COVID-19: Live updates - Friday 21 August 2020

live 21/08/2020

Cabinet will meet on Friday to review New Zealand's current alert levels, which were put into place after COVID-19 was detected in the community last week.

There have been 80 cases of community transmission found, with all but two currently linked to a single cluster. One is a worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility and the second is an employee at an Auckland mall.

Auckland is currently at alert level 3, while the rest of New Zealand is at alert level 2.

What you need to know:

  • Of 101 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, 80 are in the community and 21 are in managed isolation or quarantine facilities
  • Seventy-eight of the community cases are linked to a single south Auckland cluster, with three found outside of Auckland
  • One is a Rydges Hotel maintenance worker who entered a lift minutes after a positive case they are genomically linked to
  • The second case under investigation is an employee at the St Lukes mall who worked for several days last week while infectious. Whether this is a third strain of the virus has not been ruled out
  • The Prime Minister has said we won't be moving to alert level 4 anytime soon and on Friday, Cabinet will review the current alert level settings
  • Auckland is under alert level 3, while the rest of the country is at alert level 2.

Follow Newshub's live updates here:

3:30pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is confident the Government's COVID-19 resurgence plan has "worked", but National's border response spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says it has been a complete failure. 

The Prime Minister thanked New Zealanders on Friday for their efforts to contain the latest coronavirus outbreak in Auckland, saying "good progress" has been made in the lead-up to a decision on the alert levels next week.

"As you can see from the numbers and the details of the cases shared by Dr Bloomfield, we continue to identify the perimeter or the outer edges of the current cluster," Ardern said. "We have made good progress."

But Brownlee doesn't see it that way. He said in a statement on Friday that it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government's resurgence plan "completely failed" to prepare for regional lockdown. 

Read more here.

3:25pm - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is reminding residents of the alert level 3 restrictions that remain in place this coming weekend.

"Aucklanders have done a fantastic job helping to beat back COVID-19 during the level 3 lockdown. Let's all stay the course. This weekend, stay home, stay local, and wear a mask when you're out."

3:20pm - The Green Party supports iwi-led checkpoints.

"The Māori response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be applauded. From iwi-led checkpoints, to how marae kicked into gear to look after people, iwi have shown real leadership throughout Aotearoa to keep us all safe," co-leader Marama Davidson says.

"We know that Māori living in rural communities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, as a result of generations of underinvestment in health services appropriate to serve Māori communities, and a raft of social factors that have disadvantaged Māori whānau and have led to poor health outcomes."

She supports Māori working with police to "take the lead" in protecting their communities through iwi-led checkpoints.

"We commend the police for working proactively with iwi and hapū to ensure these checkpoints are well-run, legal, and recognised for their important role.

"This shows good faith on the part of the police, and we really encourage this co-operation. We know that the volunteers at the checkpoints out of Auckland have been a crucial part of a public health response.

"Iwi are going above and beyond to ensure Māori are following the rules to keep us all safe, and we encourage the police to make sure they’re holding everyone to that same high bar of compliance."

3:15pm - Jacinda Ardern has rebuked Donald Trump's claim New Zealand is experiencing a "massive" outbreak of COVID-19, saying the difference between the two countries is obvious.

On Friday afternoon Ardern refuted the claim Auckland's outbreak is "massive" - especially when compared to the US.

"New Zealand is among a small number of countries that still has a low rate of COVID-19 cases and one of the lowest death rates in the world," she told reporters.

"For example - the United States has 16,563 cases per million people -  we have 269 cases per million people."

Read more here.

3:05pm - The North v South rugby match will be postponed for a week. Players were due to assemble in Wellington on Monday to prepare for the match on August 29.

However, players from Auckland weren't granted exemptions to leave the Super City, currently under alert level 3 restrictions.

"We're disappointed that the game can't go ahead at this stage next week, but we understand and respect the Government's decision. We're no different from hundreds of other New Zealanders who have also had their requests for exemption turned down, so we have to abide by the decision," says NZR general manager professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum.

The game will now take place on September 5. Depending on future announcements regarding alert levels, the match will be played at either Auckland's Eden Park or Wellington's Sky Stadium.

Fans who have bought tickets to the match, originally scheduled for Eden Park on August 29, are encouraged to hold onto their tickets until further notice.

