COVID-19: Live updates - Friday 28 August 2020

live 28/08/2020

As Auckland heads into what it hopes will be its last weekend in lockdown, questions about the so-called Mt Roskill mini-cluster remain.

Most importantly, officials are yet to find an epidemiological link between the cases associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church and the main south Auckland cluster. However, some have been linked to that cluster via genomic sequencing. 

Despite that mini-cluster, the Health Minister said on Thursday it was still intended for Auckland to move down alert levels on Sunday night. This was reiterated by the Finance Minister on Friday.

What you need to know:

  • New Zealand has 131 active cases of COVID-19, of which 18 were found in isolation facilities and 113 were detected in the community
  • Twelve cases were confirmed on Friday. Seven of these are imported and are all from the same flight. Five are from the community
  • Twelve cases are now associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church. These have not been epidemiologically linked to the main cluster, but some are connected via genomic sequencing
  • Eleven people are receiving hospital-level care and three of these are in ICU
  • On Sunday, Auckland will move to alert level 2. However, some restrictions around mass gatherings will remain in place for at least another week
  • From Monday, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport. QR codes will also have to be displayed from September 3

Follow Newshub's live updates here:

3:15pm - Here are some interesting statistics regarding the COVID-19 wage subsidies.

Original 12-week wage subsidy:

Supported 396,751 businesses - 1,653,659 jobs (1,428,214 employees and 225,445 self-employed), costing $10.94 billion.

Top five sectors

  • Construction: $1.4 billion protecting 203,000 jobs
  • Manufacturing: $1.2 billion protecting 170,000 jobs
  • Accommodation and food services: $1.0 billion protecting 164,000 jobs
  • Retail trade: $1.0 billion protecting 156,000 jobs
  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $869 million protecting 129,000 jobs

Top five regions

  • Auckland: $3.5 billion, protecting 528,000 jobs
  • Canterbury: $1.3 billion, protecting 197,000 jobs
  • Wellington: $859 million, protecting 131,000 jobs
  • Waikato: $853 million, protecting 129,000 jobs
  • Bay of Plenty: $583 million, protecting 88,000 jobs

Extended eight-week wage subsidy – as at 26 August:

Supported 176,600 businesses – 545,400 jobs (441,965 employees and 103,435 self-employed), costing $2.4 billion.

Top five sectors – as at 21 August

  • Accommodation and food services: $317 million, protecting 76,000 jobs
  • Construction: $301 million, protecting 66,000 jobs
  • Manufacturing: $209 million, protecting 46,000 jobs
  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $157 million, protecting 35,000 jobs
  • Administrative and support services: $148 million, protecting 34,000 jobs

Top five regions – as at 21 August

  • Auckland: $824 million, protecting 188,000 jobs
  • Canterbury: $254 million, protecting 59,000 jobs
  • Wellington: $156 million, protecting 36,000 jobs
  • Waikato: $142 million, protecting 33,000 jobs
  •  Otago: $104 million, protecting 24,000 jobs

New two-week resurgence wage subsidy – as at 26 August:

Supported 46,920 businesses – 156,741 jobs (130,351 employees and 26,390 self-employed), costing $167.5 million.

(Industry and regional breakdowns are not yet available.)

2:55pm - Speaking of graphs, here are the total cases by DHB, cases by age, and the number of active cases and recovered.

2:45pm - The Ministry of Health wants to test 70,000 Kiwis over the next week. Here's two graphs which show the surge in testing nationally after the oubtreak in Auckland.

2:30pm - The Ministry of Health has released its full statement on the latest COVID-19 numbers.

There are five new cases of COVID-19 to report in the community today, all linked to the Auckland cluster. 

There are seven new imported cases of COVID-19 - three men in their 30s, a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 20s, and two children. They all arrived in New Zealand on August 23 on the same Air India flight from Delhi, and tested positive around day 3 of their stay in managed isolation. 

Of the five community cases reported, four are from one household and are linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Church sub-cluster. 

