COVID-19: Live updates - Monday 17 August 2020

live 12/08/2020

Live updates from New Zealand's sixth day of lockdown (Level 3 for Auckland, Level 2 for the rest of the country) courtesy of Newshub.

MONDAY 17 AUGUST 2020

Auckland is alert level 3 and the rest of the country at alert level 2 after last week's reemergence of the coronavirus.

Refresh the page for the latest updates.

What you need to know:

  • New Zealand's new election date is October 17
  • There are nine new cases of community transmission. There are no new cases in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.
  • Seven of the cases have already been linked to the existing Auckland cluster. Four cases are currently under investigation, but based on the information available, they are also believed to be linked to the outbreak.
  • There are now 78 active cases in the country - 58 of which are in the community.
  • Five people are receiving hospital-level care for the virus. Two are in Auckland City Hospital and three are at Middlemore Hospital.
  • Monday's numbers bring the confirmed case total to 1280.
  • On Sunday, 26,014 tests were processed, bringing the total of completed tests to date to 597,956.
  • 12:55pm - Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide the latest COVID-19 case update at 1pm.
  • Watch the livestream of the announcement above. 
  • Twelve new cases of COVID-19 in the community were reported on Sunday, meaning there are currently 49 active cases of community transmission
  • The 12 new community cases are all Auckland-based and early investigations show they appear to be connected to the existing cluster
  • An additional case was reported in New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine facilities (MIQ) on Sunday, a child who arrived from Afghanistan. There are currently 20 active cases that were detected in MIQ
  • It has been revealed that two Auckland men crossed police checkpoints on Thursday night to go to SkyCity casino in Hamilton, and were asked to leave by staff (see 6:30am)
  • A person who tested positive for COVID-19 visited Royal Oak Pak'nSave in Auckland on August 8
  • A White Cross New Lynn patient, an Avondale College student and an NZ Post worker have all tested positive for the virus.

ELECETION 2020 - What you need to know: 

  • The Prime Minister announced in January that the 2020 general election would be held on September 19. 
  • With the re-emergence of COVID-19 in the community, the Prime Minister will announce at 10am on Monday if the election will be postponed. 
  • Parliament was due to be dissolved last Wednesday ahead of the September 19 election, but the Prime Minister confirmed it had been delayed until Monday. Beyond that, Ardern will have to choose a new election date. 
  • The Prime Minister can only push the date back as far as November 21 - any date later than that and Ardern would require a supermajority vote in Parliament, in which case the election could be delayed until 2021. 
  • The National Party, ACT and New Zealand First have called for the election to be delayed because they are unable to campaign under the alert level restrictions. 

Refresh the page for the latest updates.

3pm - Finance Minister Grant Robertson is giving an update on the new COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme. Watch the announcement here.

New Zealand businesses that can prove a revenue drop of at least 40 percent due to COVID-19 will be eligible to apply for the new wage subsidy scheme, which is expected to cost the Government about $510 million and cover 470,000 jobs.

The new wage subsidy will cover the period that Auckland is at alert level 3 (if not extended, level 3 restrictions are set to be lifted on Wednesday, August 26). It has also removed the revenue-drop test for the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme, which has been simplified to encourage people to get tested.

"To further support wide-scale testing, we've removed the revenue-drop and 'negatively impacted' tests for the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme. This means businesses with workers who have been told by health officials or their medical practitioner to self-isolate will receive the equivalent of the wage subsidy, to help cover that person's wages for the time they cannot be at work," Robertson said.

Along with the existing wage subsidy extension - which is open until September 1 for eligible businesses - the Treasury estimates that about 930,000 jobs will be covered by the two schemes.

The mortgage deferral scheme is also being extended from its current end-date of September 27 to March 31, 2021. Further details will be made available by the Reserve Bank and the retail banks. Robertson says the mortgage deferral scheme has been "well-received".

The combined cost of the two schemes will be about $1.6 billion, Robertson revealed.

The new wage subsidy scheme will be open for applications by Friday, August 21.

Read the full report here.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Getty

2:45pm - A man completing his 14 days of mandatory managed isolation at Auckland's Rydges Hotel was shocked when guests were incorrectly informed of a positive case at the facility.

As reported by NZME, guests were advised to remain in their rooms while communal areas were cleaned following the supposed detection of a positive case. A letter delivered to the new arrivals said they would be notified if they were considered a close contact, but the risk of exposure to the virus was "very low".

