COVID-19: Live updates - Thursday 20 August 2020

live 20/08/2020

There have been 75 cases of community transmission detected over the last week and the Prime Minister says there is no reason why moving to alert level 4 is necessary.

Six new cases - five in the community and one in managed isolation - were recorded on Wednesday, taking the total active cases count to 96.

Auckland is currently under alert level 3, while the rest of the country sits at alert level 2.

What you need to know:

  • There are 96 active cases in New Zealand. Of these, 21 were found in managed isolation or quarantine facilities, while 75 were detected in the community
  • Of the 75 community cases, all but one is linked to a single south Auckland cluster. The other case is a worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility
  • The Prime Minister says we won't be moving to alert level 4 anytime soon as the cases are being managed and all are linked to an identified cluster or directly to the border
  • The Government has announced border security will be boosted with 500 NZDF personnel heading to isolation facilities. The Government will also move to a model of directly employing security guards for facilities
  • Auckland is under alert level 3, while the rest of the country is at alert level 2.

Follow Newshub's live updates:

4pm - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is hoping the city moves down alert levels, but fears there's a danger in moving too quickly.

"If we can get the bounce back that we got last time, I think all of us were really pleased that the economy was recovering much more quickly in Auckland after we went back to level 1 than had been anticipated," he told RNZ's Morning Report.

He says he's going to rely on medical authorities to determine whether the virus is effectively contained before alert levels are moved.

Read the full story here.

3:40pm - Health Minister Chris Hipkins has shut down a rumour that people who test positive for COVID-19 will have their children taken away by Oranga Tamariki.

He says this rumour, which has been circulating the community, is completely untrue.

"Oranga Tamariki will not be taking away the children of people who test positive for COVID-19," he says.

"Those sorts of rumours are circulating in the community and it does seem to be circulating particularly in the Māori and Pasifika community… It erodes people's confidence about getting tested.

"People should go and get tested, they should do the right thing and those sorts of rumours certainly don't help."

Read the full story here.

3:20pm - National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says the Government is "refusing democratic process" by not reconvening Parliament's Health Select Committee.

On Wednesday he called for the committee to return and requested Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield appear before it and be available for questions.

However, chairperson of the Health Select Committee Louisa Wall responded to his request saying after consulting with Government colleagues in the committee, "there is not a majority in favour of requesting Dr Bloomfield to appear".

"That being the case, it seems that there would not be any point in convening such a meeting," her response goes on to say.

Dr Reti says Kiwis "deserve answers" as to why a second lockdown occurred and the Health Select Committee is the "best way" to find those.

"We should be utilising Parliament's capabilities to make our systems stronger. The Health Select Committee is a very collaborative committee and this request provided an opportunity for all parties to improve our response and therefore improve the safety of all New Zealanders."

3pm - There are "critical pieces of information" Dr Ashley Bloomfield will give Cabinet ahead of Friday's alert level review. These include the latest information about testing results, as well as laboratory and contact tracing capacity.

"I think a key thing is the level of testing that's being done outside of Auckland that will give us a very good picture about whether there has been spread beyond Auckland, so that will be a key piece of information for Cabinet," Dr Bloomfield told reporters.

"The way I think about it is the extent to which we're confident we have found the boundaries of the current outbreak and in a sense through our contact tracing being able to draw the net tightly around it. Those are critical pieces of information."

Read the full story here.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty Images

2:35pm - Auckland Airport has posted a huge fall in profits due to COVID-19. 

Underlying profit after tax for the year ended June 30 fell 31.4 percent to NZ$188.5 million from NZ$274.7 million last year.

The airport's chairperson Patrick Strange says the airport is going through its most challenging period in its history.

"The global pandemic and the extremely difficult aviation and tourism operating conditions we have seen over the past six months are far from over," he says.

Read the full story here.

1:40pm - On whether people should return a negative test before coming to New Zealand, Hipkins says that doesn't always work because people can get infected in transit. 

1:35pm - The maintenance worker entered the lift "a matter of minutes" after the USA returnee, Dr Bloomfield says. This was found through the swipe card access data.

