COVID-19: Live updates - Monday 24 August 2020

live 24/08/2020

There are 123 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, with nine new cases recorded on Monday.

One is an imported case that was caught in a managed isolation facility. The remaining eight - one of which is considered a probable case - were detected in the community, and have been epidemiologically linked to the existing Auckland cluster.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will reveal whether Auckland's preliminary, two-week alert level 3 lockdown will be eased or extended. The restrictions are tentatively set to be lifted at 11:59pm on Wednesday. The rest of New Zealand is currently under alert level 2.

What you need to know

  • There are 123 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand: 19 were imported
  • Eight new cases were detected in the community on Monday: one is considered a probable case
  • One new imported case was recorded on Monday and was caught in a managed isolation facility
  • Monday's new community cases are epidemiologically linked to the Auckland cluster
  • Ten people are in hospital, two of which are in intensive care
  • Auckland will remain under alert level 3 restrictions until 11:59pm on Sunday, August 30, while the rest of New Zealand will remain at level 2

App users, click here to follow live.

Refresh the page for more updates.

4:40pm - An Auckland-based Vodafone staffmember has tested positive for COVID-19 and is part of the city's cluster, the company has confirmed to Newshub.

The staff member is part of Vodafone's InnoV8 team based in Smales Farm on Auckland's North Shore. They work in an office-based role and it isn't customer-facing.

"Auckland Regional Public Health Service has advised that our team member was not infectious when they were last in the office (13 days ago) therefore there is no risk of the virus having been passed on in the office," Vodafone says.

"Our team member did all the right things, including getting tested when they had symptoms and reporting it quickly."

This person is now in a quarantine facility.

4:30pm - Newshub reporter Dave Goosselink, who is based in Dunedin, says local businesses are frustrated they have to continue to endure alert level 2 despite there being no cases in the South Island.

"Large hospitality businesses in particular were calling for a drop back to level 1 as soon as possible," he says.

"They're comfortable with things like the sign-ins, mask-wearing and even with social distancing inside businesses, but owners say restrictions around numbers are making planning and staffing very difficult."

He adds the 100-person limit on gatherings is putting pressure on the viability of a number of bars and restaurants, and there are less people visiting these venues under current alert level restrictions due to a lack of events.

4:20pm - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is urging the city's residents to "be patient" after the alert level extension announcement.

"Be patient, be tolerant, be kind, but most of all, please act responsibly," he told reporters on Monday.

"Our ability to beat this virus depends on all of us working together [and] taking the steps that are necessary.

"We're almost there Auckland, we are, hopefully, now in the home straight, we need to stay the course, and we'll get there."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

4:10pm - University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says he welcomes the mandating of mask-wearing on public transport.

"I think this is a huge advance, particularly at alert levels 2 and 3, because not only do they reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, but they also mean that there's potential to actually fully occupy buses and aircraft," he told Newshub.

"So this really benefits health, but also it means we can use our transport far more efficiently."

He says he believes Kiwis are becoming more used to the idea of wearing masks as they become more common in public.

"I think we do need to integrate them into our alert level system properly so that people are in no doubt about which situations they should wear masks in," he says.

"Often it's going to be, apart from public transport, it's going to be crowded social events if they're still happening, workplaces, actually secondary schools are going to be important, and crowded shopping areas. These are places masks really have an important role."

3:55pm - Newshub political reporter Anna Bracewell-Worrall says the alert level extension won't impact election day on October 17 since the Electoral Commission has said it can operate the election at level 2.

"As far as that goes it should be okay. The real effect is the on-the-ground campaing, and we've seen that virtually ground to a halt across the country," she says.

"So I'm talking about the likes of doorknocking, of holding those street corner meetings and those rallies in the town hall. In Auckland, that has entirely dried up, around the rest of the country it's been pulled back a lot - certainly hasn't haltered entirely."

She says campaign activity should start to pick up again once Auckland moves out of alert level 3.

3:45pm - The Prime Minister thanked Auckland's Pasifika community for coming forward and being tested.

"We would not be in the position we are - having a cluster under control - were it not for those who got tested," Jacinda Ardern says.

"It's saved lives, and I don't say that to be flippant. It's literally true that lives would've been lost... Particularly to our Pasifika community, I want to say thank you."

3:40pm - Jacinda Ardern says there was a "big learning" curve the last time New Zealand moved alert levels, particularly around ways to support families with tangihanga and funerals.

"We had a blanket 10-person limit, but we had strong feedback understandably and we lifted that to 50 and created a system that helped make it work," she says.