2:55pm - Here is some expert reaction to the decision to keep our alert level settings the same for the time being. It's compiled by the Science Media Centre.

Professor Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago, Wellington: 

"It would be premature to lower the Alert Level in the Auckland region before next week at the earliest. The Auckland COVID-19 cluster is continuing to generate a steady number of cases each day, including nine new cases announced today. By now we will be starting to see the impact of the Alert Level 3 measures, which should have dampening down transmission of cases over the past week.

"The Alert Level system itself needs to be reviewed after nearly six months use. It has served us well as a means for conveying physical distancing requirements and travel restrictions in a cohesive and understandable way. However, it needs to be fine-tuned for a number of reasons. It is now being used in a regional way, which is a useful advance. It also needs to have mask using rules integrated into it in a logical and consistent manner."

Professor Michael Plank from Te Pūnaha Matatini and the University of Canterbury:

"With new cases still being found each day, it makes sense to wait until Monday to make a decision about any change in Alert Levels. Because of the incubation period of this virus, anyone who was infected after the move to Alert Level 3 may only be developing symptoms around now.

"So it will be a few more days before we can be confident we won’t see an increase in cases. We also need to the rest of the country to remain at Alert Level 2 during this period, because there is still a risk that the virus could spread outside the Auckland region."

2:50pm - Health authorities are investigating a possible link between an Auckland mall worker who tested positive for COVID-19 and another case.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced during Friday's 1pm press conference the two positive cases of coronavirus may have been on the same bus.

"The community case which is under investigation who works at St Lukes Mall has been linked to a current community outbreak using genome sequencing," the Director-General of Health said.

Read more here.

2:40pm - Of New Zealand's 105 active cases:

  • 10 are aged between zero and nine
  • 16 are aged between 10 and 19
  • 15 are aged between 20 and 29
  • 18 are aged between 30 and 39
  • 16 are aged between 40 and 49
  • 20 are aged between 50 and 59
  • Five are aged between 60 and 69
  • Four are aged between 70 and 79
  • One is aged bewteen 80 and 89

2:25pm - The Act Party has responded to the lack of change to the alert level settings. Leader David Seymour says continuing Auckland's lockdown is a "costly disappointment".

He says it would have been avoided with the party's "wellbeing approach".

"If the wellbeing lens had been applied, the Government would have spent the past 102 days preparing to protect the vulnerable, rather than declaring 'mission accomplished'," Seymour says.

"The Government and its cheerleaders want to compare our response with the worst in the world, rather than learning from the best in the world – such as Taiwan, to see how we can improve and better keep Kiwis safe."

Act wants to see a multi-disciplinary Epidemic Response Centre set up, allow alternative isolation where it is safe and can be electronically monitored, strictly punish rule breakers, treat different travellers from different countries with different levels of caution, and had a more technology-driven response.

2:05pm - Here is the latest summary from the Ministry of Health, taking into account Friday's case numbers.

1:55pm - Dr Bloomfield says some positive cases are in quarantine facilities but under different arrangements. At least one is at a private home, but this has 24/7 security.

Ardern takes the chance to dispell some myths, such as that people might be forcibly separated from family members or that children may be removed from families. She says this is not how these arrangements work. The arrangements are designed to work for the family and keep them safe.

After the surge in testing for the border workforce, Dr Bloomfield says testing will be regular. How frequent this will be will depend on the worker's level of risk.

1:50pm - Discussing the supply of masks, Ardern says there is supply within major retailers, like supermarkets. Thousands of masks have also been distributed through social agencies in Auckland to those in vulnerable communities.

Other face coverings can also be used, Dr Bloomfield says. He shows a covering he owns. The Prime Minister has a range of masks with different patterns.

Dr Bloomfield demonstrates wearing a mask. He holds the elastic bands by the end - keeping his hands away from the mouth and nose area - and then puts it over his ears. He says it's not too difficult for him, but his glasses do fog up.

Ardern says if Cabinet decides on Monday to make alert level changes, they won't happen that night, but likely on Wednesday.

1:45pm - On the suicide numbers, Ardern hopes they put to bed some of the rumours that were swirling around earlier this year. There had been speculation that COVID-19 restrictions would lead to a higher rate of suicides. However, the provisional suicide rate is at its lowest in three years.

