Coronavirus live updates: Latest on Auckland's COVID-19 outbreak - Sunday, August 23

New Zealand has 114 active cases of COVID-19, with three new cases - two of which are imported - detected on Sunday.

The Ministry of Health confirmed one new case, detected in the community, has been linked to the existing Auckland cluster on Sunday. Two other cases have been recorded in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Two cases remain under investigation and are yet to be linked to the cluster in Auckland. A Rydges Hotel maintenance worker who tested positive is also not epidemiologically linked to the outbreak.

What you need to know

  • There are 114 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand: 96 were detected in the community and 18 were imported
  • One new case was detected in the community on Sunday, with two imported cases recorded in managed isolation and quarantine facilities
  • Sunday's new community case has been epidemiologically linked to the Auckland cluster
  • Nine people are in hospital, three of which are in intensive care
  • To date, there have been 1324 confirmed cases in New Zealand
  • People travelling for work or hospital appointments - with evidence - now no longer need an exemption to cross Auckland's regional boundaries 
  • Auckland remains under alert level 3, while the rest of the country is following alert level 2.

These live updates have finished.

9:10pm - Health Minister Chris Hipkins gave an update on Facebook Live on the Government's health and education response to COVID-19.

One area he covered was the test-result backlog, and he says that's now been cleared.

"As a result, people are getting their results within 24 hours, 48 hours at the most," he says.

Watch his Facebook Live below.

8:45pm - Hundreds of Auckland families queued outside a Sikh temple on Sunday to receive food parcels.

Deljit Singh from the Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand says he saw more demand this weekend than in the previous lockdown.

It's taken the Sikh community three days to gather food to give to people in need. They handed out 2100 food parcels on top of 1500 given out several days ago.

"We are here to serve the community," Singh says.

Read the full story here.

8:15pm - Would-be holidaymakers who booked through STA Travel could be left thousands of dollars out of pocket after the company filed for insolvency.

Nik and his wife Caitlyn were meant to be on the honeymoon of their dreams after they booked through the travel agent. But they've been chasing their $20,000 refund for months after their trip was cancelled.

"We saved and worked hard. It was sort-of heartbreaking or a bit gutting," Nik says.

Read the full story here.

7:45pm - US President Donald Trump took aim at New Zealand's COVID-19 response three times this week, and a Twitter user called Aotearoa a "hellhole" in response. But Kiwis were quick to set the record straight by using the hashtag #NZHellHole to share images and stories of their lockdown experiences.

"The worst thing about living in the #NZHellhole is, without doubt, the aggressive and unpredictable Moss Chicken," one said, referring to Kakapo.

See more Kiwi reactions and read the full story here.

7:15pm - South Island ski fields are feeling the loss of Auckland visitors who are unable to travel due to alert level restrictions.

Cardrona Alpine Resort, which also operates Treble Cone near Wanaka, has lost more than 30 percent of its business, and general manager Bridget Legnavsky says it's been a rollercoaster of a season.

"The second week of the July school holidays we had the equivalent, if not slightly better, week than last year so that gives you some idea of how busy and we weren't expecting anything like that. We were expecting more like 50 percent."

Read the full story here.

6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm. Watch online here or tune in on Three.

5:30pm - Epidemiologist Michael Baker says the bluetooth-powered CovidCard would be an invaluable tool within New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

A trial of the CovidCard will begin in Rotorua with about 300 people participating.

The card is designed to be worn on a lanyard when in public, and it aims to detect and record close contacts by using bluetooth. Data is stored for 21 days on each person's card.

Professor of Public Health Michael Baker told RNZ he's a fan of the CovidCard, which he describes as a brilliant bit of technology.

"We've got to make sure it's going to fit in really well. I think the evidence is very encouraging for it."

Read the full story here.

4:45pm - The Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) has identified more bus journeys taken in the city by two separate people who had COVID-19.

"The two cases took a number of other buses while they were infectious, as well as the shared journey on the 22N bus on Wednesday 12 August," ARPHS says.

