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Auckland to stay at Level 2.5 until at least September 23; Cabinet makes 'in-principle' decision to move rest of NZ to Level 1 on September 21 if cases remain contained

Auckland to stay at Level 2.5 until at least September 23; Cabinet makes 'in-principle' decision to move rest of NZ to Level 1 on September 21 if cases remain contained

Current Covid-19 restrictions will remain in place for at least another week.

Cabinet will reassess the situation on September 21.

Should it decide to move Auckland from Level 2.5 to Level 2, this would occur on September 23.

Should it decide to move the rest of New Zealand from Level 2 to Level 1, this would become effective at 11.59pm on September 21.

Cabinet has signalled its intention to rubber stamp this move to Level 1. It today made an "in-principle" decision to do so on September 21, should cases keep "tracking as they are" and current containment levels be maintained. 

New Zealand First wanted the country, bar Auckland, moved to Level 1.

Cabinet also decided to remove physical distancing restrictions on public transport, including buses, trains and aeroplanes. This means that from today, they don’t need to restrict passenger numbers.

Mask usage on public transport remains mandatory.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern characterised the new sub cluster of 15 people, connected to a bereavement event associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Church, as a "potential trouble spot". 

"This event does raise the possibility that more people have been exposed within what is already our biggest cluster to date," she said.

What's more, it's come to light a Jet Park quarantine facility health worker, who on Sunday was reported to have contracted Covid-19, was exposed to a large group of Les Mills Takapuna gym goers. 

Eighty-nine people have reportedly been identified as close contacts, while a further 220 people, who were at the gym at the same time as the infected person, but didn't partake in the same classes, have been considered casual contacts.

Altogether there are 96 active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand, including 57 community cases and 39 imported cases. 

Here's a snippet from Ardern's announcement:

It has now been two weeks, one transmission cycle of the virus, since Auckland moved to what we have called Level 2.5.

In that time we have identified a further 36 cases in the community All are associated with the wider Auckland cluster and most were people who had a known link to the cluster and so were already isolated.

Since Auckland moved out of level 3 restrictions two weeks ago widespread testing that is roughly double what it was at Level 1 has occurred. Over 100,000 tests have taken place nationwide that have not shown up any spread of the virus to other parts of New Zealand despite the resumption of inter-regional travel.

However. Within the Auckland cluster is a potential trouble spot.

The new sub cluster that has emerged in the past two weeks related to a bereavement associated with Mt Roskill Evangelical Church. This has led to 15 cases, and while there is no evidence of significant spread outside of the Auckland cluster, this event does raise the possibility that more people have been exposed within what is already our biggest cluster to date.

The last time Cabinet made a decision to move down from level 2 to level 1 we had spent 26 days at level 2, more than two transmission cycles and had gone 17 days without any new cases of Covid-19 in the country. That was to give ourselves confidence that any move back to level 1 would stick.

So far we have spent 14 days at what we are calling 2.5 in Auckland and have had cases in the community continue to emerge every day bar one. While no new community cases is not a measure in and of itself for moving down levels, as we know more cases will emerge from this clusters tail, these cases can continue to pose risks.

New Zealand has followed a plan that has worked. Since the start we have been cautious. This has both saved lives, but also meant our economy has been able to be more open in a more sustained way than nearly any other country in the world. It is a formula that works.

So while our aim is to speedily move down alert levels safely, we also need to be focused on the future, on getting back to Level 1,  but in a sustained way and not rushing there only to have to bounce out of it soon after.

Advice put to us today suggests we should be cautious about moving to Level 1 immediately, and that it would be prudent to continue to monitor case numbers for a short while longer.

That’s why, on the advice of the Director-General, Cabinet has decided on a short extension to the current restrictions of Alert Level 2.5 for Auckland, and Level 2 for the rest of the country.

But I do want to signal what the likely next decisions are.

For Auckland, Cabinet will review the current ‘Level 2.5’ settings at our meeting on Monday 21st of September, with a view to increase gathering limits for Auckland if we are in a similar position with containing the cluster. If that change was agreed, this would come into effect on Wednesday 23rd of September.