1:35pm - Officials are looking at Auckland Transport Hop card information in regard to the St Luke's mall case. Dr Bloomfield encourages the use of masks on public transport.

It is possible others on the bus were exposed. That's why the Hop card information is important, to get the exact timing the cases were on the bus. This journey took place on the morning of August 12, just before Auckland went to alert level 3. Anyone exposed would have then gone into lockdown.

1:30pm - Dr Bloomfield says the case numbers will be important over the weekend, including whether if any new cases are household or work contacts. 

He says even if we get cases over the weekend, we can still leave alert level 3 on Wednesday. It's not just the number of cases that matter.

Could Auckland go to alert level 1? Ardern won't rule anything in or out in terms of what alert level Auckland will go to on Wednesday. 

In regard to Trump's recent comments, she points out that the USA has been seeing tens of thousands of cases and she is proud of the approach New Zealand has taken to the recent outbreak.

She's confident that moving all of the Auckland regions to alert level 3 was the right decision.

1:25pm - Ardern says we can't stop every case, but we can stop them spreading as has been done with the Rydges case.

What do we know about how the cluster started? Ardern says there are several potential theories. She says the COVID-19 strain being dealt with is from the B.1.1.1 family. The sequence is highly unlikely to be linked to our first wave due that strain's rarity at the start of the year.

The move obvious place to look has been our isolation facilities. But testing has found no additional cases outside of the Rydges worker. Genome sequencing also shows no match. 

We may not find all the answers, she says. But if the cluster is contained, we can lift alert levels eventually.

For Monday's decision, Cabinet will be considering trends in the transmission of the virus, the capacity of testing and contact tracing, effectiveness of border and isolation facilities measures and wider capacity in the health system. The effect on local economies, at-risk populations, how people have been following the rules and the ability to implement restrictions will all be looked at as well.

1:20pm - Aucklanders should stick to the alert levels restrictions over the weekend, Ardern says.

Recapping, the Prime Minister says there are 87 cases connected to the cluster, all of whom are isolated, there have been 170,515 tests since the alert levels began last Wednesday. The World Health Organization says we have one of the highest rankings in the world for our rate of testing per positive case. Contact tracing of the cluster has been at or more than 80 percent within two days.

We have one of the lowest death rates in the world. For example, the US has 16,563 cases per million people, while we have 269 cases per million. She says this is because of the work of New Zealanders.

Ardern says the vast majority of Aucklanders are complying with the new rules, with only two arrests at the border. 

The Prime Minister mentions the new wage subsidy which will allow applications for Friday afternoon.

She says the re-emergence of COVID-19 was planned for and this plan is working as intended. The plan in the future won't always feature alert level 3 lockdowns.

This outbreak needed one because it was in Auckland, and specifically in a community with a high level of interactivity. 

If it had just been the Rydges case, such strict restrictions wouldn't have been needed.

1:15pm - Ardern thanks Aucklanders who have been tested. She says vilifying those who have caught the virus or who have been tested is something she won't tolerate. Those who seek to blame or shame others are the "dangerous ones".

"There is no room for division when it comes to fighting COVID."

Ardern says officials continue to identify the perimeter of the cluster and are making good progress. There are not multiple outbreaks or clusters. We can pinpoint with much more precision whom has infected whom.

The alert level 3 restrictions have been critical, she says. The vast majority of cases since the outbreak began are cases that were contact traced and were already in isolation.

This shows we are identifying cases early and getting ahead of the virus. But there are handful of cases where that hasn't been the case and symptoms prompted people to get a test.

Ardern says the sacrifices of Aucklanders have not been in vain. We have identified cases that affected a major store at Sylvia Park, a shop at St Luke's mall, six schools and four churches.

"Imagine how much bigger that cluster and outbreak would be if all of those places hadn't closed and if contact had continued," she says.

"It could have been enourmous."

Aucklanders' efforts helped limit the spread of the virus.

After reviewing the settings, Ardern says there is nothing to suggest we should change or escalate our measures. But we must stay the course and retain the settings for now. The alert level settings will be considered again on Monday.

1:10pm - Of the 89 cases in the community, 88 are connected to the cluster. The possibility the Rydges worker contracted the virus after being in a lift after the USA returnee remains an important line of investigation. 

The St Luke's mall worker has been connected to the cluster through genome sequencing. But the source of exposure remains unknown. It's possible this case and another case may have been on the same bus.