But she says she has to consider how many recent COVID-19 cases have come from churches.

"This is an area where we have to have restrictions."

3:30pm - The economic impacts of extending alert levels was something Jacinda Ardern took into account when she chose to delay an alert level 2 move, she says.

She says the idea of yo-yoing up and down alert levels is "very, very unsettling for the economy".

3:25pm - Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says they're trying to use "all the tools in the toolbox" to avoid going up alert levels in the future.

This includes the mandating of masks on public transport from Monday.

Jacinda Ardern is urging public transport users not to turn to vigilantism over face coverings, and instead it should be left to authorities to monitor this mandate. It falls on the individual to comply with the rules, she says.

3:20pm - Jacinda Ardern says Kiwis should prepare for the tail of Auckland's cluster to be longer than usual, due to its size.

She says the Government is doing everything it can to find the source of the outbreak. There are currently 101 total cases in this cluster.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images

3:15pm - The Government will mandate masks on public transport at level 2 and above. This will come into force from Monday.

Everyone in Auckland should continue to wear face masks in public more generally, Ardern says.

She adds she isn't concerned about a mask shortage despite this mandate.

3:05pm - Cabinet has extended Auckland's alert level 3 restrictions to 11:59pm on Sunday, August 30, Jacinda Ardern says. The rest of New Zealand is staying at level 2.

She says these extra four days in level 3 are necessary and Auckland should step its way into level 2.

A limit of 10 people will be kept on mass gatherings, but there is an exception for funerals and tangihanga.

2:55pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to give an update at 3pm on New Zealand's alert levels.

Watch online here or tune in on Three.

2:40pm - Over in Australia, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has extended the state of emergency beyond September 13 for what will be a total of 18 months for the state's residents.

The state of emergency gives the chief health officer additional powers to help contain the spread of COVID-19, 7 News reports.

The state's current legislation means each state of emergency can only operate for six months at a time, but Andrew's says this next period will be extended for 12 additional months.

"It is not an unlimited extension, it is nothing more than a recognition that this virus won't be over on September 13," he said on Monday.

"I would love nothing more for there to be no need for any rules on September 14, but I don't think that is the reality."

Amendments will be made to current legislation to allow for this extension.

3:15pm - The Government will mandate masks on public transport at level 2 and above. This will come into force from Monday.

Everyone in Auckland should continue to wear face masks in public more generally, Ardern says.

3:05pm - Cabinet has extended Auckland's alert level 3 restrictions to 11:59pm on Sunday, August 30, Jacinda Ardern says. The rest of New Zealand is staying at level 2.

She says these extra four days in level 3 are necessary and Auckland should step its way into level 2.

A limit of 10 people will be kept on mass gatherings, but there is an exception for funerals and tangihanga.

2:55pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to give an update at 3pm on New Zealand's alert levels.

Watch online here or tune in on Three.

2:40pm - Over in Australia, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has extended the state of emergency beyond September 13 for what will be a total of 18 months for the state's residents.

The state of emergency gives the chief health officer additional powers to help contain the spread of COVID-19, 7 News reports.

The state's current legislation means each state of emergency can only operate for six months at a time, but Andrew's says this next period will be extended for 12 additional months.

"It is not an unlimited extension, it is nothing more than a recognition that this virus won't be over on September 13," he said on Monday.

"I would love nothing more for there to be no need for any rules on September 14, but I don't think that is the reality."

Amendments will be made to current legislation to allow for this extension.

2:15pm - Five of the six major variants of the coronavirus circulating the globe appear to be more infectious than the original one which broke out in China, scientists say.

Chinese researchers sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome and released it to the World Health Organization and labs worldwide in January. Since then - as viruses do - it has evolved, with six major subtypes recorded as early as April. 

"As with any virus, many mutations are ultimately benign, posing little to no risk to infected patients," the Michigan State University team said in a statement.

"Some mutations even reduce infectiousness. But some mutations lead to a more infectious virus."

Read the full story here.

1:45pm - To recap, one case currently under investigation is an asymptomatic patient who is receiving treatment at North Shore Hospital.

They have not yet been linked to the existing Auckland cluster, but health officials found a relative had visited Hobbiton. It was revealed last Wednesday that a confirmed case had visited the site on Friday, August 7.

The person returned from overseas in June, Dr Bloomfield said, and it's possible it could be an old, lingering case of the virus which may have been contracted before their arrival.

1:30pm - Dr Bloomfield said the identification of close contacts on the same bus as the confirmed cases in Auckland was due to "rapid detective work" by health officials.

