Thousands of people are expecting their COVID-19 tests results today after a Northland woman tested positive.
A 56-year-old woman who tested positive for the virus had recently returned from overseas and finished her quarantine at Auckland's Pullman Hotel MIQ facility on January 13.
On Monday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed the woman was infected with the South African variant and likely picked it up from a fellow returnee in isolation.
Fifteen of her close contacts, including her husband and hairdresser, have tested negative. Results are still pending for her last remaining contact.
What you need to know
- The 56-year-old left managed isolation on January 13 and developed symptoms on January 15 while she travelled around southern Northland and the outskirts of Auckland
- Chris Hipkins says there is not yet evidence of community transmission in Northland, and it is also too early to speculate whether an alert level change is needed
- It isn't yet known how the woman was infected, but it's likely it was direct. Genomic sequencing is underway to determine this, as well as investigations at the Pullman Hotel MIQ facility
- As a result of her infection, 46 returnees at the Pullman will have to stay longer
- Australia has announced the suspension of quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders wanting to travel across the ditch
- The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be approved as early as next Wednesday.
These live updates have finished.
8pm - Conspiracy theorists spreading nonsense about COVID-19 are hindering Northland's testing response, health workers say.
Protesters turned up with placards at a busy testing site on Tuesday, an act one public health doctor says amounts to scaremongering at an already anxious time.
Their claim? The testing process is a hoax.
The demonstrations frustrated locals and police, who tried to keep the peace by engaging with them and making sure testing continued to flow. And it angered health workers.
7:30pm - European authorities will this week base a decision on whether to approve AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine on available data, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said, declining to comment on media reports it is not so effective for the elderly.
Earlier on Tuesday, AstraZeneca denied reports its vaccine isn't effective for people over 65, after German media said officials fear the vaccine may not be approved in the European Union for use in the elderly.
German daily papers Handelsblatt and Bild said in separate reports the vaccine - co-developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University - had an efficacy of 8 percent or less than 10 percent, respectively, in those over 65.
New Zealand has agreed to purchased 7.6 million doses of this particular vaccine, which would be enough to vaccinate 3.8 million people.
- Reuters / Newshub.
7pm - New Zealand's borders will remain closed for most of this year as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, but the country will pursue travel arrangements with neighbouring Australia and other Pacific nations, Ardern said earlier on Tuesday.
Medical authorities, meanwhile, may approve a COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week, Ardern said, as pressure mounts for a start to vaccinations after the country confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus in the community in months.
"Given the risks in the world around us and the uncertainty of the global rollout of the vaccine, we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year," Ardern said at a press conference.
For travel to restart, authorities either needed confidence that those vaccinated don't pass COVID-19 on to others, which is not yet known, or enough of the population needed to be vaccinated so people can safely re-enter New Zealand.
But both possibilities will take some time, she said.
"In the meantime, we will continue to pursue travel bubbles with Australia and the Pacific, but the rest of the world simply poses too great a risk to our health and our economy to take the risk at this stage."
6:30pm - Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland, Dr Nikki Turner, says news the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be approved as soon as next week is "very positive" progress.
"To date, the safety data in the real world is good and matches the experience in the trials. The limiting step now will be securing supplies, but New Zealand's current need is initially quite small because the most urgent need is to protect border staff and MIQ facilities staff," she says.
She says securing these smaller amounts of vaccine supplies is likely to be easier than expecting large quantities, since they're needed in countries where the disease is more widespread.
"It has been a considerable advantage to New Zealand that we have not been the first 'cab off the rank' and we now have not just clinical trial data but also real world information on vaccine safety," Dr Turner says.
"This is very helpful to support New Zealanders who have concerns about vaccine safety that we have good safety data now to proceed. How effective it is in the real world, time will tell."
6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm. Tonight: the latest on vaccines, how conspiracy theorists are hindering Northland's testing response, and the checkpoint Tai Tokerau hopes to reinstate.
You can watch online or tune in on Three.
5:30pm - The United States has reported a 21 percent drop in new cases of COVID-19 last week, as all but one state reported declines in new infections, and the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals also fell.
The country reported 1.2 million new cases in the week ended January 24, down from 1.5 million new cases in the previous week. It was the biggest decline on both a percentage and absolute basis in the past year, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.
New Hampshire is the only state where cases rose. In California, a hotspot where hospitals have been overwhelmed by the number of patients, new cases fell 32 percent in the past week.
