Coronavirus updates: NZ's alert levels, wage subsidy extended as new cases emerge

On Friday night Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland would remain at alert level 3 and the rest of New Zealand at alert level 2, for another 12 days.

This comes after New Zealand's number of cases of coronavirus from community transmission rose to 30 on Friday. 

All cases are from either Auckland or Tokoroa and are all linked to the south Auckland cluster.

What you need to know:

  • 30 cases of community transmission have been confirmed since Tuesday - 28 in Auckland, two in Tokoroa - all of which are linked to the south Auckland cluster
  • 12 new confirmed cases on Friday, one probable
  • The Prime Minister will announced at 5:30pm that Auckland's lockdown has been extended for 12 days, and the rest of New Zealand will remain at alert level 2
  • This extension is due to end at midnight on August 26
  • Ardern said  there was no evidence yet to justify a move to alert level 4
  • Police checkpoints are set up north and south of Auckland
  • Kiwis should get tested if they are symptomatic and masks are recommended for use in public. They are mandatory when flying out of Auckland

Live updates for Friday have now finished.

7:30pm- Air New Zealand is reducing its domestic schedule to and from Auckland due reduced demand as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown extension.

"While there will be a reduction in flying to and from Auckland, there will be some flights available to support essential travel," chief executive officer Greg Foran says.

"The rest of our domestic network will operate as normal under Alert Level 2 – with physical distancing in place, and we are updating our schedule to reflect this."

The number of flights per day to and from Auckland will now be:

  • Christchurch - 13
  • Gisborne - 3
  • Kerikeri - 7
  • Napier - 3
  • Palmerston North - 3
  • Tauranga - 3
  • Wellington - 7
  • Whangarei - 7

Customers on flights will be required to wear a face mask.

7:20pm- Newshub's political reporters Jenna Lynch and Zane Small have written a comprehensive story with everything you need to know about the wage subsidy extension.

Read the full story below:

7pm- Retail NZ says they are welcoming the wage subsidy extension but more support is required for businesses during the lockdown period to manage fixed costs.

"Under Alert Level 3, most retail premises in Auckland must remain closed to the public, although supermarkets, dairies, petrol stations, and pharmacies can remain open," chief executive Greg Harford said.

"All retailers can open their online sell stores, and are allowed to sell to the public via contactless click and collect, but we will see a massive reduction in retail spending nationwide over the next 12 days. 

"Retail businesses typically operate on very low margins, and are critically reliant on cash flow coming in the door."

Retail NZ estimates the retail economy will suffer a 40 per cent hit over the next 12 days.

The Restaurant Association is also concerned about the impact of the extended lockdown in Auckland.

"The extension to level 3 trading in Auckland will be extremely challenging for those hospitality businesses already struggling to recover from the first lock down period and extended border closure," CEO Marisa Bidois says.

"Anecdotal feedback from members indicates that they are weeks away from going out of business giving them debts they will be dealing with a number of years.

"Should this level 3 period be extended again this will break the back of many hard working business owners from some of our favourite dining establishments who are on a knife edge."

6:40pm - Robertson said the decision to extend the wage subsidy was because of the impacts of the lockdown on New Zealand's economy.

"Auckland represents a significant part of the New Zealand economy - nearly 40 percent of GDP," Robertson said.

"As a result of that and the Auckland economy's connection with the rest of New Zealand, it is clear that a level 3 situation in Auckland will have impacts on the rest of New Zealand. That's not only in terms of business and trade activity being connected throughout New Zealand, but also because we are asking Aucklanders to stay home and the impact that will have on tourism elsewhere in New Zealand."

He said they are already hearing about many cancellations of bookings from Aucklanders, and many businesses around New Zealand rely on their business, especially with international borders shut due to COVID-19.

Robertson said that his expectation is that access to the wage subsidy scheme will be very similar to previous criteria.

"The Ministry of Social Development has indicated that they will be able to implement the new wage subsidy scheme within five days," Robertson said.

Applications for the currently wage subsidy scheme are still open.

"I encourage all businesses to check if they are eligible, even if they thought they were previously not."

Coronavirus updates: NZ's alert levels, wage subsidy extended as new cases emerge

6:20pm- Finance Minister Grant Roberston says an extension to the mortgage deferral scheme has been agreed in-principle as part of the plan to support households after the existing scheme expires.

The scheme is due to expire on September 27.

Details of the extension are being finalised, including the extension's length, and will be announced next week Robertson said.