1:25pm - Dr Bloomfield is asked what needs to happen for alert levels to be lowered. He says the level of testing outside of Auckland will show if there has been spread. Whether officials are confident the boundaries of the cluster have been found will also be an important factor to consider, he says.

He is confident in lab and contact tracing capacity.

Hipkins has read the Government testing strategy, but hasn't seen the information the Ministry of Health has prepared. His focus is on normalising the rate of testing seen recently. 

The Director-General said it was complex to roll out regular testing of border and isolation facility workers. He said testing was happening, but it required more scaling up.

1:20pm - Regarding the second 'under investigation' case, Dr Bloomfield says genomic sequencing is underway. The results of this is expected later on Thursday. He says genomic sequencing is very beneficial.

The individual's contacts have been isolated, and both household and work close contacts have been tested. They are awaiting results.

On Americold, the first infection doesn't seem to be the result of virus on a refrigerated product. Dr Bloomfield says it's more likely to be human-to-human transmission. Testing of the port workers may show if the virus came in that way.

On the Rydges worker, their infection more likely came from a contaminated surface.

What will Cabinet consider on Friday? Hipkins says the latest cluster information will be looked at, as well as the results of testing in different areas, cases that aren't connected to the cluster and whether new cases are within existing contacts.

1:15pm - At managed isolation facilities in Auckland, 2891 of the 2900 staff have been tested. All have come back negative, but the maintenance worker. The nine remaining staff are being followed up.

Hipkins says these are positive signs the system is working as intended.

Based on the testing, there is a strong indication there has been no unseen transmission out of the border. He says no system is fool-proof.

Hipkins acknowledges the Pacific community for its work over the last week and to Pacific people for getting tested at a high rate.

He also dismisses a rumour that Oranga Tamariki will be taking away the children of people who test positive for COVID-19. He said this erodes confidence in people getting tested.

1:10pm - Health Minister Chris Hipkins says while we are seeing smaller numbers of cases, we can't get complacent. He wants Aucklanders to continue obeying the alert level 3 restrictions, including when the weather is good.

As of Thursday, 1.6 million people have downloaded the COVID Tracer app. More than 112,000 businesses have QR codes on display.

In regard to exemptions to get into or out of Auckland, there have been 7000 applications, with more than 1000 granted. About 100 have been declined.

The number of tests processed on Wednesday was 18,091, taking the total to 657,506.

At the border nationwide over the last nine days, 7649 workers have been tested at airports and ports. All have come back negative. But one Port of Auckland worker who tested positive, but they are connected to the cluster and were identified through that testing.

1:05pm - Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there are five new confirmed cases, all of which are in the community. There are no new imported cases. 

Four are Auckland based, while the fifth is connected to the Tokoroa cases. They are in Waikato Hospital.

Six people are receiving hospital-level care. One in Middlemore Hospital is in intensive care, but they are in a stable condition.

To date, 133 people linked to the cluster have been moved to the Auckland quarantine facility, including 65 people who have tested positive.

We have now recorded 1304 cases. There are currently 101 active cases.

Of the 80 cases involved in the community outbreak, 78 are linked to the one cluster. Two are under investigation.

The first is the maintenance worker, while the second is one announced on Wednesday which was believed to be linked to the cluster, but is now classified as under investigation. This latter person was at St Lukes Mall on the morning of August 12. Anyone who visited at that time should be alert of symptoms.

Regarding the Rydges worker, it's unlikely nurses transmitted the virus to the individual. But the worker did use the same lift as the USA returnee very shortly after them. This is a "strong line of investigation", he says.

In total, there are 1996 close contacts being followed up. Of these, 1921 have already been contacted. The rest are in progress.

On the Americold environmental sampling, Dr Bloomfield says results have found no evidence of the virus on any swabs at the Wiri site. There were very low levels of the virus on gauze swabs from four of 35 swabs at the Mt Wellington site. These surfaces would be contaminated by someone who would have the infection. No virus was found inside any food packaging.

"Additional work here isn't currently warranted," Dr Bloomfield says. Therefore, the investigation into the cluster's origin remains ongoing.

12:50pm - It's nearly time for Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins' press conference. We will stream that above and on Three.