Deaths from the virus fell by 6.6 percent last week to about 21,600 across the country, with Arizona, Alabama and New Mexico having the highest per capita death rates. Deaths rose in 17 out of 50 states last week and are a lagging indicator, meaning they can rise weeks after cases and hospitalizations fall.
Cumulatively, nearly 419,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus, or one in every 780 US residents.
The average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals fell 7.5 percent from the previous week to about 119,000, the biggest one-week drop on a percentage basis since the week ended August 9, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the volunteer-run COVID Tracking Project.
Nationally, 9.2 percent of tests of tests came back positive for the virus, down from 11 percent the prior week and the lowest since the week ended November 8, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. The lowest positive test rates were in Vermont at 2.3 percent and Connecticut and Hawaii at 2.5 percent, and the highest were Iowa at 43.5 percent and Alabama at 32.5 percent.
5pm - During today's earlier press conference, Ardern said she expressed her "disappointment" to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about his decision to suspend quarantine-free travel to New Zealand.
"I conveyed the confidence that we have in our systems but also just acknowledged that if we are to enter into a trans-Tasman bubble, we will need to be able to give people confidence that we won't see closures at the borders that happen with very short notice, over incidents that we believe can be well-managed domestically," she said.
"We see the impacts of that decision on travellers. We need to have some confidence for our trans-Tasman travel arrangement that we won't see decisions that necessarily impact people when it may not be necessary."
But she said it was a decision for Australia to make, even though she shared her view with them that the situation in New Zealand is under control.
"We have had experiences in New Zealand with these situations in the past, and that actually if we're going to run a trans-Tasman bubble arrangement we need to be able to manage situations like that."
4:30pm - National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says while Ardern spoke a lot about vaccines in her post-Cabinet press conference, there are still some missing details.
"Lots of words today from PM on vaccines but still no idea when we'll get them and when frontline border workers can be vaccinated," he tweeted.
"Singapore aimed to do 17,000 this week and to do the entire population by mid year. NZ is miles behind. In November we were front of queue. Now?"
4pm - AstraZeneca has denied reports its COVID-19 vaccine is not very effective for people over 65, after German media said officials fear the vaccine may not be approved in the European Union for use in the elderly.
German daily papers Handelsblatt and Bild said in separate reports the vaccine - co-developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University - had an efficacy of 8 percent or less than 10 percent, respectively, in those over 65.
German officials were concerned that the vaccine may not receive approval from the EU's medicines authority EMA for use in those over 65, Bild said in its online edition.
The reports mark another potential issue for AstraZeneca, which told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March after running into vaccine production problems.
Frustration was already growing among European countries because Pfizer and partner BioNTech announced a temporary slowdown in vaccine supplies earlier in January.
In a written response, AstraZeneca described the German media reports saying its COVID-19 vaccine was shown to have a very low efficacy in the elderly as "completely incorrect".
It said Britain's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation supported the vaccine's use in the elderly. It also said that a strong immune responses to the vaccine had been shown in blood analysis of elderly trial participants.
Britain on December 30 became the first country to approve the two-shot vaccine and did not impose an upper age limit. It has so far focused on the elderly and healthcare workers for its immunisation campaign.
3:50pm - Hipkins says in response to the increase in demand at Northland testing centres, more stations have been opened.
But he says people who don't necessarily need a test are the ones slowing the process.
"There will be a significant number of people in those queues that don't meet that criteria [to be tested]," he says.
On Tai Tokerau wanting to implement border controls, Ardern says New Zealand is still at alert level 1. She wants iwi in that area to work closely with police to ensure that what they're doing follows the law.
3:40pm - Ardern says it is the Government's "duty" to go into communities that are hesitant about receiving vaccines to show them that health regulators have "done their homework" and they are safe to use.
3:30pm - Ardern says she expects Australia and New Zealand to be on very similar regulatory timelines for approving vaccines.
She reiterates that while the two countries have been working together, Australia and New Zealand have different processes.
Hipkins adds New Zealand is "ready to go" once vaccines arrive here.
"We are going to be really focussed on those higher risk workers," he says, which includes border workers and their close contacts.
Ardern says they haven't given a specific date beyond saying vaccines will be ready in the "first quarter" because she wants to give an exact timeline once it's more set in stone.
3:25pm - Hipkins says people are very distanced while they're in MIQ facilities, or being transported nearby to exercise spaces.
But there are some MIQ facilities that don't have exercise locations that are close, he adds.
