Many people are reluctant to get tested because of how self-isolation might affect their income (Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas)

The Bulletin: Decision day on whether to extend lockdown

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Cabinet will vote today on extending lockdown after a missing piece of the delta cluster was found, vaccinations are now open to children and the reserve bank says house prices could fall.

The missing link. A sigh of relief ran through the Beehive yesterday when genomic testing connected Auckland’s delta cluster to the border. This outbreak might be smaller and more contained than originally feared. However, there’s a substantial risk the virus might have spread at over 100 locations of interest identified so far in the country’s largest city.

This is news we all wanted. The parameters of this outbreak are becoming clearer. A returnee from Sydney, travelling on a red zone flight, arrived in managed isolation on August 7. Two days later they tested positive. Teams are now attempting to link the returnee to the rest of the cluster, while tracers are focused on containing the remaining cases and their contacts. One News reports the Crowne Plaza is being combed for clues.

The scale of the outbreak is still significant. As the prime minister told the nation yesterday, the development provides “some optimism and a strong serving of caution”. While this is still a working theory until a firm link is proven, it’s certainly a good one. The NZ Herald reported that the limited timeframe of the outbreak and the massive number of locations where infected people might have been, roughly cancel each other out.

Thousands of contacts will need to be tested. The combined roll of Avondale College, Northcote College and Lynfield College, all of which have been linked to a positive case, is more than 5,700. Hundreds more will be linked to restaurants, churches and SkyCity casino.

In breaking news this morning. Patients needing emergency care are being diverted from North Shore hospital after a positive case received treatment there before being diagnosed. The short stay surgical unit has also been closed. The person could have been infectious at the time. Keep in mind, the period from infection to infectious with delta can be only 24 to 48 hours.

Where to next? Cabinet will meet this afternoon at 1pm and a decision on whether the lockdown outside Auckland is extended will be announced around 3pm. Owing to the infectious nature of the delta variant, the government has felt vindicated by the snap lockdown so far. “Level four is where New Zealand needs to be at the moment,” Jacinda Ardern said yesterday. The prime minister has previously indicated that any move down the alert levels would incremental. RNZ expects an extension.

Could the south island open up? It’s possible, reports Stuff, but there could be contacts from the Auckland cluster who have headed south. Some experts, like Nick Wilson, are calling for the country to be split into large regions that would be cut off from each other, with the land border heavily policed to stop people from moving between zones. The upside being that some regions could open earlier.

The vaccination programme is now open to children. In a move detailed in The Spinoff’s live updates, children’s commissioner Andew Becroft has backed the government’s decision to open up vaccinations to the 12 to 15 year-old cohort. Medsafe already approved the change. People in this age bracket will be eligible for a vaccine from September 1, or parents and caregivers who are already booked for a dose can just bring their eligible children along. The message is clear: let’s just get this done. This adds 265,000 more people to the eligible group in a critical expansion of the vaccination programme.

The situation across the Tasman is worsening. New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said that her state “is learning to live” with the virus, according to ABC. With 681 new cases yesterday, much of greater Sydney is under some form of lockdown. The state’s plan now is to try to vaccinate itself out of its current troubles. However, 61 people have already died in the delta outbreak.

When are you supposed to wear a mask? The country is in its third day of lockdown and mask use is compulsory while using an essential service. If you’re struggling to figure out where to wear a mask, the general advice is: Going outside? Wear a mask, according to Newshub. However, in a welcome moment of levity, the prime minister explained that masks aren’t essential while people are running. “Engaging in a very strenuous run while wearing a mask might become difficult, I couldn’t speak to personal experience,” she said.

Is it time to rethink the country’s strategy? Thomas Coughlan (paywalled) argues in the NZ Herald that it isn’t clear anymore whether hard lockdowns and a slow vaccine drive are a workable plan. The situation in Sydney, with expanding case numbers despite a lockdown, has raised questions about whether delta spreads too quickly to be confined. New Zealand’s vaccine programme has been painfully slow, but seemed to be finally picking up steam when this outbreak arrived, with a record 55,000 doses administered the day before we went into lockdown.


This is the end of my first week putting together The Bulletin. It’s really the product of a team effort as The Spinoff is doing our utmost to keep you updated on all Covid-19 related coverage this week. Every dollar our members contribute directly funds our editorial team and is devoted to ensuring we do more. Click here to learn how you can support the team today.


New Zealand’s housing market doesn’t quite add up anymore. Reserve bank governor Adrian Orr told a select committee at parliament yesterday that phrases like “irrational exuberance” have been used to describe the market. According to Stuff, Orr said that house prices could fall by 5% in the coming years as new construction finally outstrips demand amid a Covid-shuttered border. Orr has generally rejected the idea that the reserve bank is responsible for soaring prices and has called on the government to fix any problems in housing.


Rotorua not keen on hosting more managed-isolation. SunLive reports that local leaders told government officials to “bugger off” when they asked about adding two more MIQ hotels to the area. The country needs more managed-isolation space to deal with the crush of people who want to come home and increasingly strict rules make the facilities safer, but they can host fewer returnees. However, Rotorua’s leaders obviously feel like they are shouldering too much of a burden already.


Evacuees are struggling to leave Kabul. The Taliban has stopped people fleeing Afghanistan from reaching the main airport, where western militaries are mounting evacuation flights, according to Reuters. New Zealand’s military is now in the region to help. American troops are supposed to pull out of the country by the end of the month, but could stay longer to evacuate tens of thousands of people who want to leave. There have been reports of protests against the Taliban being met by violence.


A correction on EVs. A number of you emailed in response to a piece in yesterday’s Bulletin to point out that the number cited for electric vehicles registered in July, 51, couldn’t be right. You were correct. According to the Motor Industry Association, 760 purely electric vehicles were registered that month, along with 10 heavy electric work vehicles. I put in a request to Waka Kotahi to know how many of those registrations received a subsidy but the NZTA didn’t reply. Despite that, a number of you said that you received the subsidy soon after buying your vehicle and the programme was painless. Honestly, it’s always nice to hear that something is working well.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news?
Get in touch with me at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris look at the work underway to link the first known case of this outbreak to its source. The two have put in an incredible effort this week. Josie Adams speaks with two nurses about the harsh reality of work in lockdown. Chris Schulz reviews Solar Power and finds that Lorde’s new album is a sharp break from her past efforts. Bernard Hickey considers whether NZ needs a population policy and not just annual migration settings. Tara Ward investigates the complete mess on Breakfast as John Campbell, Melissa Stokes and Indira Stewart pick up the weather broom. It’s wonderfully chaotic and would be completely confusing to anyone tuning in from elsewhere on Earth. Marvellous.


For a feature today, the memes of delta. New Zealand is now joining with the rest of the world in learning that the delta variant of Covid-19 is just awful. While it means lockdown in Aotearoa, in the rest of the world it has led to cancelled plans and fourth waves. The New York Times looks at all the memes spawned by our shared dread.


Two Black Ferns’ tests are in doubt. The collapse of the trans-Tasman bubble and the arrival of the delta variant has upset NZ Rugby’s plans for the rest of the year, according to the NZ Herald. At this point, with a lockdown decision looming, it’s unclear when the Black Ferns will get back to playing Australia and other international teams.


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