"This is all part of our plan to cushion the blow for businesses and households as we fight the virus."

6pm - Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says one of the things that's really encouraging in the fresh outbreak is "how early in their symptoms people are coming forward to be tested".

"The cases in Tokoroa came forward on Tuesday, even though their exposure had just been on the weekend," he said. "This is a really critical measure for our success: being able rapidly identify cases."

Ardern says finding the source of the outbreak isn't necessary for the Government to feel like they've got it under control.

She says there were a number of clusters in New Zealand's first wave of coronavirus that they never found the original source of, but still managed to close them.

5:45pm - Ardern says it doesn't appear that the cases have been lying dormant in the community since our last outbreak.

"The sequence from the latest outbreak is not the same at from the community cases in our first original outbreak in New Zealand," she said.

"This suggests this is not a case of the virus being dormant, or of a burning ember in our community. It appears to be new to New Zealand."

Ardern said the cluster will "grow before it slows".

"It is possible to control an outbreak without ever knowing its origin... We know that we can expect to see more cases."

She says the country has stock for a further 303,000 coronavirus tests.

5:40pm - The wage subsidy will also be extended, in line with the alert level extension.

"Cabinet has made an in-principle decision to extend the wage subsidy scheme to support businesses and protect jobs, as we undertake the public health measures required to fight the virus," Ardern said.

"Finance Minister Grant Robertson will be working through the finer details with officials and Minister [Carmel] Sepuloni over the weekend. But I can say the extension to the wage subsidy will be nationwide and will cover the period of time that the current level 3 restrictions remain in place."

Construction and hospitality services will continue in line with level 3 protocols.

The Prime Minister says there is nothing to suggest Auckland needs to move to an alert level 4 lockdown. She says the economy runs at about 80 percent at alert level 3, compared to just 60 percent at alert level 4.

5:35pm - Auckland will remain at alert level 3 for an additional 12 days. The rest of New Zealand will remain at alert level 2 over the same period.

This will bring the total number of days spent at the current alert level settings to 14 days.

"Today Cabinet has agreed to maintain our current settings for an additional 12 days, bringing us to a full two weeks in total," the Prime Minister said.

"Our current expectation is that by this time, the perimeter of the cluster will be identified, will be isolated and we can move to level 2 in Auckland in confidence."

She said there are signs "we have found this outbreak relatively early".

Ardern also announced health officials have identified the earliest case of community transmission in New Zealand - a worker at the Americold cool storage facility in Auckland's Mt Wellington.

Ardern says it appears he was infected on July 31. It may not be the origin of the outbreak, but it's the earliest case identified at this stage.

5:30pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is about to announce the latest on Auckland and the rest of New Zealand's alert levels.

5:20pm - Newshub reporter Mitch McCann has been in Tokoroa all day on Friday, and told the live special the town is in "shock and disbelief" at the announcement of two new cases there.

It's a small town of 13,000 and "they didn't expect this", he said. Many people  have now started wearing masks after being notified of the news.

McCann also spoke to two cousins of the new cases, who described the situation as surreal. They said the cases were in good spirits and isolating in their home.

COVID-19 modelling expert Shaun Hendy told Newshub it's unlikely that cases would have spread to other Tokoroa residents.

5:10pm - Dr Siouxsie Wiles, one of New Zealand's foremost COVID-19 experts, has told Newshub it's "very promising" that all of the new cases are linked to the original cluster.

And she praised the rapid health response from the Government, which saw the country move up alert levels in just 15 hours.

However the microbiologist said she's glad she's not in charge of the decision on alert levels, as it's a difficult one.

5pm - Australia's Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says New Zealand's decision to go to alert level 1 after the original COVID-19 outbreak was risky.

"That is just very dangerous," he told the Australian Senate's coronavirus inquiry, as reported by 7 News. "To go right back to a pre-COVID state makes them extremely vulnerable.

"What has happened in New Zealand is a real demonstration of why we have to remain cautious."

Kelly said New Zealand should've continued to limit mass gatherings and kept our social distancing procedures.

4:50pm - ACT Party leader David Seymour has ripped into the Ministry of Health over its erroneous claim of a COVID-19 case linked to Pakuranga College at Parliament's Legislative Council Chamber.

In a press conference he said people are "absolutely flabbergasted at the performance of some in the Government - particularly the Minister of Health."

"Chris Hipkins says the 1pm press conference is the one source of truth, then Pakuranga College find out they've got a virus they haven't heard of... and they don't have it," he said.

