Coronavirus live updates: Latest on Auckland lockdown, community cases - Wednesday, February 17

Auckland will move to alert level 2 at midnight tonight and the rest of New Zealand will move to level 1 at the same time, following a decision from Cabinet on Wednesday afternoon.

The decision comes even after a third person in the community tested positive. This person is a household contact of cases D and E, who are students at Papatoetoe High School. Case D is a close contact of Case A.

What you need to know:

  • Three community cases of COVID-19 were detected in south Auckland over the weekend, leading the Government to impose an alert level 3 lockdown on Auckland and put the rest of the country under alert level 2
  • The infected family - a mother, father and daughter - have the UK variant of the illness. The cases do not link directly to any other positive cases found in New Zealand to date
  • Two new community cases were announced at about midday on Wednesday. One is a Papatoetoe High School classmate of an original case and the second is that classmate's sibling. A third case was announced on Wednesday afternoon and is a household contact of the two cases announced this morning
  • Auckland will move to level 2 at midnight tonight and the rest of New Zealand will move to level 1 at the same time
  • A total of 31 close contacts and 1523 casual plus contacts have been identified at Papatoetoe High School. Of those, 29 close contacts have tested negative, one person has tested positive, and one result is outstanding. Of the casual plus contacts, 1159 have returned negative results, there is one positive, and 363 are outstanding
  • Wastewater testing for Monday has found no evidence of community cases of COVID-19 in the wastewater sampled
  • An updated list of locations visited by the three cases can be viewed here. There are instructions for individuals who were also at the same locations as the cases at the same time 
  • An up-to-date list of testing locations is available here.

These live updates have finished.

9pm - Despite the changes to alert levels, Napier's Art Deco Festival remains cancelled, its organisers say.

Barbara Arnott, chairperson of the Art Deco Trust, says the decision on Tuesday to cancel the festival hasn't changed and the Trust stands by making the decision ahead of Government's announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

"We know people will be asking why we couldn't have waited till the Prime Minister's announcement late this afternoon. But the reality is that the festival involves hundreds of events and event venues, with tens of thousands of festival goers over five days. A festival of this scale requires massive logistics and set-up in the days prior. Level 2 restrictions had already forced us to cancel the first two days," she says.

"What's more, whether or not we were in level 2 or level 1 by Thursday, alert Level 2 conditions were affecting our set-up process and any prospect of trying to run the festival under prolonged level 2 meant many events could not have gone ahead.

"We simply didn't have the luxury of time to wait and see what today's announcement would bring. Timing was everything, and in this instance, time wasn't on our side."

Arnott adds that many of the events that won't happen under the umbrella of the festival will be able to go ahead under alert level 1.

"We want to do everything we can to make sure people know what will be happening, where and when," she says.

"As we collate information from our associated and individual event partners, we will also make sure we update our festival website with event details."

All Art Deco Festival tickets will be refunded and ticket holders will be contacted directly by the festival's booking agents Ticketek or iTicket with details of the refund process.

8:45pm - Three of the original community cases in this outbreak weren't scanning in with the COVID Tracer app.

The Prime Minister and Dr Bloomfield tried to brush it aside on Wednesday afternoon, saying they identified locations of interest through eftpos transactions and interviews.

"We never entirely want to rely on memory and we never want to rely on bank cards," Ardern said. "That's why we ask people to use the app. It's why we ask people to turn on the Bluetooth and keep scanning."

But it may not just be just those first three cases not scanning. When asked if Wednesday's two new cases had been, Dr Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health is still looking for that information.

Read the full story from Newshub's political editor, Tova O'Brien, here.

Coronavirus live updates: Latest on Auckland lockdown, community cases - Wednesday, February 17
Photo credit: Getty Images

8:30pm - Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says he would feel "much more comfortable" with the alert level change if this opportunity was used to introduce a more sophisticated approach to containing the virus.

"We currently have only one level (level 2) between the circuit breaker levels (alert levels 3 and 4, which largely require people to stay at home) and minimal controls (alert level 1, which is largely about managing borders)," he says

"The alert level system needs to be updated to reflect new knowledge about how easily COVID-19 is transmitted in indoor environments and how the alert level system is now being used in a more nuanced and geographically-targeted way."

Baker believes additional alert levels are needed, such as level 2.5 and 1.5, to make mask-use requirements clear, better describe limits on indoor gatherings, and manage movements outside of geographic areas where there is higher risk of COVID-19 transmission, which he says is Auckland's situation at present.

"Using this updated approach, Auckland could then shift to alert level 2.5 and the rest of New Zealand to alert level 1.5. Doing this would help to avoid the high level of complacency that sets in when we move down the alert levels."

8pm - New Zealanders are being reminded that masks will be mandatory on public transport from 11:59pm tonight, but children under 12 will be exempt.