3:22pm - Ardern says that from what she's seen, no countries have barred their citizens from returning home. This was in response to a question about whether she'll consider closing the border to higher-risk countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
She says the Government is always looking at further restrictions, and it would be "hard to find" a country that had imposed regulations as strict as New Zealand.
3:20pm - Ardern says she "expressed disappointment" when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told her the country would suspend quarantine-free travel.
She wouldn't answer whether Morrison overreacted, and says New Zealand's COVID-19 situation is "well under control".
She adds the Government is continuing to pursue a two-way travel bubble.
3:15pm - She is now discussing vaccines. You can read all the details of the expected approval date here.
3:12pm - Ardern is reiterating the importance of using the COVID Tracer App, which includes both scanning into locations as well as turning on Bluetooth.
She says she's heard anecdotally that people believe they can turn on Bluetooth and then don't need to scan in - this is incorrect, she says. People with Bluetooth on still need to scan in.
3:10pm - The press conference is beginning with an update on the Northland case.
Ardern says this particular case was "unwelcome", but the Government is prepared.
Hipkins reiterates there are no new community cases to announce today.
Health officials are following up with 357 people who have left the Pullman Hotel MIQ facility between January 9 and 24. Of this, 325 have been contacted, are isolating, and getting tested.
There are 154 people considered 'casual plus' contacts, either because of their scanning movements through the COVID Tracer App or a conversation they had with Healthline.
Hipkins says there has been confusion over definitions of close and casual plus contacts.
'Close' is at a higher risk because they've been in close proximity during the infectious period, whereas 'casual' is limited exposure from being in same location at the same time.
3pm - The Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be approved by New Zealand's medicine regulator Medsafe by next week, Ardern has announced.
"We're making swift progress towards vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus, but we're also absolutely committed to ensuring the vaccines are safe and effective," she said on Tuesday.
"Medicines regulator Medsafe will seek advice and recommendations from the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee (MAAC) next Tuesday, about the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.
"The Ministerial expert advisory committee will review Medsafe's benefit-risk assessment of the pharmaceutical company's data and, depending on feedback, Medsafe may be able to grant provisional approval as soon as the following day."
2:50pm - Ardern is holding her weekly post-Cabinet press conference, and Hipkins will be joining her. This is due to begin at 3pm.
It's expected they will provide an update on vaccines and the community case of coronavirus in Northland.
You can watch online here or tune in on Three. We'll also be providing live updates on this page.
2:45pm - ACT leader David Seymour says Ardern and Hipkins need to "make very clear" when New Zealand will approve the use of vaccines, when they'll arrive in the country, and then vaccinations wil begin.
"Enough of the 'front of the queue', 'in lock step with Australia', and 'sometime in the first quarter' nonsense we've had to date," he says.
"These assurances have proved either false or unacceptably vague."
He believes there are several questions the Government should answer on vaccines, including:
- whether Medsafe has received the same information as their Australian counterparts
- what Pfizer has told the Government about the likelihood of receiving stocks of vaccine earlier than previously indicated
- if the Government can narrow down the delivery date of when each vaccine will arrive in New Zealand.
"Events in Northland in the past few days have highlighted more than ever why vaccinating frontline workers and then all other New Zealanders as soon as possible is essential, not a nice to have because this country has so far gotten off more lightly than some others," Seymour says.
2:30pm - The Tai Tokerau Border Control (TBC) says it plans to reinstate its checkpoints across Northland following this latest community case.
"We've been in touch with the police, iwi and health authorities, and we intend standing up checkpoints in key points across the north to protect our old people and everyone else in the north," TBC regional coordinator Reuben Taipari says.
"We're disappointed that Government has not already initiated plans to protect kaumātua and kuia in the north and Māori people in general, who comprise some of the most at-risk groups to the latest virulent strain."
TBC says coordinators are yet to confirm dates, times, and shifts for the checkpoints, but they will keep police, iwi, and health authorities informed.
2:15pm - National leader Judith Collins has criticised the Government over its vaccine rollout plan.
During a State of the Nation speech, Collins said almost every other country New Zealand compares itself to is rolling out vaccines as quickly as possible.
She also pointed to Australia, which is set to begin rolling out its vaccine in a few weeks.
"This means [Australian] citizens will be safer. They'll have the certainty to get back to business, they'll see international students and visitors return, and life for Kiwis who live in Australia will start to get back to normal," she said.