Seymour also lashed out at Winston Peters, claiming his unsubstantiated claims about the source of New Zealand's new COVID-19 outbreak in an interview with Australian media is "more evidence that the guy has to go".

"Some of the behaviour of the people in government is totally unacceptable," he said.

"Winston Peters speculating, flying kites as the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on foreign television is totally unacceptable and unbecoming of a Deputy Prime Minister."

4:40pm - A man being held at a managed isolation facility in Auckland has told Newshub he's "scared shitless" due to the lack of precautions shown by staff and fellow passengers.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, has a serious lung condition and is considered at high risk of COVID-19. Due to his illness he has been isolating in his rural New South Wales home for five months.

He came to New Zealand to visit his brother, who has cancer - but he's scared after what he's seen at the border.

"I'm frightened to be here - I'm scared shitless because if I catch this I will die," he said. "To come here and be put at risk like this, it beggars belief. I'm angry because it's my life that's at risk here."

Read Vita Molyneux's full report here.

4:30pm - The Newshub Live Special is now on-air. You can follow along by watching the video above. App users can click here to watch.

The rolling coverage of the COVID-19 situation will include the scheduled 5:30pm alert level announcement by the Prime Minister.

4:25pm - Pakuranga College's principal has slammed the Ministry of Health after it mistakenly named the school as being affected by Auckland's COVID-19 cluster.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told reporters on Friday that one of 13 new cases was linked to the college, but the ministry has since apologised for incorrectly naming the college as an affected school.

"Surely they fact-check things before they give it to Dr Ashley Bloomfield to read on national TV?" Michael Williams said.

"We really want the country to trust the health department and I think in this whole community here, we haven't got much trust in them anymore. How can we trust them when they're clearly not fact-checking things properly?"

Read Mark Quinlivan's full report here.

4:05pm - The Government will consider the 13 new cases of COVID-19 - and the fact they are all part of the same cluster - during a Cabinet meeting to decide on changing alert levels at 3pm.

An announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirming the decision is scheduled for 5:30pm.

But while both Health Miniser Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield were coy about whether lockdown would be extended at their 1pm update, there are hints Auckland won't move to alert level 4.

Read Zane Small's full report here.

3:50pm - In a press release, the Ministry of Health says two positive cases visited Kingswood Rest Home in Morrinsville before they knew they had been exposed or were symptomatic.

It says the rest home is responding rapidly and working closely with the local Medical Officers of Health, but tests have revealed neither the resident who was visited nor the staff members who interacted with the visitors have COVID-19.

"All staff and residents who may have been at the rest home during the period of concern are self-isolating," it said.

"All have been tested and results are expected by tomorrow. We are maintaining contact with all affected individuals and replacement staff are being sought to provide cover."

3:25pm - The Ministry of Health has also provided an update on a potential case at a Wellington ramen restaurant, confirming the rumour that a person who later tested positive for COVID-19 visited is true.

The ministry says it's now been made aware that a Japanese traveller spent some time in Wellington prior to his departure home, visiting The Ramen Shop among several other places.

"These premises are all considered casual contacts of the traveller, they have been contacted and provided with advice as part of the normal contact tracing process," it explained.

"No further action is required from any of these premises as the risk is considered very low."

The ministry said it was informed of two travellers who left New Zealand and later tested positive for COVID-19 overseas.

"These cases are being investigated but have not yet been officially confirmed," it said.

"One case is a Japanese traveller who left New Zealand on 8 August and transited through Singapore enroute to Japan. The other case is a Belgian traveller who left New Zealand on 6 August and transited through Singapore enroute to Amsterdam.

"Both travellers were asymptomatic in New Zealand."

3:15pm - The Ministry of Health has apologised after admitting to incorrectly naming Pakuranga College as a school linked to a confirmed COVID-19 case.

"While there is a casual link, the Ministry is awaiting further test results and at this point no additional public health action is required from the school," it said in a press release.

"The Ministry apologises for putting information in the public domain without first notifying the school."

National MP Simeon Brown had earlier described the mistake as "awful".

3:10pm - Here's all the latest figures in graph form after the Government's 1pm COVID-19 update.

A reminder, there were 12 new confirmed cases announced on Friday, as well as another probable case.

It means there are currently 48 cases of coronavirus in total in New Zealand - 30 of which are community transmission cases linked to the Auckland cluster.