And for the rest of the country, while we will retain the status quo for now, Cabinet has agreed in principle that at 11.59pm on Monday the 21st September, the rest of New Zealand will move to Alert Level 1.

This is contingent on cases tracking as they are, and maintaining the containment we have seen. The move will be confirmed on Monday when Cabinet meets again.

I know some may have questions as to why the rest of the country hasn’t moved to level 1 just yet.

Modelling done for the Ministry of Health continues to suggest around a 25 percent chance of cases moving outside of the Auckland region. So while the cases are currently in Auckland, with inter-regional travel open there remains a risk of spreading the virus to the rest of the country.

As I said we haven’t had many days without new cases appearing in Auckland and it only requires one person travelling and attending a super-spreader event somewhere else in the country and we could be looking at further restrictions everywhere. So the level 2 precautions we have in place continue to act as a safety barrier for flair ups in the rest of New Zealand.

Here’s the latest from the Ministry of Health today:

There is one new community case of COVID-19 to report today.

The case is a female child who is epidemiologically linked to an existing case associated with the Botany sub-cluster which has been genomically linked to the Auckland cluster.

The child has been in isolation since August 30 due to being a household contact of a confirmed case.

The case of the healthcare worker from the Auckland quarantine facility who was reported yesterday has been genomically sequenced by ESR. The case is genomically linked to three cases that have been in the quarantine facility that are linked to the Auckland cluster. This reinforces exposure at Jet Park being the most likely route of transmission, but the Public Health Unit continues to investigate exactly how the infection occurred.

The healthcare worker has five household contacts, and all have returned a negative test result. As close contacts they will remain in self-isolation for the full 14-day period and will be retested twice.

Nine staff from the quarantine facility have been identified as close contacts, tested, and all have returned a negative result. They will also remain in self-isolation for the full 14-day period and will be retested.

A deep clean of staff areas in the facility was completed yesterday.

We would like to sincerely thank staff from elsewhere in the healthcare sector who are working at Jet Park to provide cover for those staff who are self-isolating.

We would also like to sincerely thank all healthcare professionals who choose to work in our managed isolation and quarantine facilities, they are a critical part of New Zealand's response to COVID-19.

There are 53 people linked to the community cluster who remain in the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 29 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their household contacts.  

Since August 11, our contact tracing team has identified 3,708 close contacts of cases, of which 3,697 have been contacted and are self-isolating, and we are in the process of contacting the rest.

Today there are three people in hospital with COVID-19 – one is in isolation on a ward in Auckland City Hospital. Two are in ICU, at North Shore and Waikato hospitals.

With today’s new case and two additional recovered cases, our total number of active cases is 96.

Of those, 39 are imported cases in MIQ facilities, and 57 are community cases.

Our total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is now 1,447, which is the number we report to the World Health Organization.

Yesterday our laboratories processed 3,573 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 868,042.

NZ COVID Tracer

There are now 2,207,900 users registered on NZ COVID Tracer.

The app has recorded a total of 57,516,651 poster scans, and users have created 2,848,976 manual diary entries in NZ COVID Tracer.

There have been 368,745 QR codes created to be displayed around the country.

Here's a media release from National:

Staying on Level Two for another week means that this lock-down has gone on too long for those living far away from Auckland, National Party Leader Judith Collins says.

“Why is the South Island still at Level 2 when there hasn’t been a case recorded there since the end of May?

"South Islanders have put up with the inconvenience of restricted gatherings, cancelled sports fixtures and half empty businesses. They've had enough.

“While we had a sound response to the pandemic back in March, we’re now in danger of using a mallet to crack a nut when it comes to how we handle this disease. For many under continued lock-down, far from the outbreak, the worst effects won’t come from the disease itself but the economic fall-out of how we handled it.

“The Prime Minister’s claims about the positive state of the economy do not line up with the number of people out of work and the even larger numbers who have retained work due to the wage subsidy.