There have been 1999 close contacts identified, of which 1924 have been contacted and are isolating.

There were 15,714 tests undertaken on Thursday, taking New Zealand's total to 673,220. 

"We have all but completed our surge testing of the border workforce and the managed isolation workforce," he says.

Planning is underway for a second wave of testing with a focus on Auckland next week. After that, there will be a programme of regular testing.

There have been more than 9000 applications for exemptions, with 4000 processed on Thursday. More than 1,200 have been approved. About 10 percent have been from people who don't need to apply.

1:05pm - On Monday, Cabinet will meet to discuss the next steps for New Zealand's alert levels. Ardern says on Friday, the settings of the levels were reviewed.

Dr Bloomfield says there are 11 new cases of COVID-19, nine of which are in the community and two imported. Five of the community are related to churches, while four are household contacts.

He thanks churches for their help in identifying contacts.

Eight people are receiving hospital-level care, all connected to the cluster. One is intensive care. All hospital cases are isolated from other patients, he says.

To date, 143 people linked to the community cluster have been moved to the Auckland quarantine facility. Seventy of these are positive cases.

The total number of confirmed cases is now 1315. The total number of active cases is 105, with 16 being in isolation facilities.

12:50pm - We will have the 1pm briefing from the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health streaming above and on Three.

12:35pm - New Zealand is "actively exploring all of the options" around a COVID-19 vaccine and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not make it mandatory because she's certain Kiwis would have the jab voluntarily. 

Ardern's Australian counterpart Scott Morrison recently said it was likely a coronavirus vaccine would be mandatory for Australians if and when it becomes available, but backtracked after concerns were raised by health experts.

Ardern doesn't see the need for a compulsory vaccine because "we've actually been able to get the kind of take-up we need to provide herd immunity to date" and she has "every expectation we will be able to do that" in New Zealand without needing to mandate. 

Read more on that here.

12:25pm - Aucklanders are being told to stay local for exercise and recreation this weekend. It comes after people flocked to popular sites last weekend, ignoring the alert level 3 restrictions.

Parks, Arts, Community and Events Committee chair councillor Alf Filipaina says Aucklanders should make the most of open sapces in their local neighbourhoods.

"Let's up our game this weekend Aucklanders and think carefully before setting out for any exercise or physical activity," he says.

"Combating the spread of COVID-19 relies on us exercising safely and hanging out with the people in our extended bubble only."

Mayor Phil Goff agrees.

"All of us have a role to play, and if we don’t do out bit, we let others down," he says.

"The actions each of us take affects others and we need to be sure that we are not responsible for putting our family, friends, and the community, at risk.

"We are hopefully in the home straight, so please, this weekend, stay at home in your bubble, and stay local if you go out to the beach or a park for exercise."

Find the full message from the council and police here.

12:15pm - You can keep on top of all of the daily news by signing up to Newshub's newsletter.

12pm - Here's some good advice. "Don't get your advice from memes. Get your advice from credible sources," says Dave Letele aka Brown Buttabean.

11:55am - With Aucklanders back under COVID-19 alert level 3 lockdown, many of us are turning to some of the more traditional lockdown pursuits to pass the time, including getting back into the kitchen.  

You've probably seen hordes of delicious treats and creations filling your Instagram feeds, with people once again posting pictures of their scones and loaves of sourdough. 

But if you have no skills in the kitchen or measuring flour and sugar just isn't your thing, don't stress - you can still enjoy the spoils of almost no labour. 

UK home baker Walla Abu-Eid shares delicious creations on Instagram with her almost 80,000 followers, and she's got just the treat to impress your bubble. 

Find out more here.

11:35am - Labour MP David Parker has taken aim at National's evolving stance on how to handle COVID-19 at the border.

The party this week unveiled its border policy, which in addition to efforts already underway to keep the virus out, would introduce a dedicated border agency, require incoming travellers to have tested negative before boarding the plane, more testing in aged care facilities and compulsory contact tracing technology.

Under new leader Judith Collins, who has said the virus "simply would not be allowed in" on her watch, National has been less willing to embrace risky ideas, such as letting international students come into the country and have universities manage their 14 days of self-isolation, rather than the army and Government. 