3:05pm - Newshub has been told that a press release on the rumoured new COVID-19 case at a Wellington ramen shop can be expected in the next 30 minutes.

2:45pm - A casual worker at Snowplanet, in the north Auckland suburb of Silverdale, has tested positive for COVID-19, NZME reports.

The Ministry of Health had advised the man he was unlikely to have been infectious while working at the indoor snow recreation centre.

The report says the man last worked at Snowplanet on August 5 and later tested positive on August 11.

The company had already advised customers it would be closing down on Tuesday, following the announcement of Auckland's shift to alert level 3.

2:30pm - A Kiwi epidemiologist living in Victoria believes "hard-nosed actions" are required at Auckland's border to stop the country going back up the alert levels.

Tony Blakely told Newshub border security is "critical". In Australia, anyone wanting to leave the state of Victoria needs to apply for a 14-day permit to cross the border.

"Unfortunately, we have learned in Australia that borders are easily breached, and more so in a trust system," he said. "If New Zealand is to return to an elimination state, it requires hard-nosed actions but with strong communication to the public as to why."

Read Emma Cropper's full report here.

2:15pm - National MP Simeon Brown says he's spoken with Pakuranga College principal Michael Williams, who told him he's now been told that there is no case at his school despite one being announced at 1pm.

Brown describes it as an "awful mistake" that has caused "significant concern in the Pakuranga community".

In a post to Facebook, Pakuranga College confirmed that the Ministry of Education had been in touch to advise them there was no COVID-19 threat.

1:45pm - At what events or locations could have the cases come into contact with lots of people? Dr Bloomfield mentions the church in south Auckland as well as the schools and workplaces.

A preschooler confirmed with COVID-19 went to the church with their family. Church members are now being tested.

In regard to the Pakuranga College Facebook post reported below, Hipkins can't say when they were notified. The minister says they should have been told.

Dr Bloomfield will look into it, but says he has seen information about the school in the last day.

Hipkins is happy to get a list of when schools were notified.

1:40pm - Dr Bloomfield previously mentioned a case linked to Pakuranga College, but the school says its not aware of this.

1:35pm - Are you happy with the resources available in Auckland? Dr Bloomfield says additional testing units have been put forward and he's satisfied with that.

Aucklanders are doing well at isolating after being contacted by contact tracers, Dr Bloomfield says.

Does testing at the Ports of Auckland mean it is under suspicion as a point of entry for the virus? Hipkins says all areas the virus could have entered New Zealand are under scrutiny. It is a complex place to test because of the number of people coming and going.

1:30pm - In regard to a post by a Ramen shop saying it has been informed of a positive case dining then, Dr Bloomfield says he has no information about that.

In response to a claim by Winston Peters that a quarantine breach was linked to the cluster, Hipkins directs questions to the Foreign Minister. Peters says he got that information from a journalist.

"There is one source of truth and that's announcements we make here," Hipkins says.

1:25pm - Despite the large number of tests, Hipkins is confident we have enough tests to keep up. Dr Bloomfield agrees. Capacity outside of Auckland is being used to process the tests.

How concerned are you about not linking the hospital case to the cluster? Dr Bloomfield is not concerned about that at the moment as it is the most recent case and still under investigation.

Unions for workers at the border are being very collaborative as they want to see their staff healthy.

Hipkins is not aware of any positive tests in Wellington, despite rumours of positive cases.

1:20pm - Hipkins says of 2459 people working in MIQ, 1435 have been tested in the last 48-hours. 

Social groups in Auckland have on Friday received stocks of face masks.

The risk in Tokoroa remains low, Hipkins says. They are clearly linked to the Auckland-based cluster. As more cases emerge, rapid contact tracing is happening.

Dr Bloomfield will provide advice to the Government on alert levels later on Friday.

Asked why not all border workers were previously tested, Hipkins says not all are in an at-risk category. Why not compulsory testing? Hipkins says that is a big lever to pull and the Government is exercising a big deal of caution.

Dr Bloomfield is pleased cases are being found and isolated quickly.

The index case is still unknown. Human-to-human transmission is still likely.

1:15pm - Health Minister Hipkins notes that all cases are in Auckland and Tokoroa. He said it is pivotal to contact trace and test over the coming days, particularly in Auckland.

For the rest of New Zealand, the message is for people to be vigilant. Call Healthline or your GP if you believe you have symptoms. 

The message for Aucklanders is that the tests need to be available for people with symptoms and those who visited or worked at the Ports of Auckland, Americold or Finance now.