“If Labour had a clear plan at the border, this outbreak could have been tracked and traced much earlier.  Now those in South Island are continuing to pay a price for an outbreak happening hundreds of kilometres north of them.”

Here's a media release from NZ First:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has today invoked the Coalition Agreement’s ‘Agree to Disagree’ provisions in light of Cabinet’s decision to maintain Alert Level 2 settings outside Auckland.

“The Director General of Health has stated that the Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland is contained. Additionally, he believes there is a low risk of transmission outside of Auckland,” said Mr Peters.

“These assessments are underpinned by a secure border, good levels of community testing and responsive contact tracing processes. 

“New Zealand First notes that it will be around 120 days since the last community transmission or reported case – with the sole exception of the four Tokoroa cases, all linked to the Auckland cluster – outside of the Auckland region.”

“Despite modelling suggesting a small risk of undetected cases outside Auckland, no evidence has yet emerged that this risk has been realised,” said Mr Peters.

“With the opportunity cost, in terms of lost output to the economy, running in excess of $200 million for every week the rest of the country remains at Alert Level 2, as opposed to Alert Level 1, the economic risks are rising sharply and in inverse relationship to the Director General’s stated health risk assessment that the outbreak in Auckland is contained.

“Travelling around the South Island has reinforced that people are not observing social distancing in the absence of any registered or real threat of Covid-19 exposure since late April. Not because they are against the Government’s Covid-19 response, but because they have applied their own ‘common sense’ test to their risk of exposure to the virus,” said Mr Peters.

“Businesses outside Auckland affected by Alert Level 2 restrictions are looking to the government to fairly apply its own agreed upon criteria to match the health situation they face. 

“People are also asking me how it is fair for the election campaign to be conducted under the Alert Level restrictions and some feel, as we do, that there is not an even playing field for respective campaigns under these conditions. 

“As stated by the Director General, ‘this outbreak continues to best fit the description of Alert Level 2 in Auckland (with limited community transmission occurring), and Alert Level 1 elsewhere (with a low risk of cases spreading from Auckland, and no evidence yet that spread has in fact happened).’

“As a government, we have to weigh relative risk across a number of factors. The elimination of all health risk skews that analysis in favour of theories of transmission that are so far not supported by any actual evidence of transmission outside Auckland, while the economic burden for current and future taxpayers continues to mount.

“For these reasons while New Zealand First supports the continuation of Alert Level 2 in Auckland it cannot support a continuation of Alert Level 2 outside of Auckland until Monday 21 September at midnight, so has invoked the ‘Agree to Disagree’ provisions of the Coalition Agreement in relation to this specific part of the Cabinet decision,” said Mr Peters.

Here's a media release from ACT:

“Keeping New Zealand at Alert Level 2 shows the Government has failed at its Covid-19 response,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

"The Government says it has done a great job, and we must stay locked down. They cannot have it both ways. Either the Government has failed, or the restrictions can be lifted.

“Six months into this epidemic, the only tool the Government has is lockdowns. This approach is not sustainable

“New Zealanders are understandably becoming increasingly frustrated at the rules and restrictions they’re facing because the Government didn’t go hard or early enough.

“New Zealand was a 60th country in the world to have Covid-19 arrive, we had 102 days of being Covid free to improve our response and it took the Government 192 days to require border staff be tested.

“The restrictions on the South Island are particularly harsh. There hasn’t been any community transition there in the latest outbreak, but they’ve been unable to go about their daily lives.

“Many in the hospitality business are allowed to open but cannot make money doing so. It is death by two thousand cuts. A thousand last lockdown and another thousand now.

“There should have been a crowd for South Canterbury vs North Otago at the weekend. The Government has repeatedly told us a strong health approach would lead to an open economy and yet Auckland had to endure another lockdown and we’ve missed out on the Rugby Championship.