The party repeatedly pushed for the March-April lockdown levels to be lifted well ahead of what the Government was comfortable with, and as recently as last month, National was calling for a travel bubble to be opened up with Australia - which is now struggling with an outbreak bigger than what it went through when the pandemic first hit.

"Simon, you were telling us to let in students, to open up the Australian bubble, to bring people in from China," Parker told National's Simon Bridges, who until June led the party.

"I think you've been all over the place here. You can't have it both ways. The good news is that we've largely kept COVID out."

Read more here.

11:20am - Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor is calling on Kiwis to get behind Aucklanders stuck under alert level 3.

11:15am - The Waikato Police have a reminder for anyone considering going to a gathering with 100+ people this weekend.

11am - Heading across the ditch quickly, ABC is reporting that Victoria is still recording triple-figure case numbers. Over the last 24 hours, 179 new cases of COVID-19 have been detected, while nine people have died.

10:55am - Seventy of south Auckland's Pacific church youth leaders gathered online on Thursday night to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak in the community.

The youth leaders and youth pastors from different denominations talked about what support is needed for south Auckland young people and how "they could mobilise their youth members to help protect families and fellow church members".

The new cluster discovered last week began in south Auckland. Of the 80 active cases in the community at the moment, 78 are connected to the cluster. Many of those affected attended local churches.

The discussion called 'Talanoa (COVID-19)' was hosted by Do Good Feel Good, a youth-led movement backboned by The Cause Collective, a social change organisation focused on the wellbeing of Pacific peoples and south Auckland communities.

"It was encouraging to see many leaders and hear their intention to work together. We’re all trying to navigate through a COVID-19 environment, which isn’t easy as it’s live in our community. Typically, we tend to all operate within our own denominations rather than as a collective which is the best way forward," said youth systems innovator and Talanoa convener Chillion Sanerivi.

Suivaaia Pritchard, Children’s Ministry director of Life Church Manurewa said there seemed to be two distinct groups of churches.

"One end of the spectrum are churches with processes and support in place to keep their members engaged. Then on the other end some were still learning how to implement stuff in COVID-19 such as online church services, and making available appropriate PPE,” she says.

“It was cool to hear from young people who shared openly about how they were feeling. Several people missed the physical engagement with their peers, either hanging out for youth group or choir. While others expressed that they needed daily spiritual encouragement during lockdown as they were becoming disengaged at home."

10:40am - Auckland Emergency Management has shared a video from Dame Valerie Adams.

"This is real, this pandemic is real. This is bigger than all of us and we need to stick together to combat and unite against COVID-19."

10:35am - Many Kiwis living abroad won't have the same benefits we have here when it comes to COVID-19.

Kiwi Jimi Hunt has been living in Mexico, one of the most affected countries, and knows all too well how much more difficult it is to continue to work when his business is based in two different countries. 

The mental health advocate spoke to The AM Show.

10:25am - Simon Bridges has claimed vindication after a court ruled part of the lockdown earlier this year illegal, saying he was a "voice in the wilderness" back in March and April in saying so.

While most of a Wellington lawyer's challenges to the lockdown were rejected, an order forcing Kiwis to stay at home except for essential trips was "not prescribed by law" for the first nine days, a court ruled earlier this week. The problem was fixed with an order under the Health Act on April 3.

Attorney-General David Parker and Bridges discussed the ruling on The AM Show on Friday. Read more and watch the interview here.

10:10am - We will hear from the Prime Minister and the Director-General of Health at 1pm. We aren't expecting to see any alert level changes today, despite Cabinet having a look at our current settings.

10:05am - New Zealand's provisional suicide rate is at its lowest in three years and the director of the Suicide Prevention Office, Carla na Nagara, is hoping that puts an end to speculation that suicide numbers were increasing due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Read more here.

9:55am - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has reacted to Donald Trump's latest comments using a GIF of Trump's predecessor.

9:45am - Back during our first lockdown, there was a lot of talk about 'flattening the curve', which we were eventually able to do. Here's a look at the epidemic curve from the Ministry of Health showing cumulative confirmed and probable cases. You will see a slight uptick over the last week.

9:30am - Police are providing important alert level 3 messages in different langauges for the Auckland community.

Find the full selection of videos here.

9:20am - One of the Government's fix-it-crew sent in to sort out problems at the border says it won't be the toughest job he's ever had.