Over the last two days, testing has ramped up at the border, Hipkins says. He expects the majority of the people-facing border workers will be tested by the end of the day. The workers on the frontline are the priority, he says. Some working at the border are at very low-risk of exposure.

1:10pm - Dr Bloomfield notes that three schools are closed in Auckland due to students testing positive. 

On Thursday, 15,703 tests were processed, the highest in a day yet. The total now is 524,514. He says demand has been high and thanks workers.

There are 16 stations in Auckland. People can also get tested at their GPS. Only symptomatic people are being tested. Those not symptomatic may be turned away.

The two people who tested the Morrinsville Kingswood aged care facility weren't symptomatic at the time. The family member and staff members who came into contact with them have tested negative.

There have been more than 1 million downloads of the COVID Tracer App and 170,000 posters made.

1:05pm - Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there are reports of healthcare workers being verbally abused and attacked. He says this is unacceptable.

Twelve new confirmed cases and one probable case in community. Two are in Tokoroa. 

All but one of the 13 cases are connected to the cluster. The 13th is in hospital. Two positive in Tokoroa are part of a single household and have contact with people in Auckland who visited the Waikato rest home. 

Others in that household have tested negative. The DHB is providing support.

All confirmed cases must go to quarantine. Already, 38 have moved to quarantine, including cases and family members.

Overall, there are 48 active cases, with 30 linked to the community outbreak. We have had 1251 confirmed cases overall. Just one person is in hospital.

12:55pm - Health Minister Chris Hipkins will now join Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at 1pm.

12:45pm - Stuff reports that there are now six cases from the Finance Now office.  The outlet says four are believed to be new cases.

One of the initial four cases worked at Finance Now. A second employee was confirmed with COVID-19 on Thursday, while a family member of their's has also tested positive.

12:30pm - Newshub's Mitch McCann reports that people are now being turned away from the Tokoroa testing station, which is being inundated with people wanting tests.

We were told at the gate: "We’re full". It only opened a couple of hours ago.

Tokoroa. Photo credit: Newshub.

12:25pm - At 5:30pm, the Prime Minister will reveal if our alert levels will stay the same, escalate or come down.

What do you think Ardern should do? Have your say here.

12:20pm - RNZ says there are two new cases connected to the Mt Wellington Americold facility. One is reportedly an employee and the other is from an external hired labour force. 

11:55am - Newshub's Mitch McCann is in Tokoroa and reports that locals there say they are in shock and disbelief.

Newshub has spoken to a local school which says it’s being inundated with calls from concerned parents. It follows revelations from the Mayor of a positive case - despite no confirmation from the Ministry.

Countdown Tokoroa has sent elderly workers home. One told Newshub she was very worried about the situation. 

11:30am - The Māori Party says: "Māori must move to level 4 lockdown and the borders must be closed for the next 14 days - even to overseas whānau wanting to return home - to ensure proper border control".

"Level 4 lockdown for at least 14 days should have been made by the Prime Minister when she announced the new community outbreak,” Co-leader John Tamihere said.

"We also cannot allow returning Kiwis home – including our whānau – until health officials get on top of this this community outbreak. Iwi Health Check points are now re-established."

The party also wants the election delayed to 2021.

"Only then can we be non-challenging and trusting of the present leadership of the country. It must be leadership of the 5 million, not control by one party.

"When you are in election mode you must question, challenge and be suspicious and at times oppositional. That is why the election must be pushed back."

Tamihere wants the Prime Minister to form a Cabinet of National Unity and reach out to Opposition parties.

11:25am - Two South Waikato councillors have confirmed to Newshub there has been at least one confirmed and one probable case of COVID-19 detected in Tokoroa.

Mayor Jenny Shattock says she is aware of a case in Tokoroa linked to Auckland.

RNZ earlier reported councillors as saying there are two confirmed cases and five probable. It has now clarified saying there is at least one confirmed case.

Stuff says there is one confirmed case and one probable, with five being tested.

11:20am - In light of the new COVID-19 situation, APEX won’t strike on Monday at Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) as it had intended.

"The proposed strike was in support of bargaining for a fair pay offer from a strong and profitable private sector provider of medical laboratory testing," a statement said.

APEX laboratory national advocate David Munro says that although the SCL labs aren’t affected currently by alert level 3, "it is clear that the intensive ramping up of COVID testing will require the capacity of SCL labs in addition to the Auckland DHB labs and ESR".