"The case linked to the Auckland cluster took the 670 bus on August 10 along a route through Mt Roskill to Otahuhu and then later between Otahuhu and Avondale. The St Lukes worker also took buses on three days after alert level 3 on August 14, 15 and 17, travelling the same bus 22 route between Symonds St and St Lukes.

"Seventeen passengers identified by their HOP cards as being on these buses at the same time as a case are considered close contacts. They are being asked to self-isolate and get tested if Public Health can contact them through their HOP details."

There are two more people who travelled on unregistered HOP cards on these routes that are considered close contacts, but there isn't any contact information for them. 

ARPHS says anyone on these buses at the following times for longer than 15 minutes should self-isolate, call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice and get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.

Anyone who was on one of these buses for shorter than 15 minutes at these times is considered a casual contact and should be aware there's only a small possibility they have been exposed to the virus. As a precaution, they should watch for symptoms and call Healthline if they become unwell.

Coronavirus live updates: Latest on Auckland's COVID-19 outbreak - Sunday, August 23
Photo credit: ARPHS

ARPHS says the two cases travelled together on the 22N bus for about two-and-a-half hours on August 12. This was due to heavy traffic congestion that morning as people were heading home before the midday lockdown, it says.

"The situation was made worse with traffic queuing for the COVID testing centre by the St Lukes shopping centre," it says.

"Six of the 11 close contacts on the bus at the same time have been alerted to their exposure and asked to be tested and go into self-isolation by the National Investigation and Tracing Centre. Five people with registered HOP cards do not have up to date contact details have yet to be traced, along with two others on this bus who did not use a registered HOP card."

It adds it is asking other agencies to help find details of bus close contacts who can't be reached.

4pm - The lockdown is causing "stress and uncertainty" for the future of the hospitality sector, the New Zealand Restaurant Association says.

CEO Marisa Bidois says current business models "don't work" at alert level 3.

"We've actually seen more businesses close in Auckland at level 3 than we did the first time," she told Magic Talk.

If lockdown levels remain heightened, a Restaurant Association survey revealed 12 percent of Auckland's hospitality industry would prepare to close within the next 30 days.

Read the full story here.

3:15pm - There have been two changes to Auckland's alert level 3 regional boundary restrictions.

Kiwis travelling for work can now transit through Auckland without applying for an exemption, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Sunday. They must show evidence of their purpose of travel, as well as their departure and destination points, when crossing one of the region's border checkpoints.

The new changes came into effect at 11:59pm on August 22.

Read the full report here.

2:30pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she knows "exactly" how New Zealanders feel due to the latest outbreak of community transmission.

The country had gone more than 100 days without evidence of COVID-19 in the community - a significant milestone in the battle against the virus - when the first new cases were confirmed in Auckland.

Speaking to Stuff, Ardern revealed she was "gutted" when she was informed of the four family members who had contracted the illness. 

"I'm not insulated from the same range of emotions other New Zealanders are going through. I know exactly how they feel. This is a hard, hard year for the world and New Zealand included," she said.

Read the full report here.  

The PM said she knows "exactly" how New Zealanders feel amid the latest outbreak of community transmission.
The PM said she knows "exactly" how New Zealanders feel amid the latest outbreak of community transmission. Photo credit: Getty

1:45pm - The Kingswood Rest Home in Morrinsville has now officially been cleared of any possible cases of COVID-19, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Sunday.

"We sincerely thank the rest home staff, residents, and their families for their assistance in taking the appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of everyone," the ministry said in a statement.

The Government's official contact tracing app, the NZ COVID Tracer, has recorded 1,744,000 registered users, as of Sunday. More than 310,700 QR posters for New Zealand businesses have also been created.

App users have scanned posters 14,432,239 times, and made 1,511,829 manual entries.

1:30pm - The Ministry of Health has issued a reminder for Kiwis to call and connect with people living alone under the alert level 3 restrictions, which require Aucklanders to remain in their household bubbles.

Healthline has reported a number of calls over the weekend from elderly people living alone, seeking both medical advice and general advice around the level 3 restrictions.