The other case is epidemiologically linked to a confirmed case which has been genomically linked to the community cluster. 

By this morning our contact tracing team had identified 2,475 close contacts of cases, of which 2,433 have been contacted and are self-isolating, and we are in the process of contacting the rest.

There are 161 people linked to the community cluster who have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 88 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their household contacts.

There are 11 people with COVID-19 in hospital today; three in Auckland City, four in Middlemore, three in North Shore and one in Waikato. Eight people are on a ward, and three are in ICU – one each in Middlemore, North Shore and Waikato Hospital. 

There are seven previously reported cases who are considered to have recovered today, bringing the total number of active cases to 130. 

Our total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is now 1,363, which is the number we report to the World Health Organization. 

Testing 

Yesterday our laboratories processed 11,010 tests for COVID-19, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 730,330.

Widespread testing is a critical part of our COVID-19 elimination strategy and we continue to work with the broader health sector to carry out 70,000 tests over the next week

In support of this, testing sites will be open this weekend, right across the country - this includes GPs and community-based assessment centres (CBACs).

Pop-up testing sites continue to move around Auckland communities to ensure nearby, easy and equitable access to testing, particularly for Mâori and for Pacific peoples.

Today there are pop up sites in South Kaipara, Mount Smart Stadium, the Massey Community Hub, Ranui Library, the Tongan Methodist Church in Mangere, the Mangere East Hawks Rugby League Club, the Tupu Youth Library in Otara, Randwick Park School, and Te Matariki Community Centre in Clendon.

The full up-to-date list of testing sites in Auckland is at www.arphs.health.nz/covid19test

The Ministry of Health website has advice on where you can find testing facilities in the rest of the country.

If you develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, wherever you are, please call Healthline (0800 358 5453) or your doctor immediately and have a test.

People who work at the border or in managed isolation and quarantine facilities will continue to have tests available, and those who are at higher risk will be re-tested over the next 7-10 days.

NZ COVID Tracer

NZ COVID Tracer has now recorded 1,895,000 registered users. There have been 331,397 posters created, and 22,455,004 poster scans to date. There have been 1,843,013, manual diary entries recorded in the app.

2:20pm - Here's the latest information on wearing face coverings. It will be mandatory to do so from Monday on public transport.

2:10pm - After the Friday briefing, here's how New Zealand's COVID-19 situation looks like. 

1:55pm - Here's a thread of tweets from the NZ COVID-19 Twitter account about the latest update.

1:50pm - Dr McElnay says specific arrangements have been put into place to support testing for students at Mt Albert Grammar School. There are a number of pop-up testing stations they have been informed about. She encourages them to get tested.

1:45pm - A top Kiwi infectious disease expert has admitted he's nervous about Auckland kids going back to school next week, as more cases of COVID-19 show up in the community.

New research out of the UK however might allay fears somewhat, with scientists there saying even in the rare case of hospitalisation, deaths among children infected with the virus are rare. 

Auckland shifts from level 3 to 2 on Monday, allowing many workplaces to reopen their doors - including schools. But a handful of new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed each day over the past week, and while most have been linked to the same cluster via contact tracing and genomic testing, the source of a few remain a mystery. 

Read more here.

1:30pm - On the North Shore Hospital case under investigation, Dr McElnay says they have been genomically linked to the cluster, but the person-to-person link is still unknown.

Further genome testing of the Hobbiton case is underway as well. It still can't be determined if its a new infection or an old infection.

Robertson says he is happy with the protocols applied with US Ambassador Scott Brown's isolation. Brown is isolating at home rather than in an isolation facility. Robertson says there are slightly different rules with diplomats, but all the same health guidelines are being followed.

1:25pm - No epidemiological link has been found between the mini-cluster and the main Auckland cluster. There is a genomic link, Dr McElnay. She said this is a "closely linked, genetic cluster". 

Robertson says people shouldn't avoid getting tested because they are overstayers. He says the pop-up clinics are purely stood up for health reasons. If an overstayer was to test positive and be moved into an isolation facility, Robertson says they will be looked after. The primary concern is their health.