Asked on The AM Show on Friday if it was his toughest gig yet, a calm and collected Sir Brian Roche said "not really". 

"I think we've got a number of people who are genuinely trying to make a difference. I think from the stats... New Zealand has done very well. But there is room for improvement, and that's what we've been asked to do - how can we apply our minds and our experience to work with those in the system to make it a bit better?" 

Read more on that here.

9:05am - Wondering how other countries are currently handling the COVID-19 pandemic? As of Friday morning there were 22.7 million confirmed infections of COVID-19, but testing suggests tens of millions in countries like India might now have been infected.

There have been 794,000 deaths directly attributable to the disease.

Here's the latest from around the globe.

8:40am - In what seems to now be a daily exercise for the US President, Donald Trump has again mentioned New Zealand at a rally.

"Anytime there is a good country, they like to compare, because we have done an incredible job. You look at our mortality rates," he says.

"But they like to compare us to others, so they were talking about New Zealand. 'New Zealand! It is over. It is over for New Zealand. Everything is gone. They are beautiful'."

He then says Aotearoa had a "massive breakout yesterday".

On Thursday, New Zealand recorded five cases of COVID-19, while the United States saw tens of thousands.

Trump also makes similar comments about South Korea.

8:35am - A new business confidence survey has found "businesses had a heightened level of uncertainty and a loss of confidence after the Prime Minister's announcement on August 11".

The Central New Zealand survey was in the field between August 3 and 14 -including during the transition up the COVID-19 alert levels. 

While results showing lower confidence were to be expected, "we're concerned that it's a sign of things to come", according to John Milford, the chief executive of Business Central and the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

Retail sale and traffic reports prior to new cases of community tranmssion being detected in Auckland last week showed "Kiwis were getting out and supporting their local businesses".

"But the sudden drop in confidence after the August 11th announcement meant most indicators remained the same or were worse than our May survey results," Milford said.

"The results are also further evidence that businesses need certainty and stability in order to rebuild their confidence. With this move back up to level two, many will be back into survival mode."

Auckland is currently under alert level 3, while the rest of the country - including central New Zealand - is under alert level 2.

Milford said overall business confidence in the New Zealand economy dropped further from May with a net 61 percent expecting the national economy to be worse in 12 months' time.

"A significant majority of the business community are also expecting the regional economy to be worse in 12 months’ time, with a net 73 percent of respondents responding negatively," he said.

"A small sign of optimism within the business community, however, is the improvement in businesses’ expectations of their own situation in 12 months’ time. While still a net negative 7 percent result, there is a month-on-month improvement on our May and March numbers, which were net negative 21 and 13 percent respectively on the same question."

Before the alert level change, consumer behaviour and staffing issues were the top two barriers to business. After the alert level announcement, "direct mentions of 'COVID', 'lockdown', and 'virus', jumped from 11 percent to 40 percent.

"COVID and the alert level change certainly influenced businesses’ immediate concerns and created an uncertain environment as businesses had to re-adjust back to life under level 2 restrictions.

"For many businesses, the return to level 2 has also meant a loss of revenue. Not only have people stayed away from shops and eateries, but clients and other businesses are putting projects and plans on hold."

Milford's message to the community is to stay safe, wear a mask, scan QR codes and support local businesses where you can.

The quarterly survey was sent to Wellington Regional Chambers of Commerce and Business Central members across New Zealand - from Gisborne and New Plymouth down to Nelson. There was a total of 335 responses, 275 responses were before the alert-level announcement, and 60 responses came after the announcement was made.

8:15am - Sir Brian Roche is the co-chair of the Government's new team to support Health in implementing its testing trategy. He was brought in this week alongside Heather Simpson as it was revealed not all asymptomatic border workers were being tested as Cabinet expected.

Speaking to The AM Show, Sir Brian says people are genuinely trying to make a difference and believes New Zealand has done very well. But there is room for improvement, he says.

"We need to have a system that people can have confidence and trust in."

Sir Brian says mistakes have been made, but we must keep it in perspective. He says there are human beings involved, so we must manage our expectations. It's difficult to have a perfect system, he says.

"I remain really optimisitic," Sir Brian says.

He said as well as testing, we need strong border measures and contact tracing. You can't have testing if you don't have kits available, he says.