He says movement data shows there has been "a really good response from Auckland" to the alert level 3 restrictions. However, if Kiwis keep having to go back into lockdown - or this lockdown is extended - cooperation and compliance may drop.

"Now that we know testing can ramp up quickly, we know contact tracing is effective, we've got much wider use of the NZ COVID Tracer app - the aim from now is we can manage random cases at alert level 1 or 2," Dr Bloomfield said. Surveillance testing would be key to this approach, as well as ongoing testing in the community. 

He noted that the issue of compliance was not a factor in his advice to Cabinet ahead of their decision.

Dr Bloomfield
Dr Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

1:15pm - Dr Bloomfield said New Zealand is in a "much better position" this time around, with increased attention to hand hygiene and an influx in QR codes and app uptake.

"At the point the border testing plan was written, we didn't think it was feasible to test everyone. So the plan was to test those at a higher risk of being exposed," he said.

"We have seen over last week and a half that we can test all those people - we're looking at the accuracy and viability of using spit testing, so it's more pleasant for workers who require regular testing.

"We need to think about the behaviours we need to [follow] in level 2 and 3, and apply them when we're at level 1."

1:10pm - Dr Bloomfield said the lower volume of testing in recent days will have given the labs "a chance to catch up".

He said "we may well see" more infections connected to the two cases who travelled on a series of buses in Auckland.

Dr Bloomfield confirmed there's no shortage of supplies, with enough test kits for 270,000 tests. Labs are now equipped to process up to 26,000 tests per day.

The Director-General of Health won't comment on the advice he has provided to Cabinet ahead of the alert level review this afternoon.

1:05pm - On Sunday labs processed 4589 tests. Over the last seven days, labs have completed nearly 100,000 tests.

There are now more than 1.77 million using the NZ COVID Tracer app, with well over a million scans each day.

A case who was admitted to Auckland Hospital ED over the weekend is still under investigation and has yet to be linked to the cluster.

Another case under investigation was detected due to follow-up as their brother had been to Hobbiton. This person is asymptomatic, and all indications show it is likely an old case. They arrived in New Zealand in June and may have been infected beforehand, Dr Boomfield said.

"One thing that's encouraging is the vast majority of cases can all be linked to the cluster," Dr Bloomfield said.

However, the cases not epidemiologically linked to the outbreak do "give us cause for thought".

"What we'll be looking for is to ideally not see cases that we haven't already identified through our close contact tracing," he said.

1pm - There are nine new cases of COVID-19. 

One is an imported case and the remaining eight cases - seven confirmed and one probable - are in the community. All are epidemiologically linked to the existing Auckland cluster.

The imported case, detected in a managed isolation facility, is a woman in her 30s. There is no information yet on where she travelled from.

One of the community cases had contact with another confirmed case on a bus. Four are household contacts. One contracted the virus at a church, Dr Bloomfield said, while two became infected in a workplace.

Ten people are currently hospitalised with the virus, with two in the ICU in Middlemore Hospital.

Monday's numbers bring the total number of confirmed cases to date to 1332. The total number of probable cases to date is 351.

There are now 123 active cases, 19 of which were imported and detected in managed isolation facilities. 

Dr Bloomfield said 2300 close contacts have been identified, 2249 of which have been contacted and are self-isolating. The rest are being contacted.

Auckland's quarantine facility is housing 151 people linked to the cluster.

12:55pm - Dr Bloomfield's will update the media with the latest COVID-19 developments at 1pm.

Watch live on Three and online here.

12pm - A recap of New Zealand's current COVID-19 statistics:

  • There are 114 active cases: 96 were detected in the community and 18 were imported and caught in MIQ
  • One new case was recorded in the community on Sunday and is epidemiologically linked to the cluster
  • Nine people are hospitalised: Six are in a stable condition and three are in the ICU
  • There have been 2308 close contacts linked to the Auckland cluster: 2219 are self-isolating
  • Auckland's quarantine facility is housing 151 people linked to the cluster: 82 have tested positive
  • Three cases remain under investigation, including a Rydges Hotel maintenance worker.
Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield Credit Getty

11:30am - Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide an update on the latest COVID-19 developments at 1pm. 

A livestream of the press conference will be available to watch on Newshub.

11:10am - Bidding for a lunch date with the Director-General of Health has quickly surpassed the $10,000 mark, with more than 100 Kiwis willing to fork out for a spot of food with Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The current bid stands at $11,050, with almost 130 New Zealanders partaking in the Cancer Society fundraiser. The winner and six friends will head for lunch at Bellamys by Logan Brown with the popular health official.