"Please do not report others who you think are disregarding the mask requirement. They may have a valid reason for not wearing a mask," the Government's official Unite Against COVID-19 team posted on Twitter.

"Wearing is caring."

7:45pm - While onward transmission of the virus is being managed, it is concerning that the source of the cases is unknown, epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig of the University of Otago, Wellington's Department of Public Health says.

"Despite some reassuring results, stepping down alert levels does introduce risk because there's less protection against unknown transmission from potential earlier missed cases," she says.

But she adds there are many positives to note. As shown with the Auckland August cases, an outbreak can be controlled even if the original source is never found, Kvalsvig says.

"NZ now has a superb testing and contact tracing system, with people working around the clock and great uptake from the school community. We also have a Prime Minister whose understanding of the principles of outbreak control is extremely impressive and on today's evidence, well up to postgraduate level," she says

"This ability to ground decisions in evidence and transparency in communicating how decisions are made is a key element of New Zealand's elimination strategy."

She says when removing level 3 precautions, keeping layers of protection is "sensible".

"It's good to see the Prime Minister noting that the whole country will continue to use masks on public transport. It would also be good to see much more emphasis on safe indoor ventilation, and exercising and socialising outdoors."

But Kvalsvig, who is Deaf, says it is essential to put in place better practical support for people who need to see faces to communicate optimally.

"The Government needs to work with stakeholder groups including Deaf communities and those with hearing difficulties to ensure that equitable solutions are in place."

7:30pm - Epidemiologist Michael Baker says Auckland shifting to alert level 2 is reasonable since we're not seeing widespread unexpected community spread. 

But the University of Otago professor says the main source of incursion still appears to be from a failure at the border. 

"I think it's still looking very much like a border failure - a leakage of cases somehow from the airside of Auckland Airport," he told Newshub.

Read the full story from Newshub's investigations reporter, Michael Morrah, here.

7:15pm - The Ministry of Education has acknowledged Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault, his leadership team, and the school board for the "considerable work" they have done while their school has been the focus of the recent outbreak.

The ministry says they've had a calm and professional manner throughout this "very difficult" situation.

7pm - Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann has announced what the alert levels changes mean for the operation of courts in New Zealand.

Jury trials in the Auckland High Court, Auckland District Court, and Manukau District Court will resume from Thursday, as long as they can comply with level 2 restrictions. Jurors who have been summonsed to attend court are asked to attend as per their summons document or any instruction from court staff.

"Any jury trials that cannot safely be accommodated at alert level 2 will be adjourned or stood down. This decision is made at a local level and court staff will contact participants including jurors in these instances," Winkelmann says.

Civil matters can now resume in the Auckland High Court.

For physical distancing reasons, entry to courts will be limited to members of the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice staff members, defendants, parties, witnesses, complainants, victims, and other stakeholders.

Members of the public, including a whānau support person or persons for a defendant, whose presence is not required at court will not be allowed to enter unless they get permission from the presiding judge.

Courts outside of Auckland will return to normal and will be open to the public. Criminal jury trials will proceed as usual.

Everyone attending court will continue to be encouraged to wear face masks in public areas and in the courthouses.

6:45pm - Auckland will move to level 2 at midnight tonight. If you need a refresher on what the restrictions are while at this level, you can find out more here.

6:30pm - The shift in alert levels is not cautious enough from a public health and economic perspective, Professor Nick Wilson of the University of Otago's Department of Public Health says.

He says there's still not a clear idea as to how the virus got through the border and there are test results still outstanding. Instead, he believes Auckland should've moved to alert level 2.5.

"There was also mandated mask use in indoor public places and indoor workplaces [during level 2.5]. The Government should be making far better use of mandating masks - given that they are effective, involve minimal inconvenience and could speed up the end of all lockdown measures. Mask use on public transport is very high when it is mandated - but usage drops off when it is just a 'recommendation'," Wilson says.

"There is much greater tightness with the borders around Auckland. The value of a targeted approach is greatly reduced if so much movement is allowed around a targeted zone. It really should be closer to zero movement - potentially with only the exceptions of life threatening emergencies."

Wilson says New Zealand is having "far too many preventable border failures".

"Australia is also having a notable border failure rate - despite superior processes in hotel-based quarantine when compared to NZ (eg. travellers don’t ever leave their rooms in Australian hotel quarantine)," he says.

"The high border failure rate for NZ highlights the particular need to turn down the tap by restricting arrivals from 'red zone' countries. This could be only allowing in humanitarian cases after appropriate both pre-flight testing and pre-flight quarantine."

Wilson says vaccinating border workers will "certainly help a lot", but adds that more needs to be done, including getting MIQ facilities out of Auckland, tightening processes in MIQ facilities, and mandating the use of QR codes at potential super-spreading settings, such as bars, nightclubs, gyms, and churches.