"In this context the SCL APEX members have decided not to risk any disruption to testing that could have occurred due to their strike."

11am - The Employers and Manufacturers Association is calling on businesses to "adapt" to alert level 3 restrictions so they can continue operating.

"You can open if your staff can't work from home, you can meet social distancing requirements of 1m within the workplace or 2m with customers, and you don’t have physical contact between you and your customers or deliveries," said chief executive Brett O'Riley.

"Level 3 does not mean you have to be an essential service, it means you can function if you meet those conditions. It is a not a complete lockdown like Level 4."

He said it was pleasing to see many food services already moving to contactless deliveries while construction companies ar  also adapting to the rules.

"We didn't see that last time but we have seen businesses adapt this time."

He wants the Government to provide more notice about level changes to businesses in the future.

"It's understandable that the Government moved so quickly to go to level 3 this time and it doesn’t look like Auckland or the rest of the country is going to level 4 as some feared.

"But if, for example, the announcement at 5.30pm tonight is for Auckland to go to Level 2, then businesses will have no time to prepare for that overnight and it would be a scramble for many businesses to gear up for a change that came in on Monday."

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said on Friday morning that, as of Thursday night, he had seen no evidence to justify moving to alert level 4.

10:40am - The Blues are scheduled to host the Crusaders at Eden Park this weekend, but with Auckland currently under alert level 3 - and no decision yet made on if that will change - the game is unlikely to take place.

Under alert level 3, a gathering like that expected at Eden Park can't happen.

The Blues said on Friday morning that they can't train as a team at the moment.

"The match will ONLY proceed this weekend if the alert level shifts to level 1 or level 2."

The team will release a statement at 6pm after the Prime Minister's press conference at 5:30pm.

10:25am - Auckland's three days at level 3 would have cost the city about $150 million in economic activity, according to a leading economist.

But the city's Mayor says the costs will be far greater if the coronavirus isn't stamped out quickly. 

Read more on that here.

10:05am - Stuff is reporting that a case of COVID-19 has been detected in Tokoroa.

Local Mayor Jenny Shattock says on Thursday evening the council was told of a staff member potentially being linked to a known Auckland case. A Waikato DHB source told Stuff a case in Tokoroa has been confirmed and two staff members at a local medical centre have gone into isolation.

10am - Up to 300 people who were at the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa Māngere East Puaseisei on Sunday or have been in contact with someone who was there are being told to get tested as a precaution, according to NZME.

It comes after Taeaofou i Puaseisei Preschool announced on Thursday night that a student had tested positive. NZME says many of the church's youngest members attend the preschool.

NZME reports Reverend Victor Pouesi as saying the preschooler was at church with their family on Sunday. He understands the child's parents work with a family member of one of the initial four cases.

9:55am - James Shaw tells Paula Bennett he has yet to get his test result back, but he is awaiting it with "a great deal anticipation". He believes he will be fine.

Shaw said the test wasn't painful.

9:45am - The Waikato Police have posted an interesting pie chart on Facebook. The message from authorities and supermarkets is that panic buying is not needed. If everyone acts normally, stores will be able to keep up with demand.

9:30am - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff wants Sunday's blockbuster Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Blues and Crusaders at Eden Park to be called off. 

NZ Rugby is awaiting further Government guidance, before making a call on whether the Blues v Crusaders and Highlanders v Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday can go ahead. 

A decision is expected on Friday evening, after the Government's announcement over alert level restrictions. 

Read more here.

Phil Goff.
Phil Goff. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

9:20am - The New Zealand Orthopaedic Association (NZOA) wants the Government to allow elective surgery to continue as the alert levels changes.

NZOA President Peter Robertson says when the country was in level four earlier in the year, numbers of elective surgeries performed plummeted, even though hospitals did not have the expected influx of COVID-19 patients.

“Hospitals had operating theatres, surgeons and surgical teams ready and able to work on our large elective surgery backlog. Instead, many theatres remained empty, while New Zealanders continued to wait in pain and disability for elective surgery," he said.

“In the case of large numbers of COVID-19 patients, of course health services have to be prioritised. However, where public hospitals are half empty because – very thankfully – the expected influx hasn’t happened, we need to take the opportunity to provide people with the surgery they have been waiting for and desperately need.

“The NZOA is asking the Government to continue to allow elective surgery to take place should we move to level 4, if we are again in a situation where theatres and surgeons are available.”