12:30pm - A returning Kiwi halfway through his stay in managed isolation says he felt safer back home in Australia.

Tim Barnard, 65, is home to see his brother, who has cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy. He's on day seven at the Pullman in Auckland, and wants out. 

"When I arrived there were groups of people standing around, not physical distancing," he told The AM Show on Thursday. 

"Some had PPE gear on - only masks and gloves though, no full face shields or gowns. I asked if the room had been sanitised - I came into the room and there's fingerprints on the glass tables, handprints and fingerprints on the windows."

Read more here.

12:10pm - The Project's Kanoa Lloyd has some tips for dealing with misinformation. Watch the video in the tweet below.

12:05pm - At the very beginning of the pandemic Sweden received huge amounts of attention for its unique approach to COVID-19. 

While other countries implemented strict lockdowns in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, Sweden instead relied on a herd immunity approach and voluntary social distancing. 

But has that paid off?

Read more here.

11:50am - Newshub's political reporter Zane Small has more detail on the proposed National border security policy here.

11:30am - Collins says security enhancements for managed isolation and quarantine facilities announced by Megan Woods earlier on Thursday "sound like catch-up to me".

She says a lack of testing of asymptomatic border workers is a "failure of leadership".

If COVID-19 did get through National's protection system, Collins says it would be "very quickly stopped". She has a "zero tolerance to lockdowns unless they are needed". They can't be the default position, she says.

11:25am -  Judith Collins says she has seen a Wednesday press release from New Zealand First annoucning it too wanted to create a type of border protection force.

"I saw that they had a press release. That is all I have seen from New Zealand First on it. Ours is actually a thought-out policy that we have been working on for a while," she says.

Collins claims New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is in a difficult spot because he is part of a Government "that has had such a massive failure in the border protection area".

11:15am - With this policy, Dr Reti says National wouldn't be prohibiting Kiwis returning to New Zealand, but providing regulations that must be responded to.

Collins says it's an issue of balance and we have seen what happens when a less than rigourous approach is taken.

She says even with the best measures in place, it's always possible something could come through.

"Having said that, it is much better with the contact tracing that we have in place to prevent that and if there is any need for any lockdown, it would be based on what is necessary and it would be hopefully caught very quickly."

Despite having people in isolation for 14 days, Collins says COVID-19 has somehow returned to the country.

11:10am - National would also begin deploying Bluetooth technology.

Collins says a strong border is critical to public health and to the economy. She says it's not sustainable to yo-yo in and out of lockdown.

"It's not good enough and it needs to change."

She says the current Government is good at making promises, but amiss when getting things done. 

"We will make it happen," the National leader says.

Asked about the policy to have people test negative before coming to New Zealand, Collins says people would still be tested at day 3 and 12 after they have arrived. 

When looking at the burdern on returnees by requiring them be tested before coming to New Zealand, Collins says we must also consider the burden on Kiwis currently under lockdown. She says it is about shared responsibility.

"It's a very small price for someone to pay to help keep the country safe."

Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says no one who tests positive will be boarding a plane to New Zealand.

11:05am - Speaking at a press conference National leader Judith Collins says just as 9/11 changed air travel forever, COVID-19 means the world is no longer the same.

She says even beyond when a vaccine become available, there will likely be heightened procedures at borders for years to come. There will also be other threats in the future, she says.

Te Korowai Whakamaru wouldn't replace any current ministry or department. It would scale up and down as threats emerge and go away. It will allow a single line of command to "avoid the current confusion".

She says requiring people to provide evidence of a recent negative test before coming to New Zealand follows what other countries are doing. The party will require new entrant and border workers to have tracing technology.

"National will require compulsory weekly testing of all staff working at the border or in quarantine facilities."

Collins says a strong border requires multiple lines of defence. The second line is rapid contact tracing, which National would strengthen, she says. She believes it can be "much better" and not prone to human error.

11am - National is promising to "inject some steel" into our defence against COVID-19 and deliver "robust border systems" to keep the virus "at bay and allow our economy to thrive".