"Enabling the Bluetooth function on the app should also be mandated for all border workers. Without improvements in all these areas it seems likely there will continue to be border failures every few weeks, while we wait to get widespread vaccination of the NZ public."

6:15pm - Cleaners have arrived at the Cavendish Drive Manukau branch of McDonald's, where one of the new cases works.

Coronavirus live updates: Latest on Auckland lockdown, community cases - Wednesday, February 17
Photo credit: Newshub.

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

5:55pm - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says level 2 is "great news" for the city, but locals "are not out of the woods yet".

"We need to follow the rules, in particular, scan and stay home if you are sick," he says.

"I know this has been tough on Auckland businesses and we need to ensure there is flexibility from the Government to help those businesses most affected by even relatively short periods at level 3, as well as those that are most impacted by level 2 restrictions."

5:45pm - ACT leader David Seymour says the decision to shift down alert levels will come as a "great relief" to businesses, workers, and families, but he believes it's important some good comes out of the sacrifices people made under alert level restrictions.

"The Government should adopt a strategy of continuous improvement in the way it responds to COVID-19," he says.

"This latest outbreak, should come as a warning to the Government. It has revealed the Government's COVID-19 defences frozen in time since the August outbreak. We are fortunate the virus spread to almost none of the case's close contacts."

This includes having widespread use of saliva testing, making it compulsory to scan into locations with the COVID Tracer app or manually record visits, and working with the private sector on new technologies.

Seymour believes the "only difference" between this outbreak and the one in August is that this recent one "hasn't managed to spread as fast".

"Some good should come from the three days Auckland has spent in lockdown. The Government should change the way it operates to become more open to adopting new technology."

5:35pm - The Restaurant Association says it is pleased following this afternoon's alert level announcement, but hopes the Government will find a way to balance dealing with COVID-19 and not putting regions into snap lockdowns without financial support.

"We're pleased to see that the Government is looking at ways to combine stopping the spread of the virus with the safe opening of businesses," CEO Marisa Bidois says.

"What is now imperative is that the Government looks to start financial support of affected businesses from the first day of any level change. The constant last minute closures and restrictions on trading are no longer workable for our industry - placing an untenable financial and emotional strain on owners. Three days of restrictions generally means weeks of cancellations and subdued trading for our sector.

"The growing disparity between the those that are able to operate their businesses profitably in the current climate, and those that cannot, can no longer be ignored."

5:30pm - The Ministry of Health has updated its locations of interest after confirming three new cases today.

See the updated list here.

5:25pm - It has just been confirmed that the case who worked at McDonald's was employed at its Cavendish Drive Manukau restaurant.

Read the full story here.

5:21pm - There are still some results to be returned from some contacts, some of which where in a medical centre waiting room at the same time as Case C - the father. But this case has now returned two negative results and returned a weak positive result to begin with, Dr Bloomfield says.

5:17pm - There are a range of prompts health staff use to carry out contact tracing, Ardern says. This comes after the original cases didn't scan using the COVID Tracer app, but had the Bluetooth function on.

Ardern says they can be confident they've got locations of interest because they've done case interviews and people offer up their bank statements to show where they've been if they haven't scanned in.

"We have a range of prompts we can use that help jog people's memories of where they've been," she says.

5:15pm - Ardern says they want testing to be as accessible as possible, so they don't check the immigration status of people seeking a test - "that is not information we're interested in".

She adds she doesn't want anyone to have fear about getting a test, only gratitude.

5:13pm - Dr Bloomfield says the R value - the number which dictates the average number of people that are infected by just one person - for the older variant is around 2.5. This means one person infects an average of 2.5 people.

But he says the new variant may have an R value of about 3.75.

5:11pm - Ardern says the new variants have changed their approach, but the Government was evolving their protocols anyway.

Dr Bloomfield reiterates these variants are more transmissible and they have a shorter incubation period. He believes this demands them to get in there quickly to identify and test potential contacts.

5:09pm - Dr Bloomfield says Papatoetoe High School and been "incredibly supportive and cooperative around measures to date", and therefore doesn't believe a health order is appropriate to require them to be tested.

5:04pm - Dr Bloomfield confirms that one of the cases works at McDonald's and he is confirming details of when they worked there and the nature of their work with officials, the latter of which will indicate the level of risk.

He adds he currently doesn't know which McDonald's store the infected person works at, but the worker was asymptomatic.

5:02pm - A decision on enforcing QR code scanning will come once the Government has received advice, Ardern says, but adds enforcement is "always tricky".

She's "really just relying on people to do the right thing".

4:59pm - Mask-use will be mandatory on public transport across New Zealand for the time being.

4:58pm - Ardern believes the Government has "absolutely" made the right decision with the information they have and Auckland is ready for the move to level 2.

She says it's much better to have 72 hours in lockdown than have 72 hours of COVID-19 in the community running unchecked.