"A reminder that today would be a good opportunity to call people you know that live alone and connect with them - check on your neighbours and other people who may appreciate a chat," the ministry advised on Sunday.

1:10pm - The Ministry of Health has announced that from Sunday, people travelling for work can now transit through Auckland without an exemption to pass through the regional boundary checkpoints.

"From 11:59pm on August 22, there have been two major changes to Auckland travel restrictions to make movement across the boundary more workable for businesses and service providers," the ministry said on Sunday.

"People can now transit through Auckland without stopping in order to travel for work. They must show evidence of the purpose of their travel and their departure point and destination, but an exemption is no longer required."

Patients who need to travel into Auckland for hospital appointments also do not require an exemption. In order to move through the regional border, patients will need to produce identification and an appointment letter or similar evidence.

Existing class exemptions have also been added into the COVID-19 Public Health Response Order for greater clarity and visibility.

The ministry has received more than 10,300 applications for exemptions - more than 1500 have been approved and around 400 have been declined. Urgent applications, for example, to visit a dying family member, are prioritised and processed promptly.

The COVID-19 website provides the most up-to-date list of travel exemption categories and evidence requirements.

Police officers stationed at one of the 10 checkpoints around Auckland's regional border.
Police officers stationed at one of the 10 checkpoints around Auckland's regional border. Photo credit: Getty

1pm - There are three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health announced on Sunday.

One case is epidemiologically linked to the existing cluster in Auckland as a household contact of a previously reported case.

Two are imported cases detected in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. One is a woman in her 20s, who arrived in New Zealand on August 16 from Croatia via Switzerland and Hong Kong. She had been completing her 14 days of mandatory isolation at the Sudima in Rotorua, and has been transferred to Auckland's quarantine facility - the Jet Park Hotel - after testing positive at around day three of her stay.

The second case is a person in their 30s, who had been in managed isolation at the Grand Millennium in Auckland. They tested positive at around day 12 of their 14-day stay.

It brings New Zealand's active case total to 114, 18 of which are imported cases detected in managed isolation facilities. 

Nine people remain hospitalised at Middlemore Hospital, North Shore Hospital and Waikato Hospital. Three patients are in the ICU at Middlemore.

Read the full report here.

12:50pm - Vigilance remains high in Tokoroa after its third case of COVID-19 was identified on Thursday, almost a week after the Waikato town's first two cases were recorded.

More than 150 people continue to be tested for the virus each day in Tokoroa, according to Stuff, with reports of school attendance in the town dropping by up to 50 percent.

Thursday's case was transferred to Waikato Hospital and has been linked to the existing Auckland cluster.

"Social distancing, hand hygiene and masks have certainly become much more prominent around the community and people are very grateful that there is a [testing station] for them to access," South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services chief executive, Akarere Henry, told Stuff.

"In conjunction with our iwi, district health board and our district council, there is quite a phenomenal team providing on ground support."

11:55am - The Prime Minister has revealed how she felt when she was informed of the first new cases in Auckland following more than 100 days without community transmission.

Jacinda Ardern had been campaigning in Whanganui for the upcoming election when she received the news.

Speaking to Stuff, Ardern said she spent the car journey back to Wellington "feeling gutted".

"I spent that car ride ... you know, feeling gutted that we were in this position," she said. "That was the only time that I allowed myself to feel that way."

In an impromptu press conference on the evening of Tuesday, August 11, it was revealed four members of the same family in south Auckland had tested positive for the virus.

Ardern told Stuff that New Zealanders should "feel gratitude" towards those who have got tested, including the family at the centre of the cluster.

"If they had not gone and got proactively tested in the first place, we would all be in a much worse situation," she told the outlet.

11:15am - ACT leader David Seymour is calling for the Government to consider "all aspects of wellbeing" before enforcing alert level restrictions on New Zealanders, as Auckland awaits the verdict as to whether alert level 3 will be lifted on Wednesday.