9am - Paula Bennett is up next on Magic Talk. Among her guests are James Shaw and Simon Bridges. 

8:55am - Although only Auckland is in COVID-19 alert level 3 the impact of the city's lockdown is being felt across the country, according to experts in the hospitality industry.

Executive director of New Zealand's Hotel Owners Association Amy Robens says the industry is trying to stay afloat - but with New Zealand's largest city in lockdown, it's not easy.

"With Auckland being at level 3 the impact on the rest of the country is really quite severe," she told Newshub on Friday.

"Conferences, meetings and holiday bookings across the country are being cancelled and the first impact [of the COVID-19 pandemic] was back in February, so we're all still very much in survival mode."

Read more here.

8:40am - Minister of Health Chris Hipkins has poured cold water on the Deputy Prime Minister's suggestion the new cluster of COVID-19 cases came from a breach at a border quarantine facility.

Peters told Australia's ABC 24 News on Thursday evening a "usually very reliable" journalist told him the city's outbreak was linked to the quarantine system, where Kiwis arriving home from overseas are placed if they're showing symptoms or test positive for the virus. 

The Prime Minister's Office quickly said it had no evidence of any connection, and on Friday morning Hipkins said that remained the case. The last update he had at 10:30pm on Thursday said no link between the border facilities, anyone who works there or anyone with recent overseas travel history had been found.

Read more on that here.

8:30am - The AM Show's Aziz Al-sa'afin is down at the new Eden Park testing station. He says it is "absolute madness" down there, but it is being managed better than the site at Eden Terrace was over the last two days.

Most of those queuing up are not symptomatic, Al-sa'afin says. He says a lot of people are fearful about the current COVID-19 situation.

8:25am - National's health spokesperson Shane Reti has told RNZ that he has now had a "productive" meeting with Chris Hipkins and they are working collaboratively.

Leader Judith Collins on Wednesday criticised the Government for not briefing Reti on the escalating COVID-19 situation.

Reti says he thinks the Government is doing the best it can, but notes that not all border workers have been tested, as revealed in a Newshub story on Thursday.

8:15am - ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner is speaking to The AM Show.

She says there is a significant difference between alert level 3 and 4 in terms of economic activity. While the Government can help via the wage subisdy in the short term, a long-term situation is a different story.

The current uncertainty doesn't help, she says, as it means businesses are less likely to invest.

7:55am - Health Minister Chris Hipkins told The AM Show on Friday morning that there is no link yet between the new cluster and any managed isolation or quarantine facilities.

Officials have been looking at the genome sequencing of the four initial new cases and comparing that to samples from isolation facilities.

Patrick Gower on Thursday night broke down the initial results, looking at the strain of COVID-19 the cases likely have and where in the world this has been reported before. Find that story here.

Newshub's Lana Andelane on Wednesday dived into what genome sequencing means and how it can help fight community transmission. Read about that here.

7:30am - The Restaurant Association wants the Government to allow contactless delivery at alert level 4, if we should return there.

A survey of members on Thursday found just over 50 percent supported this change while 14 percent wanted more information before making a call.

"Delivery options continue to be made available to other businesses such as online retail and supermarkets. Our industry has already proven it can operate a safe contactless service at level 3, so we see no reason why these couldn’t be extended to level 4," chief executive Marisa Bidois says.

7:20am - Simon Bridges says Jacinda Ardern is very cautious and conservative on these issues. He believes Auckland will stay in alert level 3. If we go to alert level 4, the Government will need a very strong case, Bridges says.

There is no evidence yet to justify moving to alert level 4, Hipkins says. If a new cluster emerges or cases unrelated to the south Auckland outbreak are reported, that may change things.

On the lack of testing at the border, Hipkins says anyone with signs of having COVID-19 were tested. He reiterates there is no evidence yet of a link between the cluster and the border.

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show.

7:15am - Health Minister Chris Hipkins and National's Simon Bridges are now on The AM Show.

Should Aucklanders prepare for the worst? Hipkins says people should always be prepared for the worst and be ready to take action.

"This is a virus. It's unpredictable."

He says Cabinet will be better informed later on Friday to make decisions around alert level changes. No recommendation has yet been made by the Director-General of Health. Hipkins admits it will be a somewhat "last-minute" decision.

Hipkins says more positive cases will be announced at 1pm. All are linked to the south Auckland cluster. As of 10:30pm on Thursday, there was no link identified between the cluster and managed isolation.