"New Zealanders can't afford another lockdown, and even more than this, failing to secure vaccinations for our frontline workers, our border staff ... shows a massive disregard for the sacrifice New Zealanders made last year."
Collins added it's "not good enough".
2pm - More than 20,000 people registered with the COVID Tracer App between 1pm on Monday and 10am on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health says.
An additional 693,903 poster scans were recorded in the same time period, bringing the total scans to 160,090,202.
1:50pm - On Monday, more than 1500 people were tested at community centres around Northland.
The Northland DHB told the Ministry of Health that the rate of testing per 1000 people was greater for Māori than any other ethnicity in Northland.
"The high demand at our COVID-19 testing sites may mean delays, and our request is to please be patient," the ministry says.
"Extra staff from Counties Manukau and a number of volunteers are working at sites around the Northland region to support the testing centres. Frontline staff are working hard to ensure everyone who needs to be tested gets a test as soon as possible."
They say there is capacity to test everyone who needs a test, but add there are certain things the public can do to help testing run smoothly:
- if you were not at a location of interest at the stated times and you have no symptoms you do not need to be tested
- if you were at the locations of interest at the times stated, you need to get a test, and remain isolated until you receive the result
- if you have symptoms but have not been to a location of interest stay home and call Healthline for advice.
1:40pm - The Ministry of Health also gave an update on the Northland case.
Sixteen people have been identified as potential close contacts. Of those, 15 people have returned negative tests. The 16th is awaiting their result.
A total of 157 staff from the Pullman Hotel MIQ have been tested, along with 192 guests currently in the facility. Of those, 30 still have test results to come, and all others have returned negative results.
Contact tracing staff are following up with 357 people who left the managed isolation facility between January 9 and 24. Of that number, 325 have been contacted, are in isolation, and have been or are being tested. The remaining former guests are being followed up today.
A total of 187 people received a push notification as a result of scanning into one of 31 locations of interest.
The source investigation into how the woman became infected continues today. Health officials are reviewing CCTV footage at the facility and looking at whether the infection may have occurred from person-to-person, surface, or airborne transmission, including possibly the ventilation system.
1:35pm - There are two cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation to report in New Zealand since the last media statement on Monday. There have been no new cases in the community to report.
The Ministry of Health says both cases arrived in New Zealand on January 24 and tested positive during day 0/routine testing.
The first person arrived from Japan on a direct flight, and the second flew from Portugal via United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
1:00pm - The Ministry of Health will be releasing a COVID-19 case update shortly.
12:14pm - A person in line at the Ruakākā testing centre says there is now only a small queue despite it being very busy earlier in the day.
11:49am - Labour MP Kieran McAnulty has been tested for COVID-19 after waking up with a sore throat and cough.
In a video on Facebook, McAnulty urged anyone who feels "crook" to ring Healthline and get a test.
"I woke up this morning feeling a bit crook. Nothing major, just a sore throat and a bit of cough and we all know the guidelines, if you feel sick ring Healthline and if need be get a test.
"But I also know how tempting it is not to. I only intended to be in Wellington for a couple of hours and then head over to Masterton for a full day of meetings, some of which people had been waiting a couple of months to get a slot. I'm down here... with no spare food in the flat and no spare undies because I didn't think I would need them.
"And to be honest it was bloody tempting to just think, 'Oh well, it's only a sore throat I will be right. Good as gold'. But it's really not worth the risk.
"I know how tempting it is not to bother and I know how frustrating it can be, particularly when you're in a situation where you're letting people down, to just soldier on… but don't because people get it."
McAnulty said every person he rang to reschedule his meetings understood.
"It's best to be safe... And while you're at it keep scanning.
"Fingers crossed for a negative test."
11:33am - The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor Juliet Gerrard is praising New Zealand's ESR scientists who managed to identify the Northland cases COVID-19 strain as a South African variant in only 8.5 hours.
11:21am - Nanogirl aka Dr Michelle Dickson has shared a helpful hack to make using the COVID Tracer app easier.
Dickson has revealed a simple way to open the app simply by tapping the back of your iPhone twice.
Read about the full hack here.
10:50am - Anyone who visited one of the locations visited by the positive case on the same day during a relevant timeframe is considered to be a COVID-19 'casual contact'.
The Ministry of Health says although there is a low risk of exposure, people impacted should stay home, get tested and call Healthline.
For more information about who needs to get a test and how visit the Ministry's website here.
10:18am - A person in line at the Ruakaka testing station says there are around 100 cars queuing for a test. They say portaloos are available.