ACT’s approach learns from Taiwan and includes:

  • New Zealand Epidemic Response Unit: Based on Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre
  • Government as referee, not player: Allow alternative facilities for safe, electronically-monitored isolation, with strict punishment for rule-breakers
  • Risk-weighted: Treat different countries and travellers with different levels of caution
  • Technology-driven: Such as COVID card, ëlarm, rapid tests, temperature checks and thermal cameras
  • Continuous improvement: Constantly compare ourselves with the best and seek to strengthen our resistance.

“If we want to enhance New Zealanders’ overall wellbeing, we must get a lot smarter. A Party Vote for ACT is a vote to tackle COVID-19 intelligently.”

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35 Comments

No sign of level 1.5 -- a little surprised at that.

They would probably have had to restrict Auckland travel for that. It's a prioritisation of regional travel over reducing the alert level across the rest of New Zealand.

I was imagining 1.5 being Lv1 but without huge indoor events which risk massive spread, like 10k people at a concert, etc. Seems like that would be consistent with allowing regional travel.

That would have been the obvious answer - quarantine Auckland and let the rest of NZ get on with it at Level 1 but oh no - listen to the bleaters - we need Aucklands tourist dollars, we need to get South, we need to move over the border - muppets - the border issues could have been worked out and the local tourists outside Auckland would be spending large at Level 1. I suspect Auckland Airport and AirNZ lobbying had the ears.

Have they located the Index case yet? Without that they are really being preemptive on removing any restrictions. Find the source, find the problem.

Nope. Probably never will at this point.

Find the source, find the problem.

Not really. Whoever the index case was is highly likely to have recovered by now anyway, so there is no 'problem' left to find, and extensive testing hasn't shown any other unexpected pocket of cases so far (eg from this index case spreading it to others). It's feasible that this was a freak occurrence where someone who had been deemed 'recovered' managed to pass on the virus several weeks after they'd normally be considered un-infectious.

The reason to find the index case is in the hope that we can learn how they became exposed and then take steps to prevent that same exposure path in future. But even once the index case is found there's no guarantee we'd learn how they were exposed, and it's possible to re-examine all of your current procedures (eg around MIQ facilities) with the assumption that something went wrong, and thus tighten up lots of procedures in the hope that you'll fix the one that led to the original lapse, and likely fix others that could have lead to lapses but now won't.

Although discounted, I still think a coolstore delivery might have had something to do with it;

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3100637/coronavirus-chil...

Given we've just had a health worker at a border facility infected, don't you think it's far more likely the gateway was at the border? The Coolstore theory is extremely politically convenient given the lack of active testing around border workers.

It certainly had an air of "sleight of hand" about it.

I agree it's far more likely it came from the border, but there's still no sign of a smoking gun anywhere.

Which in itself means other potential sources are slightly more likely to has been the true source.

What I was talking about above, is that we know it's possible to return a positive test some months after you recovered from your infection. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that someone who has recovered would ordinarily not be infectious, but through a freak co-incidence and bad luck, still manages to pass it on anyway.

Unfortunately we have no test for whether someone is actually infectious or not.

The false-negative is probably most likely at this point, I'd imagine.

The article is interesting but note it is non peer reviewed so should be treated with caution. The Americold coolstore was discounted because no traces of the virus were found and the owner insisted and could prove there were no cross Tasman deliveries from their other facilities. I think if coolstores were a vector we would have seen an outbreak centered around PoA or PoT

Interesting, don't you think, that the "mystery index case" doesn't seem to have infected anyone else outside the original core cluster? In a court case, circumstantial evidence would lead to the conclusion that the index case was in fact within the original cluster of 5

Yes, but the point is none of those people had travelled or had known contact with anyone who had.

More likely that a quarantine worker was infected and began the spread into the community. The fact there was very little testing of quarantine workers until the proverbial hit the fan indicates its is probable a quarantine worker, who was possibly asymptomatic, began the outbreak. They would have recovered by the time wide spread testing of border staff actually commenced (too little too late).