"Cancer doesn't stop for COVID-19 and over the last few months, Dr Bloomfield hasn't stopped either, updating us daily on all things COVID by keeping us informed and assured," says the fundraiser page on Trade Me.

It was revealed last week that Dr Bloomfield is in the running to take out the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award. Other nominees include Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, leading microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower and Wellington's favourite feline, Mittens.

10:40am - ACT leader David Seymour - an outspoken critic of the stringent alert level restrictions - has claimed an extension to alert level 3 in Auckland will be "a fundamental Government failure".

"If the Auckland lockdown is extended further this afternoon, it will be a fundamental Government failure and another kick in the guts for businesses," Seymour said on Monday.

"A recent survey of Auckland businesses suggests a third are getting ready to close permanently. Ten percent of bars and restaurants are set to close in the next fortnight. Businesses in Auckland can't get exemptions for workers to travel a few kilometres across the city boundary, and even safe businesses can't open their doors."

Seymour has previously called for more businesses to be able to open under alert level 3, arguing that if supermarkets can implement safety precautions and public health measures, so can the likes of butchers and greengrocers.

Speaking to Newshub over the weekend, Seymour called on the Government to consider "all aspects of wellbeing" during their review of the nationwide restrictions.

"Lockdowns are so damaging to mental health, student learning, non-COVID healthcare and the economy. We've just lost $1 billion locking down Auckland for 16 days - $1 billion is the same as the entire PHARMAC budget," he told Newshub.

"Once we consider those things, we see [that] we need to start finding a way to make elimination affordable - that means without lockdowns."

10:20am - Aucklanders appear divided as to whether level 3 lockdown will be eased or extended at Monday's press conference. 

Cabinet will meet today to review the restrictions in place across the country. Currently, alert level 3 is tentatively set to be lifted at 11:59pm on Wednesday. However, a number of experts have claimed it's too soon to consider lifting the restrictions while new community cases are still being detected.

RNZ's Liu Chen asked Aucklanders for their thoughts on Monday's decision. 

Karthick Gopalakrishnan, who was taking a walk with his partner, said it was better to take a precautionary approach to stay at alert level 3.

"I could see that there are cases coming in every day. We're making the links and there're new people being affected as well and people are travelling to different places by bus so we don't know how many more cases are out there."

Chris Parr said the temporary regional boundary restrictions needed to go.

"I hope they drop it down," he said. "Some people need to get out of Auckland, get back home and see their loved ones."

Read the full report here.

9:55am - Discrepancies in face mask prices have prompted more than 200 consumer complaints from angry Kiwis this month.

Demand for masks has surged following the latest outbreak of community transmission, with the Government urging New Zealanders to don a mask in public to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Mark Hollingsworth, general manager of consumer protection at the Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment (MBIE), revealed that Price Watch has received 210 official complaints since August 11 - the day when the first new cases of community transmission were announced.

Read the full report here.

9:30am - Elimination of the virus must not equate to the elimination of business, says Heart of the City Auckland.

In a statement on Monday, the organisation argued that with so many local businesses at breaking point, the quest to eliminate COVID-19 cannot translate into eliminating revenue and employment.

With Cabinet set to review the restrictions in Auckland and wider New Zealand on Monday, Heart of the City has called for economic impacts of the alert level framework "to be high on the list of measures considered".

The organisation also argued that transitioning in and out of alert levels should not become New Zealand's "default position" in response to future outbreaks.

For the quarter ending June 30, the loss of spending in Auckland’s city centre - which accounts for around 20 percent of Auckland’s economy - was $257.7m (-60.6 percent) versus the same time last year. A further loss in spending of $19.4m (-74 percent) was incurred in the week of August 10, which included 4.5 days under alert level 3 restrictions.

"While there are willing ears in government agencies to listen to the plight for business, this needs to turn into action and take account of business feedback in a consistent and systematic way. Survival and recovery will require collaboration across the public and private sector," said Viv Beck, Heart of the City's chief executive.

"A huge cost is being borne disproportionately by a relatively small percentage of customer-facing businesses which also face losing a disproportionate number of jobs... It’s time to give greater certainty for business in a highly uncertain environment.

"We need to ensure there is confidence about how we are going to deal with the virus and clusters going forward, to avoid the disruptive stop-start restrictions on the economy."

9:10am - Physicist and disease modeller, Professor Shaun Hendy from the University of Auckland, has called for Auckland's alert level 3 restrictions to be extended for a week with regular reviews.