The party has released its border security policy which includes:

  • Establishing Te Korowai Whakamaru/NZ Border Protection Agency to "provide comprehensive oversight and management of COVID-19 at the border as well as other public health threats"
  • Requiring international travellers to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 tests before coming to New Zealand
  • Having agency employees, border facility workers and DHB staff who treat or test patients use contact tracing technologies
  • Rapidly deploying Bluetooth apps to help with contact tracing while exploring other technologies like a COVID Card
  • Widening testing availability nationwide and "striving towards a test-on-demand system with a waiting time target of no longer than 60 minutes for a COVID-19 test"
  • Regularly testing aged-care workers and increasing opportunities for testing within aged-care facilities

More detail can be found here.

10:55am - Lockdown challenged many businesses, and some are still struggling for survival - but one local company managed to 'pivot' amid the COVID-19 chaos, swapping screen cases for at-home desks.

Fiasco co-owner Joe Bradford spoke to The AM Show on Thursday about his secret for successfully switching up a business when current events demand change.

In the 10 days before lockdown, Fiasco lost 90 percent of its business selling cases for audio-visual equipment. 

Read more here.

10:40am - Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine facilities, has announced new security enhancements will be put in place at MIQ facilities.

"Managed isolation and quarantine facilities are commercial hotels with security systems that support the hotel function but there is room to improve these systems to better protect our communities from COVID-19," she said.

Whilst each facility is different it is proposed to add the following security enhancements where feasible:

  • Thermal CCTV (night and day vision) around the perimeter with geo-fenced alarming. This technology would create an alarm when people move within a defined area;
  • CCTV in public and exercise areas to monitor distance breaches;
  • CCTV in accommodation corridors to monitor any breaches between rooms;
  • Security Control Room/Desk,
  • Audible alarms on fire exits
  • Electronic access systems to restrict or track movement around a facility.

The rollout is estimated to cost about $6 million.

"Benefits include an increased ability to quickly detect and respond to perimeter breaches and incursions, and breaches of managed isolation and quarantine facility rules and security such as  physical distancing and use of PPE," Woods said.

"It will also enable better evidence collection to support enforcement action and if necessary police prosecution for non-compliance."

Woods says no system is foolproof, but these enhancements will "add an extra layer of protection".

"We are mindful of the privacy of returnees and any additional surveillance will take place only in the public areas of the facilities, not in rooms."

The Government will also be commencing a pilot of the COVID Card technology for staff within facilities, which could be rolled out further in the coming months.

10:30am - US President Donald Trump has doubled down on his comments about New Zealand's COVID-19 situation.

"New Zealand, by the way, had a bad outbreak," he has just said at a White House press conference.

"Other countries that were held up to try and make us look not as good as we should look, because we have done an incredible job, but they are having a lot of outbreaks, but they will be able to put them and we put them out."

It follows his comment earlier this week that Aotearoa has seen a "big surge", something Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said was wrong. On Wednesday, New Zealand recorded six new cases, compared to tens of thousands in the USA.

10:25am - Asked by MagicTalk's Peter Williams if he and the Government are embarrassed by issues recently exposed at the border facilities, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says he wouldn't put it that way.

"We have to expect when we are dealing with an unprecedented event like this, that putting in place facilities that New Zealand has never seen, that things won't be 100 percent perfect all the time," he said.

The minister said close to 40,000 people have gone through the facilities and, other than one or two people trying to break out or get in, they have been run "very, very well".

"But, of course, it is not 100 percent perfection and we have acknowledged that."

10:15am -  When a tsunami is coming, you get out of the way as fast as you can.

That's how Health Minister Chris Hipkins has defended the stay-at-home order in March, which a court has now determined was illegal. 

While most of Wellington lawyer Andrew Borrowdale's challenges to the country's first lockdown were rejected, an order forcing Kiwis to stay at home except for essential trips was "not prescribed by law" for the first nine, the court ruled on Wednesday. The problem was fixed with a new order on April 3.

Find more here.

9:55am - The Greens are calling for 10 days' paid sick leave to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, and as Newshub revealed Labour looks set to announce something similar. 

Full and part time employees are currently eligible for five days of paid sick leave in New Zealand, after working continuously for an employer for six months, but the Greens are calling for that to be doubled to 10 days. 

Green Party workplace relations spokesperson Jan Logie said on Thursday everyone has a role to play in keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand communities and that includes staying home when unwell. 

