the city now domestic travel is permitted.

Photos posted to Twitter show Auckland Airport’s domestic terminal packed.

At alert level two, masks are still mandatory on all public transport (including planes) and physical distancing measures remain in place.

7.50am: ‘No excuse’ for incorrect Covid-19 social media posts – Ardern

The prime minister has continued to express her anger and disappointment this morning over a series of misleading posts on Facebook and Instagram from the official Covid-response page asking all South and West Aucklanders to get a test, even if they had no symptoms.

Jacinda Ardern told Newstalk ZB she was “angry [and] frustrated” when she learned about the incorrect information being shared.

“It was a mistake, I fully acknowledge that,” she said. Ardern said she was informed about the mistake around 10am yesterday, and yet it was not rectified until after the 1pm media briefing.

“The issue here is that in simplifying some of the messages they have shared incorrect messages. No excuse for that. It caused anxiety for people and for that I apologise. No wants to see people afraid. No one wanted to see people unnecessarily lining up,” she said.

“If we wanted over 700,000 people to get a test we wouldn’t just leave it to an Instagram or Twitter post. That would be something we would be sharing openly from the podium.”

Despite the shift to alert level two, Ardern told RNZ there will continue to be more cases of Covid-19: “our system is designed to be able to manage cases within a level ‘2.5’ environment – we do have very good systems.” However, Ardern reminded people to wear masks and maintain physical distancing.

“If we all play our role, then we are able to continue to manage the cases that we do have.”

Good morning

Good morning live updates readers. If you’re in Auckland, welcome to what’s being unofficially called alert level “2.5”. You can find official information about what this means on the Covid-19 website here. Remember, if you’re in Auckland, mass gathering restrictions are still in place along with physical distancing.

Also, a reminder that masks or face coverings are now mandatory on public transport wherever you are in the country.

As always, we’ll bring you all the latest Covid-19 news as it happens, right here and across The Spinoff. You can keep in touch by emailing me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Ready or not, the country’s largest city is as of this morning at alert level two. It’s fair enough to ask whether it is the right call – though of course the complexity of such a decision also needs to be carefully considered, because while it might be the right call on some measures, it might be the wrong call on others.

First of all – what helped the government make the decision last time the country went from alert level three to two? According to the original alert level setting, “limited community transmission” wouldn’t necessarily stop us being at level two, nor would active clusters. It’s fair to say that those two criteria can be applied to the current situation, even if it is open to interpretation. But even so, the NZ Herald reports some experts say the move is premature, including the likes of Shaun Hendy and Michael Baker, who have been instrumental in the response to date. As PM Jacinda Ardern put it, the city is really moving more towards alert level 2.5,reports Radio NZ. That means those who can work from home are encouraged to do so, in particular. It will also mean that gatherings (apart from funerals and tangihanga) will be restricted to 10 people.

It’s worth noting that testing volumes and contact tracing systems have improved markedly since the last time such a move was made. That at least is one conclusion of a report led by a team around Sir Brian Roche, and covered by Radio NZ’s Rowan Quinn. But academic Michael Plank, in commenting on improvements in the contact tracing system, noted that it had performed well under the much more manageable conditions of level three – there is still a risk that such a system could become overwhelmed at level two.

There’s also the question of social license for continued lockdowns. Now, according to polling conducted by The Spinoff and Stickybeak last week, a clear majority of people still say they’re entirely complying with lockdown conditions – but that figure is down compared to when the same question was asked in April. Recent polling has also reconfirmed deep and wide support for an elimination strategy, which really requires lockdowns to take place. But a lot of businesses have really struggled this time around – arguably more so than last time – and we’re seeing a small but extremely vocal protest movement against lockdowns spring up. We shouldn’t necessarily be all that interested in their theories about Covid-19 being a UN plot for world subjugation, but we should probably take notice of the frustration.

Read more and subscribe to The Bulletin here

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

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

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.

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




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