10:10am - The Ministry of Health will provide an update on COVID-19 cases and testing results at 1pm today.
9:43am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins will be providing a COVID-19 update at 3pm. The full press conference will be streamed live on Newshub.co.nz.
9:28am - In an opinion piece on Tuesday, the AM Show host Duncan Garner hit out at the Ministry of Health after people in Northland waited hours for a test yesterday.
"Why is the health ministry so surprised and overwhelmed by the numbers of people turning up for testing?" Garner asked.
"Surely they have modelled regional outbreaks and have contingency plans?
"Testing was a damn mess in Northland - not good enough. We've had plenty of time to be ready for this."
Read the full opinion piece here.
8:55am - Hendy said the negative test results from close contacts, including the woman's husband, are a good sign.
"That probably means she hasn't been infectious given what it sounded like what they were doing - a road trip… you know he [her husband] would have been most at risk of picking it up."
"The Ministry of Health will be administering a second test no doubt and we will wait to hear the results of that. But if she had been spreading to a large number of people you would have thought the husband would have picked it up."
Read more here.
8:45am - Fourteen close contacts of the Northland case have tested negative.
Hipkins said three more results are still pending but the news is "pretty encouraging".
It comes after two close contacts, the woman's husband and hairdresser, tested negative on Monday.
8:41am - 8:37am - COVID-19 data modelling expert Shaun Hendy says Kiwis should be prepared for another lockdown at some stage this year.
He said while it's not a given, if a more infectious strain gets into the community it will be harder to contain.
"I don't think it is inevitable but we need to be prepared for it and potentially have a harder lockdown than we had in August.. So probably go to [alert level] 4.
"That's what we think to combat this more transmissible variant, we would probably need [alert level] 4."
8:28am - Extra health staff are being sent to testing centres in Auckland and Northland to meet increased demand.
Northern Regional Health says two mobile units are already in Northland and extra staff will be arriving from Auckland tomorrow.
"We would like to thank the public for their patience while the teams worked tirelessly to test everyone they were able to," it said in a statement on Tuesday morning.
"All community testing centres in the Northern Region experienced a big increase in demand for testing today. In response to the increase in demand additional staff have been deployed in both Auckland and Northland."
8:18am - Economist Cameron Bagrie says the economy is in a good position if we did have to go into another lockdown.
While COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says it's too early to speculate about lockdowns, many businesses are on edge.
Bagrie says thankfully our economy has bounced back well from last year.
"We've got the economy back on track… so we are in pretty good shape if something untoward is around the corner."
Watch the full interview here.
8:12am -Queues are already building at testing stations around Northland.
Newshub reporter Madison Reidy said people started arriving at 6:30am, many who were turned away yesterday.
She said several people she has spoken to (from a distance) have "alarming symptoms".
"Most of these people say they were turned away from this testing station yesterday, some after waiting 11 hours."
"Frighteningly a lot of them are showing alarming symptoms. Many of them have sore throats and I have spoken to one person who does have a very bad fever and has been up all night with flu-like symptoms after they visited the Bendon store that the positive case visited too."
7:50am - Newshub Australia Correspondent Emma Cropper said Australia acted incredibly quickly to shut the border to New Zealand yesterday.
"It came absolutely out of nowhere. The Health Minister Greg Hunt held a surprise press conference here immediately shutting the border between Australia and New Zealand.
"There was a planeload of people at Auckland Airport about to board an aeroplane to Brisbane and just as they were walking on a message came across saying the Australian Government has changed its quarantine rules so many of them had to get off that flight."
Cropper said the Australian Government is doing everything it can to keep the extra infectious strains out.
She said if needed Australia will increase the temporary hold on quarantine-free travel beyond 72 hours.
"I think Australia showed yesterday they are willing to take no chances when it comes to this extra infectious strain. They don't want it here."
Read more here.
6:30am - Newshub reporter Madison Reidy said testing centres near Whangarei were "chaotic" on Monday with queues of hundreds of cars waiting for testing.
6:00am - National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti is calling on the Government to step up and provide more resources to Northland as the region grapples with an influx in people wanting a COVID test.
Dr Reti said the community is in shock after the news and are taking precautions.
"A local motelier [told me]: 'We've gone straight to level 3 conditions here, do you think that's enough Shane or should we go to a level 4 while we are waiting?'"
"I'm being called by people who are waiting in the lines... explaining how long the lines are and unfortunately, explaining why they are turning around and going home."
Read more here.