Given 2 quarantine staff have now been found to be infected following the introduction of comprehensive testing indicates that staff were likely infected earlier but were not identified due to lax testing procedures. I would suggest an antibody test of all quarantine staff (current and old) to determine if someone has recovered from an infection and who may be the index case.

I agree with almost all of that. But, are the antibody tests accurate enough to allow for this?

The genomics suggest there is no link between the outbreak and any of the positive cases held in quarantine in the last few months.

My understanding is that they could not sequence all positive quarantined cases due to insufficient RNA in some cases. This article, albeit old (13 August), indicates only 700 of the 1,225 cases at that time had been sequenced.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/122444739/coronaviru...

Do you have a source for 100% sequencing of all positive arrivals over the last few months?

Yes 60% were able to be sequenced (my understanding anyhow). And that's of those that were positive PCR tests. They clearly missed some cases in MIQ early on (during the now-implausible string of zero case days) and so the actual sequenced % is smaller still.

There were also people being released in the early days of MIQ without even being tested, so it's anyone's guess.

What actually happens to all the people who test positive?
OK - so they stay in isolation for 14 days, but then what? Are they completely clean & clear and non-transmissible from Day 15 onwards? Are any suffering ongoing effects?
What are the ill-effects on all the positive test people? Can we see the actual illness play out in their lives? It seems 99% suffer little, and are all fine after day 14 and out in the community.

Thanks - So, it would be good to hear about various anonymised cases that have come through the system and out into the community.
Given there have been 1600+ recovered cases in NZ - how are they getting on? Any lingering effects?
We don't seem to have a full supply chain view - other than the "caught a case" at the beginning scenarios.

"Cabinet also decided to remove physical distancing restrictions on public transport, including buses, trains and aeroplanes. This means that from today, they don’t need to restrict passenger numbers."

There is no strategy, there is a series of knee jerk reactions.

which means 200 people can get on a plane in virus capital Auckland -- wearing a mask and sit 30 inches from each other for a couple of hours heading to Virus free Christchurch -- but an extended Family/whanau of 12 people cant have a family meal at a local restaurant .... i dont see the logic or correlation with other aspects of the restrictions -- by this token surely the South island could be in Level 1 ---- its not the decision i object to - i run a health company - so all for safety -- it the lack of consistency - this feels like the airlines have said either remove the restrictions or we stop flying -- no other justification why a 2 hour flight with 199 strangers in a confined space with air con circulating spores is now considered safe

and if everyone is wearing masks they will effectively be breathing on the person next to them as the mask diverts breath out the sides - I would have left Auckland quarantined and let the rest of the country get on with it at level 1 - but we need the tourists from Auckland - doh

Yawn. Technocracy rules
Let’s just make Prof Baker PM shall we
Another 5 weeks tedium to the landslide

He seems to love the limelight.

same - not a fan - Chris Smith from the UK on Kim Hill has been the most level of them all to be honest.

i think wearing masks is now an important tool and studies overseas are now showing it can help, even i have now become used to wearing one when in amonst people. i did see a lady get on the bus today and not wear one and the driver said nothing, everyone else was wearing and sitting apart so not sure if she had a legit reason or just an anti everything
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/health/covid-masks-immunity.html

i agree with a couple of ACT's points , why are we treating someone from the zero country or states pacific islands or the NT, WA the same as someone coming in for the USA or india?
people coming from high risk countries should have to go through jet park type quaratine
those coming from zero countries and states could be treated more lenient , after a day three negative test in quarantine send those that can self isolate home for the rest of the 14 days with a electronically-monitored bracelet, after day 12 negative take it off them

I agree. Note the PM has indicated next year a relaxing of the inbound border requirements (as an aspiration) I suspect in due course the current blunt one size all approach will change

This has to be played out in a very uncertain manner till the elections, no alternative. Cautious balance between optimism and fear. Auckland is the wild card and has to be locked down to contain the spread. And to make sure that things don't go south (pun not intended). We have to appreciate the difficulty the Government faces in taking these decisions on a weekly basis.

Days to the General Election: 21
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.