4:56pm - Ardern says she's asking the rest of New Zealand to keep up using masks on public transport, otherwise "we're moving straight to level 2".

For Auckland, level 2.5, which was used after the August outbreak, wasn't considered since mask-use is already much more common in the city.

4:54pm - The alert level 3 lockdown was necessary, Ardern says, and they "absolutely" stand by that decision.

She says they weren't clear on the origin of that case, and "going hard" is much better than getting it wrong.

The reason Auckland will go to level 2 is that it still has a certain level of precaution in it.

4:52pm - Ardern says she believes this is a small and contained outbreak, however, they are being cautious since this is a new variant which may be more transmissible.

She thanks the first cases for their actions to get tested.

4:50pm - Ardern says if people are sick, they should stay home.

"There is every chance we will find further cases," she says.

She asks Aucklanders to keep to the rules so they can have the assurance they can move down alert levels later.

4:49pm - Ardern says this move is "good news". She says apart from the cases announced on Wednesday, all tests have come back negative. 

She adds it's a small chain of transmission, which is manageable.

4:47pm - Auckland will move to alert level 2 at midnight tonight. The rest of New Zealand will move to level 1 at the same time. 

There are specific restrictions for those connected to Papatoetoe High School and they are asked to stay home. All other schools will be open in Auckland.

4:46pm - Ardern says they know everyone would've been gutted at new cases announced on Wednesday.

She says it's not something anyone wanted or planned for.

4:45pm - Dr Bloomfield says the original case's last exposure date at Papatoetoe High School was February 10 and he is confident that contract tracing has been robust. However, the school will stay closed until Monday.

All students will be required to return a negative COVID-19 test result before returning. Testing will be available at the school on Saturday and Sunday.

From original cases: 31 close contacts and 1523 casual plus contacts from the school have returned negative results. 

4:40pm - Dr Bloomfield reiterates there are two new cases in the community - these were announced earlier today.

He says both new cases are linked to existing weekend cases, which, under this scenario, everyone should be encouraged since all five cases have clear links.

A further member of the household of Cases D and E has tested positive. This person was in isolation during their infectious period.

He says it is reassuring that they are all linked and were identified through testing.

4:25pm - Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield will announce their decision on alert levels at 4:30pm. You can watch that in the video player above. App users - click here to watch.

4:15pm - ACT leader David Seymour is calling for scanning or manually signing in to any premises with the COVID Tracer app to be made compulsory.

"It was a huge reveal in Parliament today when the Prime Minister admitted that none of the three community cases that led to the latest Auckland lockdown had been using the official NZ COVID Tracer app at all," he says.

"Doing that [making it compulsory] could have made this afternoon's decision about whether the lockdown should be extended so much easier, or even unnecessary, because contact tracing could have been vastly improved."

He says unlike last month's Northland case, who consistently used the app, "since Sunday night the Ministry [of Health] has reported nothing similar on the south Auckland cases".

"I warned on 12 January that if we didn't get app use up by making it a requirement of entering premises 'the outcome will inevitably be another extremely costly lockdown'," Seymour says.

"I'm glad and encouraged that the Government is actively discussing acting on ACT's common sense policy, and I don't buy their claim that enforcement will be a big issue."

4:05pm - Newshub reporter Kethaki Masilamani, who is at Papatoetoe High School, says the principal is "awfully disappointed" at the two new cases and was hoping for a hat trick of three days in a row of no community cases.

Masilamani says the principal understands the two new cases were isolating, so is confident they've had little contact outside of their bubble.

3:55pm - Newshub's COVID-19 special will start at 4pm. You can watch that in the video stream above or by clicking the banner at the top of the page.

App users - click here to watch.

3:40pm - In an opinion piece, Newshub's political editor, Tova O'Brien, says her money is on a shift down alert levels this afternoon.

"Here's why:

"COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has drawn equivalence between these two new cases at Papatoetoe High School and the Northland case which didn't require a lock down.

"The main reason we didn't shift up alert levels after the Northland case is because we knew where it came from. It wasn't a surprise case in the community that could have been silently spreading for goodness knows how long."

Read her full opinion piece here.

3:30pm - Leading epidemiologist Michael Baker says there is a possibility that Wednesday's new community cases could be part of a larger outbreak in the community.

Speaking to Newshub, he said it will be "good news" if the Papatoetoe High School student who tested positive on Wednesday - a close contact of the initial community case announced on Sunday - was infected via their fellow student. 

However, the alternative could be that a chain of transmission has gone undetected in the community, he said.

"Everything depends on the extra details about these cases," he said.

"Of course all of this will feed into decisions about the continuation of alert levels. It could have very little implication, or it could be very important - it just depends on the extra information."

3:20pm - ACT leader David Seymour is continuing to push Jacinda Ardern on making the use of saliva tests more widespread.