When it was announced on Sunday that just one case of COVID-19 - a child who had been staying at the Pullman Hotel - had been detected in managed isolation, the man was surprised the Rydges wasn't mentioned.

It later transpired that the confirmed case had not been a guest at the Rydges Hotel, which was clarified to guests in a third letter. 

2:30pm - Details on the most recent confirmed cases as of 9am on Monday, released by the Ministry of Health.

Photo credit: Ministry of Health

1:55pm - During the 1pm briefing, Dr Bloomfield outlined four Auckland locations which were attended by an individual who has tested positive for the virus. People who were at these locations at the specified times may be a casual contact, and should monitor their health over the coming days. 

  • Botany Mall: 1pm to 2pm on August 11
  • Buttabean Motivation (a fitness club), Kingsland: August 10
  • Auckland Cavy Club's Guinea Pig Show, Glenfield: 10am to 2pm on August 1
  • Eden Junior Rugby Club in Gribblehurst Park, Sandringham: 5:30pm to 6:30pm on August 11.

1:45pm - Dr Bloomfield confirmed one of the positive cases is a Ports of Auckland worker, who is connected to the existing cluster. The case will be investigated further, he said, but it appears the man's role requires only limited interaction with other staff. The port worker was a close contact of another case.

He also noted that the ministry will be looking into a possible "breakdown in communication" from the top tier of the COVID-19 response - including himself and the Prime Minister - to district health boards and public health units.

1:30pm - Following the Government's order for all Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga staff to get tested - including any workers who attended the ports in recent days - Dr Bloomfield said the ministry is attempting to "cast a wide net".

More than 1000 Ports of Auckland workers had been tested by 5pm on Sunday, and Dr Bloomfield understands that 2000 to 3000 workers who had contact with the Port of Tauranga will be tested over the coming days.

1:25pm - The Ministry of Health is expecting that Melbourne-based Americold workers will be tested on Monday. Scientists will use genome sequencing to look for a possible link between Melbourne's outbreak and the Auckland cluster. 

"We may never answer the question of how it was transmitted, but we will try to," Dr Bloomfield said.

He noted that it appears there is just the single cluster, which is "encouraging", and health officials are working to piece together a full picture of the "contours of the outbreak".

1:15pm - Dr Bloomfield has reiterated that COVID-19 the problem - not the people who have contracted it.

He denied the claim that the public were "misled" about the rate of testing at the border, and said it's just a matter of "scaling up" the effort.

"There was testing happening in the facilities - absolutely," he reiterated, noting there were "challenges" and "complexities" in rolling out routine testing across all components of the border. 

"We couldn't suddenly flick a switch and test everyone at the facilities... I don't think there has been a failure... our border systems have been continually strengthened," he said, noting that testing of staff was voluntary under alert level 1. 

"The expectation was all border staff would be tested regularly, and that's what was being rolled out."

1:10pm - Dr Bloomfield has outlined some locations of interest which may be connected to the Auckland cluster. These include:

  • Botany Mall, between 1pm and 2pm on August 11
  • Buttabean Motivation in Kingsland, August 10
  • Guinea Pig Show Auckland Cabby Club, between 10am and 2pm
  • Eden Junior Rugby Club in Gribblehurst Park in Sandringham, between 5:30pm and 6:30pm on August 11.

However, Aucklanders should not feel as though they need to avoid these locations, Dr Bloomfield said. The ministry is trying to "cast a wide net" so anyone who visited these locations can watch for symptoms.

Dr Bloomfield said testing at the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington will take "some time to process".

"We need all those tests to be completed to get a full picture," he said. "Even if some swabs return a possible test, it may be hard to tell where the cases came from."

New Zealand Food Safety has reviewed its most recent science and suggests there's no evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food or packaging.

1pm - There are nine new cases of community transmission. There are no new cases in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Seven of the cases have already been linked to the existing Auckland cluster. Four cases are currently under investigation, but based on the information available, they are also believed to be linked to the outbreak.

There are now 78 active cases in the country - 58 of which are in the community.

Five people are receiving hospital-level care for the virus. Two are in Auckland City Hospital and three are at Middlemore Hospital.

Monday's numbers bring the confirmed case total to 1280.

On Sunday, 26,014 tests were processed, bringing the total of completed tests to date to 597,956.