There's been a range of feedback about the handling of exemptions at the regional borders. He says this is the first time such a system has been put into place and officials have learnt from it.

1:20pm - Robertson says the seven imported cases came from a single flight and the plane came an area of the world with a lot of cases. He says this shows how important it is to treat everyone as if they have COVID-19. There's no guarantee they became infected on the flight or before.

But Dr McElnay says it is highly likely they were undetected cases before they got on the flight.

The plane was an Air India flight, but that doesn't mean all passengers are from India, Robertson says.

The Finance Minister says nothing has happened to require Auckland to change course. It will still leave lockdown on Sunday.

Dr McElnay says there has been an increase in testing numbers, such as on Thursday with 11,000 cases. If that can be maintained, she is confident we will hit the 70,000 target.

Robertson is also confident about that. There is a drop-off typically in the weekends, but he says there are a significant number of pop-ups accessible.

12:20pm - The Waitemata District Health Board is encouraging people to get tested. Officials want 7000 tests to be completed each day in Auckland over the next week.

12pm -  Across the ditch, Victoria has recorded 113 new cases of COVID-19. Twelve people have died from the illness in the last 24 hours.

11:50am - Auckland Transport is reminding residents of the new public transport rules that come into effect on Monday for alert level 2 and above.

"Public transport will continue to operate with strict health and safety requirements in place. Per Government requirements, you must now wear a face covering while on public transport while under alert level 2.

"Follow the physical distancing guidelines which will be on display on buses, trains and ferries and remember to maintain 2-metre physical distancing from people who aren’t from your bubble at our stations, stops and platforms."

It also says people showing COVID-19 symptoms should avoid using public tranport when travelling to medical appointments.

QR codes will also be displayed on public transport, so users are asked to have the COVID Tracer app ready to scan when they get on board.

"Public transport services and schedules will move to normal levels while we are at alert level 2 so people can travel to where they need to go, except for after-midnight services not running Friday and Saturday nights.

"Trains will be operating at a 20-minute frequency while KiwiRail carries out urgent track maintenance to the Auckland rail network.

"This also sees a temporary closure of the eastern line (Britomart to Otahuhu), with buses replacing trains for two weeks."

AT says passenger capacity on public transport will be "significantly lower than usual" due to the need to maintain physical distancing. People are asked to consider travelling outside of peak hours if possible.

11:40am - Taxi drivers say a sudden rule change around mask-wearing doesn't make sense, and they're struggling to get answers from officials as to the logic behind it.

But Health Minister Chris Hipkins says the advice he got was that forcing passengers to wear masks would potentially have more negatives than positives.

Read more on that here.

11:30am - The Deputy Prime Minister has told Australian media that a travel bubble between Aotearoa and Australia isn't realistic this year in light of the outbreak.

"Not this year because of the breakout in Melbourne and, sadly, a breakout in Auckland, New Zealand, in recent times," Winston Peters told RN Breakfast with Hamish Macdonald.

"I think it's a situation now where we both, in Australia and New Zealand, have to say, 'what happened in our systems to enable that to happen and what can we do realistically going forward to ensure it does not happen again'."

Asked if international travel - even next year - is still a far-fetched idea, Peters said, "we don't know, and don't have the assets and utilities to ensure safety of people being transported around the world".

"Hopefully, something will come up, and soon, with respect to a vaccine that does work or systems that around that do work."

But he doesn't believe the idea of a travel bubble is dead and again said Tasmania continues to have a stand-out record.

Winston Peters
Winston Peters. Photo credit: Getty.

11:15am - Air New Zealand's CEO Greg Foran says there are no plans to make further job cuts as the airline continues to navigate its way through the turbulent COVID-19 environment.

On Thursday the national carrier posted a net tax loss of $454 million, down from last year's profit of $270 million, marking its first loss in 18 years.

The company also confirmed it was planning on drawing on its $900 million dollar loan from the Government "within days".

But despite the dire financial situation, Foran says the company's remaining jobs are safe, for now.