"Some very clear questions have been asked in recent days about why New Zealand, unlike Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and numerous other jurisdictions still isn't using widespread, daily saliva PCR testing as an adjunct to nasal PCR testing," he said in a statement.

"But the Prime Minister can't seem to give credible answers to those questions."

Seymour says Ardern has been relying on advice from health officials that the technology needs to be verified for saliva tests, "despite it having been verified the world over".

"And remember, the Simpson-Roche report her Government commissioned, which she received in September, said saliva PCR testing should be implemented 'as soon as possible'," he says.

"The Prime Minister also seemed to become confused [during Question Time on Wednesday], suggesting the Opposition was asking for saliva PCR testing to be used instead of nasal PCR testing. But we never have."

Seymour says it's clear to anyone with an interest in COVID-19 testing that saliva PCR testing is suggested as an additional, more frequent form of testing - not a replacement for nasal PCR testing.

"In fact, the Simpson-Roche report made that very point - they formed the view last year that officials were blaming the slow rollout on an assumption that saliva PCR testing might at some point replace nasal PCR testing," he says.

"They said very clearly that one need not replace the other, saying the two 'could well be complementary'."

Coronavirus live updates: Latest on Auckland lockdown, community cases - Wednesday, February 17
Photo credit: Getty Images

2:55pm - The Australian state of Victoria will be finishing lockdown at midnight on Wednesday (local time) after recording no new cases of COVID-19.

The state went into a snap five-day lockdown on Friday after Melbourne Airport's Holiday Inn coronavirus cluster grew to 13 cases on Thursday, with hundreds more people identified as close contacts. 

"Because it is so infectious, and moving so fast, we need a circuit breaker," State Premier Daniel Andrews said at the time.

Residents of the state, more than a quarter of Australia's 25 million population, were ordered to stay home except for work, buying groceries, outdoor exercise and caregiving.

Authorities a day earlier said the state was "well placed" to come out of the lockdown on Wednesday if there was no spike in community cases.

Read the full story here.

2:40pm - In response to a question from Chris Bishop about how COVID-19 spread in the Pullman Hotel, Chris Hipkins says reports into this will be released this week.

He says he's been told by health officials that the precise point of infection may not be found, but adds it could be due to the nature of the variant, ventilation, and non-essential movement within the facility.

2:30pm - The next COVID-19-related questions is from Chris Bishop to Chris Hipkins: "Does he stand by his statement, 'And you see that in the fact that our system is always changing. We are always doing new things'; if so, when, if ever, will the Government introduce mandatory daily saliva testing for border workers?"

Hipkins says he does stand by this statement, but says more work needs to be done on the sensitivity in test results between saliva and nasal tests.

On just 140 saliva tests being done so far, he says the roll out of saliva testing began in January, but this was paused while people were diverted to investigate the cases found in Northland.

2:10pm - It's currently Question Time in Parliament. Opposition leader Judith Collins has asked Jacinda Ardern about the use of saliva tests and if they'll become mandatory.

The Prime Minister responds by saying there's no defence from her about saliva tests, adding they're not nearly as invasive as nasal PCR tests.

"We're in favour of it. We view saliva testing favourably," Ardern says. She adds she looks forward to greater use of saliva tests across the board.

She says testing is one of the things they have to do regularly, and they've looking at adding different testing mechanisms.

Currently, saliva tests aren't mandatory for border workers, only optional.

1:55pm - Jacinda Ardern says one of the things they take into account is whether or not the cases they've identified are already close contacts. Those are the things Cabinet will consider when making a decision on alert levels.

A reminder that this decision on alert levels will be announced at 4:30pm.

1:45pm - Papatoetoe High School will be closed until at least Friday, a Facebook update from the school says.

The testing centre at the school remains open. The school asks if you receive a message that suggests you need a second test, "please come down to be tested".

"We are open until 5:00pm today and will be open for the rest of the week."

People are asked to bring a form of ID, such as a drivers license, school ID card, or passport, to ensure names are matched up correctly.

1:35pm - The new case in managed isolation arrived from Kazakhstan on February 14 and tested positive on their day one test.

"The total number of active cases in New Zealand is now 49. Our total number of confirmed cases is 1,984," the Ministry of Health says.

"The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,613,211.

"On Tuesday our laboratories processed 17,439 tests.

'The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 6,466 tests processed."

Since January 1, there have now been 29 historical cases, out of a total of 174 cases.

NZ COVID Tracer now has 2,636,000 registered users.

Poster scans have reached 182,799,643. More than 1,024,397 poster scans have been recorded since midday on Tuesday.

Users have created 7,486,108 manual diary entries.

1:30pm - The ministry says there is "room and resource to test everyone", but has several requests to keep testing running "quickly and easily".