Read more on that here.

9:50am - Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Chris Hipkins will present Thursday's 1pm update. Before that, however, we are expecting to hear from National on the party's border security policy.

9:35am - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has spoken to CNN about the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

He said with the virus raging around the world, New Zealand faces "the risk of new incursions, notwithstanding our border controls".

While our 'go hard, go early' approach "succeeded" with the first lockdown, Goff said there "will be constant threats to our system because we have got New Zealanders returning home and they do bring the disease back with them".

"All of them are required to be in quarantine for 14 days, but there are human errors in the system and this was a case that got through."

He is confident it's being contained.

The mayor believes there is a "false dichotomy between saying you either protect health or you protect the economy". By getting back to alert level 1, businesses were able to recover quickly, he said.

Goff also said New Zealand was "somewhat mystified" by US President Donald Trump's comments that Aotearoa was seeing a "big surge" in cases. He pointed out that we saw nine cases that day compared to the US' 42,000.

9:20am - Health Minister Chris Hipkins says health officials are confident they've reached almost everyone with links to the Auckland COVID-19 cluster.

Only five new cases in the community were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total to 75, Hipkins telling The AM Show to expect "similar" numbers at Thursday's 1pm daily briefing. 

"The growth in that cluster is slowing - we'll get the exact numbers later in the morning and release those at one o'clock. We do seem to be starting to reach the outer perimeter of this cluster, which is of course what the whole contact tracing system is designed to do."

Read more here.

9am - The minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Megan Woods, is visiting some of those facilities on Thursday alongside Air Commodore Darryn Webb.

8:55am - A man has been charged with burglary after breaking into an Auckland managed isolation facility and stealing a Government worker's laptop. 

The 32-year-old man was arrested in July after breaking into the Crowne Plaza hotel on Albert Street, police confirmed. 

He was able to enter the facility by climbing over a barrier fence and walking into reception, according to NZME. 

Detective senior sergeant Greg Brand said in a statement on Thursday that the man is due to appear in Auckland District Court on November 16. 

Read more here.

8:40am - The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is reminding motorists to expect delays near the police checkpoints north and south of Auckland.

8:25am - Christine Macfarlane, president of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, is speaking to The AM Show about mental health during the pandemic.

She says counsellors have been run off their feet since the first lockdown seeing people of all ages. Those coming for help have also been seeking advice around the likes of addiction, job security, anxiety, and relationship issues.

There are enough counsellors, but there isn't enough funding to help people access the services, she says. There are community and addiction services that can provide some funding.

She wants to see more funding to allow people to access long-term counselling. 

8:15am - A frequent guest on The AM Show, infectious diseases expert Professor David Murdoch, has been awarded the University of Otago's Distinguished Research Medal. It's awarded for outstanding scholarly achievement.

The university says Prof Murdoch is a "recognised world leader in the study, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, particularly pneumonia and other respiratory infections."

It says in recent months, Prof Murdoch has been playing a key role in advising the Government on the COVID-19 pandemic and was one of three international experts invited to advise the Oxford University team developing a vaccine.

"Professor Murdoch is the epitome of a leader.  He works tirelessly to progress the understanding of infectious diseases and because of his mana in the field and gift for communication and collaboration, he has been able to ensure his research findings are implemented and make a difference to the health of individuals and communities," says vice-chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne.

"One significant example of his impact was the critical part he played in the establishment of a national vaccination programme for all Nepalese children, which happened because of his rigorous research and ability to work with governmental agencies and the World Health Organisation. 

"In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Murdoch continues to lead by example, providing outstanding advice and commentary on the impact of the virus on New Zealand.

8:05am - The Greens are calling for paid sick leave to be doubled from five days to 10 days.

"We all have an incredibly important role to play in keeping COVID-19 out of our communities, and that includes staying home when unwell," Greens workplace relations spokesperson Jan Logie says.

"However, we know that the very real concern of losing the income they rely on stops many people from staying home if they or the kids in their households have cold symptoms."

Logie says the Ministry of Health has rightfully set strict guidelines for people to stay home and away from work if they are sick. But the Government must help people do so with worrying about paying the bills, she says.