"What we know so far is all of the positive cases we've had to date - and there will be some more announced at lunchtime today, at 1pm today - all of them relate to the same single cluster. They all relate to one another.

"All of the testing we've done up and down the country has not identified any other cases of COVID that aren't related to this one. What we still don't know however is how this cluster came into being in the first place."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: The AM Show.

7:10am - The National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NFDHH) and Deaf Aotearoa are concerned about how face mask usage presents a "major communication barrier" to 880,000 people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Many of these individuals rely on lip reading to assist them.

The groups warn the repercussions can include a "reluctance for those who are deaf or hard of hearing to get tested, as they may not understand conversations or instructions" and a feeling of isolation for the people.

"NFDHH and Deaf Aotearoa are calling for closed captions for all COVID-19 briefing sessions on media-run platforms, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreters at testing stations, and captions in places where public service announcements are played over speakers, such as at airports and train stations."

6:55am - While New Zealand sees its first oubreak in months, other countries continue to struggle to fight the virus.

The confirmed death toll in the pandemic has surpassed 750,000, with nearly 21 million confirmed infected.

Here's the latest from around the world.

6:40am - If more of the North Island moves to alert level 3, some in Taranaki want the Defence Force or Police to run checkpoints at its borders and for the Government to pay for them.

The Taranaki Mayoral Forum and the Taranaki Iwi Chairs' Forum say "we must create a Taranaki bubble to protect our people and our economy".

Read more here.

6:30am - Ollie Ritchie, Newshub's Rugby Reporter, says it doesn't look like this weekend's Blues-Crusaders game at Eden Park will go ahead.

He said NZ Rugby will likely wait until the Government decision before announcing anything, but it's clear the blockbuster match won't happen due to the escalating COVID-19 situation.

Eden Park is being used as a testing centre on Friday.

Netball NZ says no netball will be going ahead, Ritchie says.

6:25am - Marisa Bidois from the Restaurant Association says this is a "devastating blow" to the industry. She said it's an uncertain time, but we have been here before and businesses know what to do.

At alert level 3, businesses that rely on customer interaction must close. Contactless delivery and pick-up can occur.

Bidois says the questions is: What's next?

6:15am - Newshub's Michael Morrah reported on Thursday night that, as of last week, 63.5 percent of all border and hotel isolation workers in Auckland had never been tested for COVID-19.

That astonishing figure comes as the source of this week's cluster remains unknown. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says human-to-human transmission remains the likely cause.

All staff in these high-risk roles will now face compulsory tests.

Read more here.

6:10am - It was a record day of testing on Wednesday in Auckland. More than 7800 tests were registered by the city's labs. The previous record in Auckland was 6407 on June 23.

Due to high demand, the Community Testing Centre (CTC) in Eden Terrace will move to Eden Park. This will be located in the stadium's bus hub. It is close to public transport, allowing for walk-ups.

"The three Auckland DHBs thank the public for their patience as they wait to be tested at our CTCs. We know people are experiencing long waits and we continue to work on ways to increase testing capacity in our region," ARPHS said

"We encourage people with symptoms to call their local doctor to arrange a test if they can instead of visiting a CTC. All general practices and urgent care clinics provide free COVID-19 testing."

The process at the CTCs can be sped up by people bringing ID and having their NHI number, if they know it.

"We also want to thank the residents and local businesses in the neighbourhoods where our CTCs are located for their patience and support. Traffic management plans are in place for each CTC and are monitored and updated, but we know the unprecedented demand for testing can impact local communities."

6:05am - We have a lot coming up on The AM Show as we await Jacinda Ardern's decision at 5:30pm.

Among the guests on Friday will be Health Minister Chris Hipkins, National's SImon Bridges and ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner.

6am - If you missed it late on Thursday, at least three Auckland schools have closed after a confirmed case of COVID-19 in each facility.

Glamorgan School in Torbay, Southern Cross Campus in Mangere East, and Taeaofou | Puaseisei Preschool, also in Mangere East, have all been closed while the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) carries out its investigations.

Close contacts of these cases are being followed up on.

An engineering student at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) has also tested positive, ARPHS confirmed. The student was not on campus while infectious.

5:50am - It's D-Day. At 5:30pm, Jacinda Ardern will inform the country whether COVID-19 alert level changes imposed this week will be extended, escalated or brought down. She's awaiting the latest information about the new cluster in Auckland and will chair a Cabinet meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss with ministers.