  • 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.
  • If you have symptoms but have not been to a location of interest stay home and call Healthline for advice.
  • Be patient, take care, they do want to talk to you.
  • If you do have to wait for a test, our frontliners ask for your patience and empathy, please be kind

"All community testing centres in the metro Auckland experienced a big increase in demand for testing yesterday. As at 11am Wednesday (February 17), labs in metro Auckland had registered 7,010 tests from Tuesday (February 16) – this number will increase throughout Wednesday. Swabs are registered up to 48 hours after the test is carried out.

"Labs across the Auckland region are coping well and the current turnaround time for test results is 48 hours and extra staff have been rostered on to help manage any surge in the number of tests needing to be processed."

1:25pm - Wastewater testing for Monday has found no evidence of community cases of COVID-19 in the wastewater sampled:

  • Auckland Western and Eastern Interceptors, North Shore (Rosedale), Rotorua, and Christchurch all returned negative.
  • The South Western Interceptor (Auckland) returned a positive result, which is a consequence of COVID-19 cases at the Auckland quarantine facility. The levels detected are consistent with those seen over the last month.
  • Samples collected from the Papatoetoe catchment area arrived this morning and are being processed today. Hamilton samples are also being processed today.
  • Further results will follow as they are received and tested throughout the week.

Contact tracing has identified 128 close contacts associated with the three original cases. Of these, 76 have tested negative, there is one positive, and 49 results are pending.

Case investigation into the two new cases is underway.

As at 11:30am on Wednesday morning, a total of 31 close contacts and 1523 casual plus contacts have been identified at Papatoetoe High School. Of those, 29 close contacts have tested negative, one person has tested positive and one result is outstanding.

Of the casual plus contacts, 1159 have returned negative results, there is one positive, and 363 are outstanding.

The close contact who tested positive (Case D) is the classmate of one of the original cases. The casual plus contact who tested positive is the sibling of Case D.


Community testing centres in Auckland remained "steady" on Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Health. There were no significant wait times reported at any of the ten community testing centres or pop-ups.

"As at 11am, the wait time at the Otara CTC was less than 20 minutes and less than 10 minutes at the Wiri CTC. There are no reports of queues at any of Auckland’s other CTCs.

"We want to thank our Auckland communities for getting tested – since Sunday, more than 20,000 tests have been performed in the community. 

"Today there are 10 community testing sites available testing in Auckland, including the pop-up testing centre at Kohuora Park in Papatoetoe.

"We are monitoring the situation continuously and will continue to increase capacity and hours at the current CTCs and open new CTCs as needed.

"We would like to thank the public for their patience while teams work tirelessly to test everyone who needs a test. 

"There is room and resource to test everyone – but we need your help to get testing running quickly and easily."

1:20pm: The Ministry of Health reports:

"There are two new cases of COVID-19 in the community, and one new case in managed isolation. 

"Both of today’s community cases are linked to the previous Auckland February cases. 

"Both cases are students at Papatoetoe High School. Case D is a classmate, and had already been identified as a close contact, of Case A. Case E is Case D’s sibling. 

"Case interviews are continuing and we will have further information, including any locations of interest, at a media conference at 4:30pm."

1:05pm - If you are just joining now, click here to read about what we know so far about the two new cases. You can also watch Chris Hipkins announce the cases below.

12:55pm -  We are now waiting on the Ministry of Health's update. When that comes through, we will let you know.

12:40pm - Clinical molecular medicine and pathology expert Dr Mark Thomas tells Newshub it is too early to speculate about the impact of the new cases on the alert level decision.

"It's a small number of cases closely related to the child of the previously diagnosed family. It may require further testing of contacts of that original child and of the new diagnosed two children."

12:30pm - Dr Bloomfield is providing more detail.

Both students go to Papatoetoe High School. The close contact is a classmate of one of the three cases from the weekend. They are self-isolating with their family. The second new case, a sibling of the close contact, is categorised as a casual-plus contact because they attend the school.

It's believed that the original case passed the virus on to the classmate who then passed it on to her brother. 

The select committee session is now over.

12:25pm - In case you missed it, there will be a written statement from the Ministry of Health at 1pm, but not a press conference. That update will give clarity about the new cases and data about contacts and tests.

Cabinet meets at 3pm and then an alert level decision will be announced at about 4:30pm. 

12:15pm - Hipkins says there still a number of test results pending. At Papatoetoe High School, there were 31 close contacts. One of these have tested positive, there have been 28 negative cases and two are pending.

Both new cases are from the same household. One was the school close contact and the other was a casual-plus contact, a sibling of that close contact. 

12:05pm - COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins is now speaking to the Health Select Committeee. Dr Ashley Bloomfield is also present.

Hipkins says there are two new cases of COVID-19. Both are students. One is a close contact of one of the three cases from the weekend and the other is a sibling of that new case.

The minister is now discussing the Pullman Hotel and the cases from January believed to have orignated there.