"Five days sick leave is not enough. The Green Party is calling for this to double to ten days, so people can do their part by staying home and reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. We'll also explore ways to support small businesses to adapt to this change.

"Self-isolating when unwell is a crucial part of the public health response. However, it shouldn’t be working people having to shoulder the burden of this by being made to take unpaid sick leave. Working people have raised this concern already, and we should listen to them."

She welcomed the extension to the COVID-19 Leave Support scheme - which has also had the revenue-drop requirement canned - but said that is only a short-term solution.

7:55am - Here's a graph showing a comparison between the Auckland and Victoria outbreaks. It's also been shared by microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, who says: "This is a good visual of why ‘go early & go hard’ is the way to control an outbreak of COVID-19."

7:40am -  Joe Bradford, head of operations at Fiasco, which builds road cases, shock racks and drape kits, tells The AM Show in the 10 days before lockdown, he lost about 90 percent of business. But the business decided to pivot in a new direction.

"Shows like South by Southwest in the US cancelled, shows around New Zealand started to cancel as we went into lockdown. We pivoted during that time to make screens and desks for a different market, so we could be helpful."

He says the desks are mostly sold to office workers now working at home. They've sold more than 1000 in New Zealand and a few thousand in the US.

"It was a team effort. We had a bunch of different ideas, but in the end we had to make a call. We made that call and then prototyped and made it happen."

7:20am - He says he is working to fix the system. Among several announcements on Wednesday, the Government said it was putting together a new team to support Health implement the border testing strategy. It will be co-chaired by Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche.

The minister again mentions how some workers were getting tested at the facilities and some were getting tested at other providers, making it difficult to align data and know who exactly has and hasn't been tested. Gaps in the systems have been closed, he says.

"I am very happy to report that everybody in managed isolation and quarantine has been tested in the last week. We are very close to having complete coverage at the border and at the port.

"That has shown us that we have very good prevention systems in place because it is not showing up positive tests, and where they are, we have been very public about what they are showing."

He says Thursday's picture will be similar to Wednesday. The exact case numbers will be released at 1pm.

"The growth in that cluster is slowing."

The alert levels will be reviewed on Friday. Hipkins says don't bank on Auckland being moved to alert level 2 then.

7:15am - Health Minister Chris Hipkins is speaking to The AM Show. He says testing at isolation facilities has been one of his main areas of focus since becoming the minister. He has been pushing to get rates up in the community and at the border.

Hipkins is asked who misled him about the testing of asymptomatic border workers. It was Cabinet's expectations that they would all be tested, however, this didn't occur. It's now mandatory for workers to be tested.

He says he doesn't believe it was an "intentional misleading" and it's a complex system because not all workers has been getting tested at the facilities. Instead, some get tested at community testing stations or at GPs.

"Aligning up the data has been a challenge. I don't think there is any one person or any one thing that is particularly to blame here. I think there has been some systemic issues that have taken a while to work through."

He notes there is no evidence to suggest that testing at the managed isolation facilites or at the border would have prevented the current outbreak. The origin of the cluster is not yet known.

7am - Tim Barnard is a Kiwi in managed isolation. He says he has encountered several issues, such as people not physical distancing and only some wearing partial PPE.

"I asked if the room had been sanitised. I came into the room and there were fingerprints on the glass table and there are handprints and fingerprints on the windows. Obviously, there is holes in the system."

He said he brought his own PPE gear and sanitisers. 

6:50am - We are expecting an announcement by the National Party later this morning on its border policy. Leader Judith Collins has been talking it up throughout the week when questioned about the lack of testing of border workers.

On Wednesday, New Zealand First unveiled its policy, which included creating a Border Protection Force and moving quarantine facilities to military bases.

Newshub will have all the details of National's policy when they come to hand.

6:40am - A new report has revealed the extent of the damage done to regional economies from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Infometrics Quarterly Economic Monitor, released on Thursday, provides a comprehensive analysis of regional economic change during the pandemic. It shows regional economies received a "substantial hit" from the virus and the subsequent lockdowns it caused.

The worst-hit regions were those reliant on tourism, while areas with a strong primary sector managed to fare better. Find out more here.