12:55pm - Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide the latest COVID-19 case update at 1pm.

12:30pm - An NZ Post worker at the Highbrook Operations Centre in Auckland has also tested positive for COVID-19.

A statement from chief customer officer Bryan Dobson confirmed the team member followed the appropriate measures and stayed home when they felt unwell. The employee last attended work on Wednesday, August 12.

The individual is now in quarantine and a small number of people considered to be close contacts are awaiting their test results in self-isolation. A deep-clean of the centre was undertaken on Sunday night.

It follows a statement from Foodstuffs confirming a person who later tested positive for COVID-19 had shopped at Royal Oak Pak'nSave on Saturday, August 8.

12:15pm - A student at Auckland's Avondale College has tested positive for COVID-19, the school has revealed.

After being notified, the college and Auckland Regional Public Health (ARPH) have been working to identify the student's close contacts. 

These close contacts are other students and staff who have been in the same classes as the infected student, and now have to isolate for 14 days.

"There will be a great deal of concern in the school community, but there is a lower risk as the student was not symptomatic while at school," a statement from the school explained.

"They got tested when they felt sick and are now in isolation."

The school remains open for students and families who need to attend, particularly children of essential workers.

Students and staff who haven't received a letter from ARPH about being close contacts are considered casual contacts. They are advised to keep an eye out for symptoms of COVID-19 over the next 14 days.

11:55am - Auckland's two weeks at alert level 3 will cost the taxpayer about another $1 billion in wage subsidies, Finance Minister Grant Robertson estimates.

To date the wage subsidy scheme, paid to employers who can prove a loss of revenue directly caused by the pandemic and COVID-19 response, has cost $13.1 billion. Despite predictions that unemployment levels would skyrocket, Jobseeker Support numbers have only marginally increased since April - and the official unemployment rate actually fell in the most recent quarter - indicating the scheme is working.

After Cabinet meets on Monday, Robertson will reveal the "finer details" of the second extension to the scheme.

"We're going to build on what's worked, because we know the wage subsidy scheme has worked. Obviously with these restrictions right around New Zealand, it's being felt again," he told The AM Show on Monday. "If it needed to go longer - and that's a big if - we would look at that, but for now we are looking at two weeks."

Read the full report here.

11:35am - It's taking "frustrated" motorists roughly four hours to travel just 5 kilometres from Pokeno to Bombay as traffic continues to build at one of the south Auckland roadblocks. A Newshub reporter on the scene said a couple of people were getting out of their vehicles as they waited to cross the checkpoint. Footage from the queue shows a line of vehicles at a standstill.

11:20am - A charge against a man who broke into an Auckland managed isolation facility earlier this month has been with withdrawn, Stuff reports.

The 33-year-old Northland man forced entry into an outdoor area of the Crowne Plaza on August 7. Court documents show the man spoke with a friend staying at the facility, who had recently arrived from Australia, and gave him a hug - behaviour that was "incredibly irresponsible", according to Air Commodore Darryn Webb.

The man was charged with intentionally failing to comply with the COVID-19 response by associating with a person in managed isolation, and being in an area of the Crowne Plaza without reasonable excuse.

On Monday, it was reported that police prosecutor Sergeant Chris Goodall had asked for the lead charge to be withdrawn as it was determined the charge, made under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, was not applicable to the 33-year-old's circumstances. At the time, orders under the Act applied only to recent returnees. 

The second charge still applies, and carries a maximum penalty of three months behind bars and a $2000 fine. He will be sentenced on Friday.

11:10am - Finance Minister Grant Robertson has defended the Government's decision to move back up the alert levels, arguing that people need to see it from a "long-term" perspective.

Robertson says the decision to "go hard and early" in response to Auckland's community outbreak will pay off in the long run, as two weeks under alert level 3 now may prevent a return to level 4 lockdown later. 

"Absolutely, we don't want to be going up and down between levels. Equally, from a public health point of view, we know that stepping in early is the best thing to do. We stepped in with those greater restrictions as soon as we discovered this new cluster," Robertson told The AM Show on Monday.

"If you look across the ditch to Victoria, they waited several weeks. That means they're going to have a longer period of time in lockdown and a longer period with limited economic activity. You have to take a long-term view on this." 

10:50am - Newshub has received a report that it's currently taking four hours to travel just 5 kilometres from Pokeno to Bombay, where one of the south Auckland roadblocks is located. Motorists are "frustrated", with a couple spotted getting out of their vehicles. 