Read more here.

11:05am - Here's a full list of exemptions to the new mandatory face covering rule coming into effect on Monday.

10:50am - John Hart, executive director of the New Zealand Taxi Federation, is frustrated by new rules requiring taxi drivers to wear face coverings in a vehicle, but not passengers.

He told Newshub he hasn't received any official advice about the new guidelines applicable under alert level 2 and above from Monday.

"We still haven't been advised officially of the detail of them but to me it seems to be absolutely illogical that only a driver needs to wear a face mask. If it is considered that the inside of the vehicle has the potential to spread the virus then surely it must be a requirement that everyone inside a vehicle wears a mask."

He said requiring drivers to wear masks, but not passengers, doesn't make sense.

"Taxi drivers probably feel that they are being told that there is a risk of the virus being spread via taxis and if that is the case then passengers without masks must increase that risk."

In making his announcement on Thursday, Health Minister Chirs Hipkins said a variety of factors were considered.

"We considered the risk to those individual businesses in many cases, but we also considered what the public health risk was," he said.

"And the overall advice that was presented was that the minor public health protection gains that would be made from getting people to wear masks in that setting were actually offset by the potential downsides for the operators concerned, and it would be very, very difficult for them to enforce."

Hipkins also said in a taxi or an Uber, passengers typically know the other passengers.

"QR codes will be there; so we will be able to trace who’s been in which taxis and which Ubers and when, and it’s that smaller group size that, of course, provides the greatest protection. But people are encouraged to wear masks; they just won’t be mandatory in taxis and Ubers."

10:30am - Wondering how our current cluster - referred to by the Ministry of Health as the Auckland August cluster - compares to clusters from earlier this year? Check out this table.

Photo credit: Ministry of Health

10:15am - The Finance Minister and Director of Public Health will provide Friday's 1pm briefing. You'll be able to watch that on Newshub.co.nz or on Three.

10:05am - Parliament has set out how Kiwis can watch the dissolution of Parliament on September 6. 

"In COVID-19 Alert Level 2, members of the public will only be able to watch in person from the Parliament lawn if the event takes place outside. Please practice careful social distancing and wear a mask. Make sure you arrive by 10.50am to see all the action."

9:55am - United States Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown has been forced to explain himself after reports on Friday morning about him dodging managed isolation or quarantine after returning from the US.

Instead of going into a facility as all returning Kiwis must, Brown has been isolating at his residence.

Brown told The AM Show months of planning went into his isolation. He said he wasn't allowed to accept Government money and didn't want to put a burden on the New Zealand tax payer. Everything was being done at the US' or the ambassador's expense, including tests on day 3 and 12 of his isolation. He also had a negative test before flying to New Zealand.

"We are in total self-isolation pursuant to all New Zealand laws. I believe, and my team agrees, we are a team of five million and we are part of that team and have been adhering to all rules and regulations," Brown told The AM Show.

In a statement, the US Embassy also said the ambassador was "following New Zealand Government's guidance for returning diplomats".

"The New Zealand Government-approved isolation measures for Ambassador Brown mean that he will not take up space in a New Zealand Government MIQ facility - availability that is better utilised by a returning Kiwi.

"Additionally, the Ambassador’s isolation arrangements allow him to continue performing many of his Ambassadorial duties remotely - something which would not have been possible in an MIQ. His self-isolation and testing is at no cost to New Zealand and are funded by the US Government and the Ambassador personally."

Brown thanked New Zealand officials for working with his team on the isolation processes.

He had been in the United States for meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, US Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and NZ Ambassador Rosemary Banks.

Scott Brown
Scott Brown. Photo credit: The AM Show.

9:40am -  The AM Show's Duncan Garner has written about his concern at sending his son back to school in Auckland on Monday. It comes after a top virus expert said he was anxious about the alert level shift on Sunday night.

"I'm worried because COVID-19 surrounds us within a one kilometre radius," Garner writes. 

"To the north is Mt Albert and the original COVID-19 cluster. To the east is Mt Roskill and the church. To the west is New Lynn and the original COVID-19 cluster."