6:20am - Marisa Bidois from the Restuarant Association wants a scheme similar to what the United Kingdom introduced, where dining out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays each week is subsidised up to 50 percent. This would apply to meals costing up to $20.

"If the meal was $20, you would be looking at $10."

Bidois hopes the scheme could last a month, helping businesses at alert level 1 struggling after the latest lockdown. She said it would be a great opportunity for Kiwis to reconnect. 

The idea hasn't been costed yet, but Bidois wants to get the ball rolling.

"We will work out the finer details as we move along."

A petition has been launched to garner public support.

"NZ's hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19. Despite contributing more than $11 billion to the economy and employing over 133,000 people nationwide, there has not been any targeted support for the industry to date," the petition says.

"In August, the UK Government introduced the "Eat Out to Help Out" initiative, which sees the UK diners enjoy half-price meals throughout the month, as a way to boost the sector and preserve jobs. The Restaurant Association submits a scheme similar to this is needed here."

6am - The AM Show is now live. Among the guests on Thursday is Health Minister Chris Hipkins and Marisa Bidois from the Restaurant Association.

5:50am - Public Service Association national secretary Glenn Barclay is welcoming the decision for the Government to hire security guards for isolation facilities, rather than relying on private contractors.

"We think it is a really good move. It should lead to better accountability, higher standards. It should help contribute to better health and safety as well. All round, we think it is a really good move," he told Newshub.

Barclay said the Government will be able to ensure staff are properly trained and that there will be a high level of vetting, leading to better quality and standards.

He said it is a big decision, but one he hopes leads to publicly-employed security guards being used more often.

"We would hope that this might be the first step to a proper public service security service. This is a presenting issue at the moment, but there have been other issues in the past where the case for a fully-integrated security service was made clear and so we hope that's where this goes." 

5:40am - Both the Prime Minister and Health Minister on Wednesday said moving to alert level 4 - the strictest of the Government's alert levels - is currently not necessary. That's because only one cluster has been identified and there aren't many cases popping up not linked to that outbreak. The number of cases being recorded each day are also manageable.

That's supported by microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, who told Newshub that alert level 3 in Auckland should be enough to stamp the virus out.

"We have done huge amounts of testing of New Zealanders and it looks like the cluster - we have got the Auckland cluster and the one case that's tied very clearly to the border - it doesn't look like there is any other unknown clusters out there," she said.

"The reason for being at alert level 4 before was because we didn't know how many introductions of the virus there had been into the country, so how many clusters there were bubbling away that we weren't aware of."

She's also welcoming the Government's decision to directly employ security guards and provide them with training. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this move on Wednesday, hoping it would lead to greater accountability.

Wiles said it's good we are learning from overseas experience and making improvements to our border defence.

"We still always have to be prepared for cases to come back because we know nothing is 100 percent guaranteed. That is why being more vigilant in the community, that is our role," she said.

"This virus is really, really tricky. We always have to be prepared for it to come back. The Government has made it really clear that they will act really hard and fast. Depending on when or where cases pop, the Government will move to the appropriate alert levels to deal with it. What we are trying to do is stamp out the virus so we can spend as much time as we can at alert level 1."

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

Tuesday marks a week since Kiwis learnt of new cases of community transmission in Auckland.

Since Wednesday, the Super City has been under alert level 3 restrictions, while the rest of the country sits at alert level 2. Those restrictions are likely to remain in place until midnight on August 26.

Sixty-nine active cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the community.

What you need to know

  • Six new cases were announced on Wednesday - five in the community and one in managed isolation.
  • The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 96
  • There are 125 people from the community who have been moved to quarantine facilities
  • Five people are receiving hospital-level care
  • The total number of confirmed cases in New Zealand is now 1299
  • A maintenance worker at the Rydges in Auckland is among those who has tested positive. He is not linked to the main cluster.
  • Two Auckland Countdown supermarkets have closed after two different people visited the stores. The CBD Quay St store and the St Lukes store in the Westfield St Lukes mall are shut.
  • Auckland is under alert level 3, while the rest of the country is at alert level 2.

Refresh the page for the latest updates.