10:30am - Ardern reiterated there remains no evident link between the primary cluster in Auckland and managed isolation and quarantine facilities, although it's still under investigation.

The Prime Minister said she wants a comprehensive, mandated approach to the testing of border staff moving forward, saying the routine testing strategy "hasn't met our expectations".

"We have, as a Cabinet, urged regular testing," Ardern said. "When we ask as a Cabinet for something to happen, we expect it to happen."

Ardern said she was under the impression that testing was being completed on a weekly basis, but she cannot confirm that every single staff member was getting picked up on a weekly rota.

10:20am - During her announcement regarding New Zealand's new election date, the Prime Minister said there is "no evidence" the country should move back into alert level 4 lockdown.

"There is no evidence that that is where we should be," Ardern said.

10:09am - "Ultimately this was my decision," Ardern said, when asked if she was pressured into changing the election date by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. 

10:06am - The Prime Minister has proposed that Parliament reconvene on Tuesday. 

10:05am - The election has been moved by four weeks to October 17. 

10:04am - The need for certainty was something each political party agreed on, Ardern said. 

10:03am - Ardern said she reached out to all political party leaders despite the decision being up to her. She said under the circumstances she felt it was appropriate to ask them for their advice. 

9:59am - The Prime Minister says it will be a "busy day of announcements", with a 1pm press briefing from Ashley Bloomfield on the latest COVID-19 announcements and Finance Minister Grant Robertson set to reveal more details on financial packages at 3pm. 

9:45am - A person who tested positive for COVID-19 visited Royal Oak Pak'nSave in Auckland last weekend.

The person shopped at the supermarket on Saturday, August 8 between 1pm and 3pm. 

Royal Oak Pak'nSave manager Michael Van Brink told staff in a letter on Sunday that they were "very unlikely to be affected by this brief exposure". 

The person was not symptomatic when they visited the supermarket. Employees and shoppers in-store at the time are considered to be "low risk".

As a precaution, those in the supermarket on Saturday afternoon between 1pm and 3pm are asked to continue adhering to alert level 3 restrictions and watch for symptoms of COVID-19, such as a new or worsening cough; runny nose; sore throat; fever; or temporary loss of smell. 

The Pak'nSave Royal Oak team has been working closely with the Ministry of Health and heightened measures are in place, including two-metre physical distancing, increased sanitisation practices and perspex protective screens.

9:35am - With the reemergence of COVID-19 in the community, the Prime Minister will announce at 10am on Monday if the election will be postponed. 

Watch the PM's election announcement live here.

9:20am - Upper Hutt College principal Judith Taylor has clarified that it's "very unlikely" students would have contracted COVID-19 following a Year 13 class trip to Rotorua earlier this month.

It was discovered the geography students may have been exposed to the virus at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland on Friday, August 7. A confirmed case had visited Wai-o-Tapu that day between 9am and 10:15am, and later tested positive on arrival in Japan.

A portion of an email sent to parents over the weekend was later shared to a community Facebook group, which Taylor says omitted crucial wording. 

"Unfortunately the information on the community Facebook page did not give the full text and omitted the wording (from the Hutt Valley DHB) that the students 'are very unlikely to get infected and are considered to be at low risk of catching the virus'," Taylor told Newshub.

Newshub obtained a full copy of the statement sent by the principal on Sunday, which said the students are considered casual contacts but there is "no cause for alarm".

"Health authorities have stated that these students are considered a 'casual contact', having been face-to-face with the person with COVID-19 for less than 15 minutes or in the same closed space for less than 2 hours. They are very unlikely to get infected and are considered to be at low risk of catching the virus," says the statement.

"All families of these students have been given the relevant health advice on what to do and are following that - I am aware that a number of students have already had COVID-19 tests or have appointments to do so. The teachers involved will also be getting a COVID-19 test."

9:15am - Traffic is currently backed up as Aucklanders attempt to get through the Buckland Road-Tuakau Road border into Pukekohe.

8:50am - The Prime Minister is expected to announce the decision regarding next month's imminent election date at 10am - and one political expert has laid out two possibilities.

Massey University Professor of Politics, Richard Shaw, told Newshub the election date will either be delayed or depoliticised.