11:45am - The unknown source of Auckland's COVID-19 outbreak is a "worry", an expert says, but Cabinet will also have to consider the multimillion-dollar cost of keeping our largest city in lockdown. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet meets at 3pm on Wednesday to weigh up the latest data and advice on whether to extend the alert level settings. She will announce the decision at 4:30pm with Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, and you can watch it on Three or Newshub online. 

A spokesperson for Ardern said Cabinet wants to ensure it has the most up-to-date information, and going slightly later in the day - rather than the usual 1pm press conference - means being able to oversee all the testing results possible to inform the decision. 

Read more about the impending decision here.

11:35am - Baker tells Newshub things are looking positive with this outbreak. He believe the source of the cases is more likely to be via the mother's LSG Sky Chefs company rather than via undetected chains of transmission in the community.

If there was COVID-19 circulating in the community, Baker believes we would be picking up more cases.

He says it would be helpful to know the source, but the situation could develop  like the Auckland August cluster where the source was never found.

11:30am - It's time for Newshub Live at 11.30AM. Epidemiologist Michael Baker will be interviewed live on the show. You can watch by clicking the banner above or by going to the Shows page.

11:15am - An epidemiologist is calling for COVID Tracer app scanning to be made compulsory in high-risk situations only.

The Government wants to keep the scanning numbers up and says making it compulsory might be an option.

Aucklanders say they have been using the app religiously and support making scanning compulsory.

Read more here.

11:05am - The Health Select Committee is currently in session. If you want to listen in, in you can watch at this Facebook Live. Chris Hipkins is expected to appear later in the day.

11am - Papatoetoe High School is reporting a "very quiet day" at its testing station.

"We follow the MoH' s instruction closely, which strongly recommends every student to take the COVID test before coming back to school," the school says.

"By 3pm this afternoon, we will be informed of the Ministry's decision on whether our school will be open. Will keep the whole community abreast of the any progress. 

"Stay safe and be kind in this challenging time."

10:50am - National's Chris Bishop is calling on the Government to release reports into how COVID-19 was caught by three people in the Pullman Hotel managed isolation facility. The hotel reopened this week for guests after closing for a deep clean and investigation after people became infected during their stay.

“The Government has indicated it will release the Pullman Hotel reports in due course. But this brings to mind its handling of the Simpson-Roche report, which it received in September then sat on for two months and finally released under the cover of Christmas," Bishop says. 

"Hardly an open and transparent way to handle improving our border security.

"New Zealanders and MIQ returnees need to know, in detail, what happened at the Pullman, how COVID-19 was able to spread and what specific steps have been taken to fix these issues.

"It is in the public interest for these reports to be released. It’s likely the findings will have implications for other MIQ facilities and Kiwis need to have confidence that the Government is doing all it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

"As public health experts noted this morning, it is critical to have independent scrutiny over the report and this can only happen in the public domain.

"New Zealanders rightly expect transparency about what is being done to minimise the risk of future economically-damaging lockdowns."

10:40am - As New Zealand deals with three cases of COVID-19, what's the situation around the rest of the world?

Gloablly, according to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 109,377,180 cases of COVID-19 recorded. More than 27.7 million of these have been detected in the United States. India, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Russia round out the top five countries with the largest numbers of cases.

More than 2.41 million people have died from the illness. Again, the United States has the highest death toll, followed by Brazil, Mexico, India and the United Kingdom.

10:30am - Some Chinese New Zealanders have been fearing for their safety due to the discrimination they have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has found.

The Human Rights Commission initiated the report in 2020 after they received over 100 queries and complaints regarding COVID-19 related discrimination.

The research, which was released on Wednesday, found four in ten respondents had experienced discrimination since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Read more here.

10:20am - COVID-19 could still easily slip the country's safety net and cause another lockdown despite new managed isolation (MIQ) rules, a leading epidemiologist says.

At the Pullman Hotel, changes were made to cut the risk of spread after three guests returned positive test results while out in the community last month.

Read more here.

10:10am - An infectious diseases expert says if Jacinda Ardern called her for advice on whether to lift COVID-19 restrictions, she'd tell her to keep them on - even though there's no evidence yet of any further transmission of COVID-19.

Read more here.

10am - The United Kingdom could give two doses of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by August or September, helped by its portfolio approach of buying from several different producers, the interim head of the country's vaccine taskforce told Sky News on Tuesday.

Britain has vaccinated 15.6 million people with a first dose and 546,165 with a second dose, the fastest roll-out per capita of any large country so far.

Clive Dix, leading the group which managed Britain's vaccine procurement strategy, told Sky News that more vaccines would be approved for use in the "very near future", providing enough shots in case there were any production issues from existing suppliers AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

Asked how long it would take the UK to give two doses of the vaccine to all adults, he replied: "We're probably talking August time or September time all done, maybe sooner if we need to."