Read Garner's piece here.

9:30am - Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran spoke to The AM Show earlier.

He said when COVID-19 first emerged back in January, the airline had no idea how much of an issue it would become. 

"I think it's fair to say initially when we started to wrap our heads around COVID-19 back in January, we had views that maybe this was a bit like SARS or H1N1, but as it began to unfold through February and, of course, March, we started to realise the scale of what we were dealing with."

While the pandemic and resulting border closures have decimated international travel and led Air New Zealand to make many staff redundant, Foran says the airline did bounce back slightly after the country's first lockdown.

He said it had got to a point before the latest outbreak where it was a "really strong domestic airline business", flying at about 70 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels. He said that exceeded expectations and that the airline has been helped also by significant cargo business. 

"We had our sights set that potentially we would be in the south Pacific at some stage and, of course, a travel corridor to Australia beckons. Both of those last two things now feel a little bit further away but we hope we can get there and if we can get those things happening, then I think we have got ourselves a really good business."

Foran said it's a challenge to forecast what the new few years will look like with the ever-changing nature of the pandemic. He said there is no plan currently to further reduce the airline's workforce.

Air New Zealand on Thursday released its latest financial results, showing a net tax loss of $454 million, down from last year's profit of $270 million.

The first six months of the financial year were looking promising for Air NZ, reporting a strong interim profit of $198 million, but COVID-19 resulted in a 74 percent drop in passenger revenue in April - June compared to the same period in 2019.

Read more on the financial results here.

Greg Foran
Greg Foran. Photo credit: Getty.

9:15am - The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is calling on Aucklanders to plan ahead and play it safe when people return to their cars and public transport on Monday.

It is also reminding people that face coverings will be mandatory on public transport at alert level 2. Services must also display a QR code for passengers to scan.

"On public transport, we all need to keep a safe distance from people we don’t know. This means there will be less capacity on public transport services and your usual bus or train could be full. If it’s an option, avoid travelling in peak times," says director of regional relationships Steve Mutton.

"Walking or cycling is a good option for some trips. Maintain social distancing where possible and limit the places you stop at on your journey. Above all, stay kind, stay calm and play it safe."

After the country's first lockdown earlier this year, traffic volumes rose from 50 percent under alert level 3 to 70 percent under alert level 2.

"There will be more traffic on the roads in and around Auckland, and with schools reopening there will be more people walking and cycling. We ask drivers to be vigilant, keep to the speed limit and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists."

9:10am - Air New Zealand has confirmed it will resume flying all of its Auckland domestic routes when the region moves to alert level 2 on Monday. It has been operating on a reduced schedule while the city has been at alert level 3.

From Monday, it will also be mandatory at alert level 2 and above for passengers to wear face coverings on board. Customers can bring their own or a mask will be provided by the airline. 

Due to physical distancing requirements, there will still be fewer seats available. 

"Physical distancing means we can only sell just under 50 percent of seats on a turboprop aircraft and just 65 percent on an A320 which also means we won’t be able to offer our lowest lead in fares until physical distancing measures are removed," says chief executive Greg Foran.

"This has put huge pressure on our business as it means we need to move some of our customers to other flights. We’d like to thank our customers for their patience and understanding while we work through these changes.

"When it comes to face coverings, this has been a requirement for those flying out of Auckland during alert level 3 and our customers have been really cooperative to date. We support the government’s move to mandate the wearing of face coverings on public transport at alert level 2 from next week."

He said all cabin crew will wear masks and gloves while pilots will wear masks when interacting with customers or walking through terminals.

8:50am - The Bay of Plenty Civil Defence says there are several exemptions to the new mandating of face coverings on public transport.

8:40am - Asked on The AM Show about the alert level move, Labour minister David Parker said current advice shows cases are being picked up via contact tracing. 

"The health advice that we are getting is that we are confident that the track and tracing is picking up the people and that there isn't wide community spreading outside of the cluster that is being tracked," he said.