"If by the end of the week we're still seeing these small numbers of cases and they're all linked to the [existing] cluster, we can look to move to alert level 2... assuming those case numbers stay low, I'd make that recommendation," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"We need to see those lower numbers for a little bit longer yet before we can have confidence to move out of level 3. If you think back to May, when we were making this move from level 3 to level 2, we'd seen two weeks to 10 days of those kinds of numbers."

However, Prof Hendy suggested that alert level 2 restrictions for the rest of New Zealand could be relaxed.

8:30am - Professor Shaun Hendy isn't the only expert predicting an extension to Auckland's alert level 3 lockdown.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says the Government should ensure "the downward trend" in case numbers is "sustained" before lifting level 3 protocol.

"I think we'd want to see a few days where we have really consistently under five cases maybe - ideally some days with no cases or one case, just so we're really comfortable with that. The difficulty is there may be some branches of this cluster which haven't declared themselves yet," he told Magic Talk's Road to the Election show on Sunday.

Read the full report here.

8am - There's a stark warning that just two more days at level 3 could push some businesses to breaking point.

The Employers and Manufacturers' Association is calling on the Government to lift Auckland's restrictions as soon as possible.

CEO Brett O'Riley says businesses are willing to meet the required health and safety precautions, but cannot continue losing revenue.

"Businesses are ready now to move to alert level 2, they understand what their obligations are. We're calling on the Government to move Auckland out of alert level 3 as soon as possible," O'Riley told Newshub.

"Everyday we're seeing job losses, companies without revenue in the tank, and enormous pressure on those businesses. Everyday is really costly for the economy and for workers... we're calling on the Government to move as quickly as possible to get Auckland back to alert level 2."

He says while business owners have shown adaptability by adjusting their operating procedures to adhere to the restrictions, businesses who rely on customer interaction are bearing the brunt. 

"If you're a business who relies on a customer-facing experience, there's only so long you can survive without being able to deal with your customers," O'Riley said. "We've done a good job with public health, now it's time to focus on economic health. We need people back at work and the regional borders open."

But physicist and disease modeller, Professor Shaun Hendy from the University of Auckland, is less positive.

"Those numbers were good over the weekend, that's encouraging, but we need to see those lower numbers for a little longer yet before we have the confidence to move out of level 3," he told The AM Show on Monday morning. "We do need to leave it a little bit longer."

He suggests extending level 3 restrictions by a week, but subject to regular reviews.

"The risk is we have to bounce back to level 3 in a couple of weeks time," he said.

7:35am - Eighty-nine percent of Auckland's businesses have received or are currently receiving the wage subsidy, according to new statistics revealed by DOT Loves Data.

DOT Loves Data government director Justin Lester said the construction sector has been most significantly affected, with 92 percent of businesses receiving the wage subsidy since the scheme was implemented. The tourism, accommodation and retail sectors were also significantly affected, with uptake percentages in the high 80s.

Yet New Zealand's agriculture industry appears to be riding the economic hit better than most, with just 30 percent receiving the subsidy.

"Heartland New Zealand is really underpinning the economy at the moment," Lester said.

The data also revealed that south Auckland businesses are 20 percent more likely to receive the wage subsidy than businesses in other parts of Auckland. Lester says the city's lower socio-economic areas have been strongly affected by the impacts of COVID-19, with jobs occupied by low-wage earners being the first to go during the downturn. Many businesses are also situated in and around the Auckland Airport precinct.

7:15am - A recap of Sunday's developments:

Three new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Sunday. Two were imported and one - a household contact of a previously confirmed case - was detected in the community. The community case has been epidemiologically linked to the existing Auckland cluster.

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) identified more bus journeys taken in the city by two separate people infected with COVID-19.

"The two cases took a number of other buses while they were infectious, as well as the shared journey on the 22N bus on Wednesday, August 12," ARPHS revealed on Sunday.

On August 10, the case linked to the Auckland cluster took the 670 bus along a route through Mt Roskill to Otahuhu, and then later between Otahuhu and Avondale. The St Lukes worker also took buses on August 14, 15 and 17, travelling the same bus 22 route between Symonds St and St Lukes.

Seventeen passengers are considered close contacts of the cases. ARPHS said they are being asked to self-isolate and get tested if Public Health can contact them through the details linked to their AT HOP cards.

As of Sunday, Kiwis travelling for work can now transit through Auckland without applying for an exemption, the Ministry of Health confirmed. They must show evidence of their purpose of travel, as well as their departure and destination points, when crossing one of the regional boundary checkpoints.