"We keep beating ourselves up for every fault we find. This was unprecedented."

His new team won't be undertaking a "fault-finding exercise".

How long will isolation facilities be needed? Sir Brian says there's not a straight-forward answer, but this could be with us for two or three years. He says we must prepare for the worst-case and hope for the best. There have been a lot of improvements already, but it can still be enhanced.

Sir Brian is asked if there are too many chefs in the kitchen. He says there needs to be a focus on simplicity and get clarity about who is doing what. 

"Lack of clarity in these situations is extremely unhelpful," he says.

8am - Air New Zealand has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and it doesn't look like things will get any easier anytime soon.

The AM Show's Duncan Garner wrote about the tough road ahead for our national carrier here.

7:55am - The Prime Minister visited ESR in Porirua on Thursday. She writes about her tour here:

7:45am - Kiwis will be able to apply for the Government's two-week wage subsidy from 1pm on Friday. The scheme was announced after new community cases were found last week and Auckland was put into alert level 3 for a fortnight.

Between the new subsidy and the current subsidy extension, 930,000 jobs are expected to be supported.

"The Government has stood beside businesses and workers as we respond to the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The wage subsidy has protected more than 1.7 million jobs and we know it works. That’s why we moved quickly to introduce the new wage subsidy to support businesses for the two weeks Auckland is at alert level 3," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

The Ministry of Social Development is expected to make payments within five days for most applications.

More details about the new wage subsidy can be found here.

7:30am - Parker says not as much testing at the border was occuring as was wanted, "but we have plugged that hole now". But Bridges says the Government has just been playing catch-up.

The National MP says in the 102 days without known community transmission "the Government was complacent". 

Parker hits back saying National wanted to bring in international students. Bridges says if the Government had put in place adequate measures, "we perhaps could be doing some sensible, nimble things right now to make sure we actually save our economy as well".

On the suicide numbers, Parker says the Government has increased funding into mental health services, New Zealand has a Prime Minister who "preaches kindness", and Kiwis came together during COVID-19. He believes these things would have helped.

Bridges says the lower numbers are "encouraging", but it's still far higher than road deaths. 

7:25am - Labour minister David Parker and National's Simon Bridges were on The AM Show earlier.

On the first nine days of the lockdown being ruled justified but unlawful, Parker, the Attorney-General, says the court found early requests for people to stay in their bubbles "turned into directions", which should have been backed by a Health Act order, rather than relying on the Civil Defence Act.

Bridges replied by saying Parker had advice at the time telling him he was "skating on thin ice". But he doesn't believe anyone will lose sleep over this.

"New Zealanders just want the problems we have here and now fixed. But actually governments should only act lawfully and not unlawfully."

The court found in favour of the Government on other issues, however. They had the power to shut down non-essential services, for example.

7:20am - Cabinet will have a check-in on the current COVID-19 alert levels later on Friday. But we aren't expecting any decision on whether to change them.

7:15am - Kiwis will be hoping more light is shed on Friday on a case of COVID-19 who worked at the St Lukes mall in Auckland. That case is currently under investigation and the Director-General of Health on Thursday wouldn't rule out it being a third strain of the virus.

"The genomic sequencing is underway at the moment and that will give us the strongest hint about where it might be linked to. So, still under investigation both epidemiologically and the genomic sequencing," he told reporters.

He added that the genomic sequencing results were expected either later on Thursday or on Friday morning.

7:10am - New Zealand's Chief Coroner has revealed the country's provisional suicide rate is at its lowest in three years.

Judge Deborah Marshall released the figures for the year to June 30 on Friday, which show 654 people died by suicide -  471 male, 183 female - compared to 685 the year before.

The decrease in deaths by 31 meant the suicide rate dropped from 13.93 deaths per 100,000 to 13.01.

Carla na Nagara, the director of the Suicide Prevention Office, is hoping that puts an end to the "harmful speculation about suicide numbers" which was sparked during the first lockdown.

"Inaccurate, speculative and distressing information about the relationship between suicide risk and the COVID-19 response is unhelpful and has the potential to cause significant harm," she said.

"While the COVID-19 response may have significant, long term effects on people’s lives, an increase in suicides is not inevitable."

She said there had been speculative comments on social media about suicide numbers which she described as being distressing for families and communities. It can also be "triggering for vulnerable people".