National's Simon Bridges is concerned about the long-term effects of depriving children of education and questions whether our current alert level framework is too blunt. 

"If, by some chance, we have to stay higher or it is 2.5 not 2 and we are not moving down, why can't we see things like thinking about suburbs, thinking about certain restaurants being able to do certain things.

"I think one of the problems we have got ourselves into is it is all 3, 2, 1 and that is all we can kinda do. It's not."

Parker pointed out that taking a suburb-by-suburb lockdown approach in Melbourne didn't work.

8:20am - New contact tracing data shows the Government falling well short of hitting targets a week ago, ten days into the current outbreak.

But officials say the data was skewed by the start of the outbreak.

Read more here.

8:05am - Infectious diseases specialist Dr David Murdoch admits he is "anxious" about Auckland leaving lockdown on Sunday.

He's concerned by the number of cases New Zealand continues to record as well as the mini-cluster forming around the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church.

"I don't have all the data in front of me that would go to making that decision, but if I am being honest, I am a bit anxious too, just seeing the number of cases still come through," he told The AM Show.

"Hopefully that is going to be looked at beforehand just to appraise that decision. I think it also highlights that Aucklanders and the whole of New Zealand, we just need to really follow the guidelines. This is no time for complacency.

"Yes, anxiety moving down. Can we contain it as we move out of a lockdown situation and I think there are a few people a little anxious at the moment."

Health Minister Chirs Hipkins was asked on Thursday if he was nervous about the move to alert level 2, considering the relatively high number of positive cases being found each day.

"No, because they’re all still within the identified clusters - or cluster - but, you know, within the identified contacts. So we know what we’re dealing with. We know roughly the size of what we are dealing with, and that’s very helpful."

He said New Zealand didn't need to be recording zero cases for a move to happen. 

"One of the things that we’ll be monitoring very closely, as we do, is whether there are any additional cases that are coming up outside - a significant number of cases coming up outside - of the identified cluster."

He said Cabinet was reasonably confident the main cluster was well contained as the new cases are primarily contacts of previously confirmed cases.

Regarding the Mt Roskill church, all eight cases are linked to each other and three are genomically linked to the main cluster.

Hipkins said: "The key piece of information that we are monitoring very, very closely is whether they are all still linked to the circle of contacts that we’ve been identifying, and at the moment they still are".

He said there is no plan to review the alert level decision as there was no evidence to justify the need to change course.

7:55am - One in three schoolchildren across the world have been unable to access remote learning during coronavirus school closures, the UN children's agency said on Thursday, warning of a "global education emergency".

Nearly 1.5 billion children were affected by school closures as countries locked down to prevent the disease from spreading, UNICEF said in a report. Yet at least one in three students have had no way of continuing their education at home.

So far there have been 24.5 million confirmed positive tests - likely a fraction of the virus' true total - and 832,771 confirmed deaths.

Here's the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from around the world.

7:40am - The Ministry of Health's epidemic curve for New Zealand also shows a slight uptick since the latest outbreak began.

7:25am - Aucklanders will be preparing for what they hope will be their final weekend in lockdown.

Despite a mini-cluster of cases in Mt Roskill not yet epidemiologically linked to the main cluster, Health Minister Chris Hipkins still believes Auckland will move down alert levels on Sunday with no review scheduled between now and then.

"There are no plans currently to review whether or not the decision that we’ve already made should go ahead. We would do that if we got some evidence that suggested that we needed to somehow change course. At this point, we haven’t seen any evidence that suggests we need to change course."

All of the eight Mt Roskill cases are contacts of each other and some have been genomically linked to the main cluster.

Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said finding the epidemiological link would help. But it wasn't necessary.

"We don't need to necessarily be able to demonstrate that [epidemiological] link to be able to say the particular cluster is contained," she said.

"Widespread testing in the Auckland area will allow us to detect any previously undetected cases. That's a part of the whole strategy."

Officials have always said that we can expect to still see cases pop up at alert level 2. The key piece of information, however, will be whether they are contacts of already positive cases connected to the main cluster.