"A wellbeing approach means we consider all aspects of wellbeing and it tells us that lockdowns are unaffordable - they affect student learning, people getting elective surgery, the mental health of small business owners. Once we consider those things, we see [that] we need to start finding a way to make elimination affordable - that means without lockdowns," Seymour told Newshub. 

"Lockdowns are so damaging to mental health, student learning, non-COVID healthcare and the economy. We've just lost $1 billion locking down Auckland for 16 days - $1 billion is the same as the entire PHARMAC budget."

Seymour has been an outspoken opponent of the alert level framework and has called for more businesses to be able to operate under the restrictions. 

Last week Finance Minister Grant Robertson revealed the Government's wage subsidy scheme will be extended following the latest outbreak of community transmission. It's estimated Auckland's two weeks at level 3 will cost the taxpayer roughly another $1 billion in wage subsidies.

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty

10:30am - Education Minister Chris Hipkins says students leaving college to take up work is not a new phenomenon, amid growing concerns regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on New Zealand's education system.

School principals are claiming the outbreak is increasing inequity in the education system, with some students choosing employment over their studies to help support their struggling families.

Hipkins argues that students leaving school to take up work is nothing new, and the Government is providing additional financial support for those hardest hit by COVID-19.

"Not every student is going to stay at school until year 13 - that's never been the case," he said. "The Government cannot solve absolutely every problem here.

"There's nothing wrong with those students leaving - as long as they're going into a job that will give them a ladder, rather than a dead-end job which will keep them on the minimum wage forever."

Read the full report here.

9:15am - A central Auckland hotel owner has called COVID-19 "the nail in the coffin" for businesses already struggling due to the ongoing City Rail Link construction. 

Roughly a third of businesses affected by the City Rail Link in Auckland CBD say they're likely to shut up shop following the city's latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Shops on Albert St have been fighting for financial aid due to CRL construction for years. 

"These businesses have been struggling for a very, very long time... Many of them probably will not reopen," says Sunny Kaushal, who owns the street's Shakespeare Hotel.

Kaushal says the Government's decision to put Auckland back under alert level 3 protocol has pushed some Albert St businesses to breaking point.

"Since this lockdown started, 30 percent I know won't be reopening. Others are just sitting on the edge... Their mental health is affected, as you could imagine. There has been a lot of stress to keep their doors open, how to look after their families, and then the invoices, the bills." 

Read the full report here.

7:55am - Takapuna Beach Business Association CEO Terence Harpur has called for a less restrictive response to future outbreaks to ensure local businesses remain viable. 

He argues that as New Zealand has become increasingly educated on the virus - with more and more Kiwis wearing masks and adhering to physical distancing - businesses should be able to operate under reduced restrictions while taking precautionary measures into account.

"I think there may be a chance here to do a reassessment of the levels. People are a lot more educated than they were when [the restrictions] were first put in place... these current lockdowns are having huge economic effects on businesses. It's really detrimental to business, and there may be a better way of doing it," he told Newshub.

He noted that businesses are now required to have a QR code poster, so customers are able to document their location history on the NZ COVID Tracer app.

"We can't keep going to [alert level 3] everytime there's a small outbreak... We think there may be other ways, now we're better educated about the virus... maybe a level 1.5, instead of level 2 or 3," he suggested.

7:35am - A recap of Saturday's developments:

Six new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the community. The source of two remains under investigation.

Two supermarkets - Countdown Te Atatū South and Countdown LynnMall - were closed in west Auckland on Saturday afternoon for cleaning after it was revealed a person who later tested positive for COVID-19 shopped at both stores.

Authorities confirmed a case previously thought to be from a mystery source had travelled on the same bus as another case linked to Auckland's cluster, connecting them to the existing outbreak.

Health officials are now hunting for passengers travelling on the same 22N bus on August 12, who were on-board between the Symonds St overbridge and Avondale. 

Auckland Transport (AT) confirmed 16 other passengers had travelled the same route, plus the driver, according to the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) investigation. Of those people, 11 have been identified as close contacts by ARPHS. Nine are being contacted by the National Investigation and Tracing Centre with advice on self-isolation and testing.