If it is rescheduled, Shaw says it will likely be on the assumption that an October or November election date could provide a "safer environment" for voters. However, he notes there's "no guarantee" the country will have returned to its 'COVID-free' streak by that time - and postponing the election on that basis could lead to repeated delays.

"You could conceivably go on for a very long time if that were your logic," he said.

The other alternative is that the decision will be depoliticised, Shaw said, and will be left to the Electoral Commission and chief electoral officer. Under legislation, the agency has the ability to delay polling at one or more booths for one day, for up to three days, and successive one-week periods on consultation with the Prime Minister and Opposition leader.

"I genuinely have no idea which way it's going to go," he said.

8:20am - A technology expert says people are doing the right thing by questioning what they hear - but are turning to the wrong sources for the truth.

Tech PR consultant Paul Brislen, former head of the Telecommunications Users Association of NZ, told The AM Show on Monday that New Zealanders need to think more critically about speculation on social media.

"You've got to become journalists... Why are they saying this? How am I going to investigate this further? 

"You get people sharing it because they think they're doing the right thing. They think they've found something that people need to know about. They get stuck in, they do a little bit of desk research, and next minute you're sharing a conspiracy theory which has no validation, no truth whatsoever - and it's upsetting people's lives."

His warning follows the circulation of a "particularly virulent" rumour, according to Health Minister Chris Hipkins, that made false allegations against one of the original Auckland cases. The now debunked theory suggested a young woman had infiltrated a managed isolation facility to visit a man who had been deported from Australia.

Brislen acknowledged that seeking more information is "the right thing" to do, but seek information from credible sources "who know what they're talking about".

"Why would somebody's aunty in Timaru know that the Government is planning to introduce martial law at the end of October? Does that make any sense at all?" he said.

Both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Hipkins have called out conspiracy theorists for spreading misinformation during this period of uncertainty.

7:40am - Auckland City Missioner Chris Farrelly says the social services organisation is well prepared to cater to the needs of the city's most vulnerable people under alert level 3.

Speaking to Newshub on Monday, Farrelly said the Auckland City Mission's additional food distribution centre will help staff to meet the growing demand for food parcels, which has doubled compared to this time last year.

"We're prepared to gear up and provide more emergency food," he said. "As of today, we've been able to cater for and cope with the increased numbers."

The City Mission's health centre is "fully cranked up", Farrelly said, and can provide virtual consults and on-site COVID-19 testing for its clients. 

7:10am - Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett has called the emphasis on testing Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga workers "silly", claiming the order has incited "chaos" at the sites.

On Saturday, the Government issued an order for all Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga staff - and any workers who had contact with the ports - to get tested for COVID-19. The order also extends to visiting drivers, shipping agents and their staff, stevedores and contractors.

Leggett says the order has forced 12,000 to 15,000 truck drivers to "scramble", noting that the sheer number of workers the Government's order applies to will overwhelm limited testing facilities. 

"Why are these silly rules put in place at just short notice, forcing people to scramble?... You can imagine 12,000 or 15,000 descending on a testing station," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"We can't test all the workers it seems - we can't test border workers, we can't test Air NZ staff working on international flights, yet all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we need to test 15,000 truck drivers in Tauranga and Auckland because they're in contact with the port... This all has to be done by midnight tonight, and the testing facilities just don't exist at the moment."

6:30am - Hamilton's SkyCity casino ejected two men who'd travelled down from Auckland in breach of the rules, according to a report.

Travelling out of the city, under alert level 3, is heavily restricted at present. The rest of the country is at alert level 2. Almost all of the new COVID-19 cases found have been in Auckland.

Stuff reports staff at the central city casino asked the men to leave. Police said the men's actions were "incredibly disappointing".

5:40am - A school in Wellington is scrambling to contact parents after discovering some of its students may have come into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Upper Hutt College emailed parents at the weekend to say a year 13 geography class on a trip to Rotorua earlier this month may have been exposed to the virus at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland on Friday, August 7.

"We only became aware of this situation on Saturday and have worked as quickly as possible over the weekend to get advice and guidance from the health authorities and to ensure the students and their families are kept well-informed," the email from principal Judith Taylor read.

The school was told the students are being considered "casual contacts".

A portion of the email was posted to a local community Facebook page.  

The confirmed case was at Wai-o-Tapu on that day between 9am and 10:15am, and tested positive for the virus after leaving New Zealand and arriving in Japan.