"We've got to deliver just over 100 million doses of vaccine and I believe we should be able to do that. I'm not in deployment so I can't look at the numbers of when they will be. But if they need to be deployed by then, we've got the vaccine to do that."

- Reuters

9:50am - Health officials are struggling to identify the source of Auckland's three community cases, with COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins admitting the Government "may never be able to nail it down".

On Sunday, it was announced that three new cases of COVID-19 - a mother, father, and child - had been detected in the community. Genomic sequencing subsequently confirmed the south Auckland family were carrying the B.1.1.7 strain, a highly infectious variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

How the first case contracted the virus still remains a mystery. 

Read more here.

9:40am - In case you missed it, the Ministry of Health will release an update at 1pm. This should include if we have any new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand along with the usual data about close contacts and testing.

At 3pm, Cabinet will meet to assess the latest information as well as the Director-General of Health's recommendation about alert levels.

Following that, at about 4:30pm, we will hear from the Prime Minister and the Director-General about the decision made.

Newshub Live at 4.30pm will begin its coverage at 4pm and will stream the press conference. You'll also be able to watch it on 

9:30am - The COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate "unacceptable" levels of poverty and inequity in New Zealand, the Salvation Army has warned.

In its latest State of the Nation report, the Salvation Army said the "rapid increase" in 2020 of the number of children living in benefit-dependent households - up by 23,000 - is a sign child poverty rates may not decline but increase.

Read more here.

9:20am - Speaking to Newstalk ZB on Wednesday morning, National MP Mark Mitchell said Auckland should remain at alert level 3 if the source of the outbreak is unknown and if "you're not confident all close contacts have been tested and come back negative".

He said after the sacrifices New Zealand has made over the last year, it would be foolish to start taking risks now.

Minister Stuart Nash told the radio station that as member of the Cabinet he will be looking at the latest data presented to him.

"We all represent different interests and sectors, and as small business minister I will be taking a hard look at these to say okay do we have the confidence to actually move down a level?"

9:10am - The United States last week reported a 23 percent drop in new cases of COVID-19 and a 16 percent fall in the number of people hospitalised with the virus, with both figures declining for a fifth week in a row.

The progress against the virus, however, is threatened by several new variants, experts said, adding that face masks and social distancing measures were still very much needed.

About 4 percent of cases in the country are related to a more contagious variant first detected in the United Kingdom, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We have projections that it may be the dominant strain by the end of March," she told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

The country logged more than 639,000 new COVID-19 cases in the week ended Feb. 14, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports. Compared to the previous week, new cases increased in only three out of 50 states: Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Deaths fell for a second week in a row, down 1.8 percent last week to 21,787. Excluding a backlog of deaths reported by Ohio, fatalities were down 15 percent last week. Cumulatively, nearly 486,000 people have died from the virus in the United States, or one in every 673 residents.

The average number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals fell to 74,000 last week, the lowest since mid-November, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the volunteer-run COVID Tracking Project.

Nationally, 5.7 percent of COVID-19 tests came back positive for the virus, the lowest level since the week ended October 25, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

- Reuters

8:55am - The New Zealand Food Network (NZFN) is urging businesses and producers to donate food to those in need rather than simply throwing it out in the wake of Auckland's alert level 3 move.

Due to the lockdown, many hospitality businesses have stock going to waste. It comes at the same time demand for food skyrockets.

NZFN hopes food can be redistributed to the likes of food rescue organisations, charities and iwis across the country. 

“It's never easy having to turn customers away, or experience that loss in revenue – but what can make that even worse is seeing the food supplies you’ve ordered spoil and go to waste," says founder Deborah Manning.

"Rather than letting good food end up in landfill, if you're a food business and you’re able to do so, please get in touch so we can help to save this food and instead divert it back to communities in need."

8:45am - There are Auckland community testing centres set up in Northcote, Balmoral, Henderson, Botany, New Lynn, Wiri, Otara and Takanini on Wednesday. A pop-up testing centre is also operating in Papatoetoe.

All the details can be found here.

8:30am - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told RNZ on Wednesday morning it appears we did the right thing moving up alert levels.

"Every piece of evidence that we have had in New Zealand and overseas said that if you respond quickly and you respond strongly then you can contain it," he said.

He hasn't heard much criticism of Sunday's move into lockdown but hopes Auckland will move down the levels on Wednesday night. However, he would be surprised if the region went straight to alert level 1.

Goff said the remaining close contact test results will be pivotal.

8:20am - Speaking to The AM Show, Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien says it is "heartening" to hear there have been no new positive cases overnight. She notes Cabinet at 3pm will take into account the Director-General's recommendation and whether there has been any progress in finding the outbreak's source.

O'Brien says the Prime Minister has been speaking about erring on the side of caution so it's possible restrictions could be extended for slightly longer just to be careful.

8:15am - The AM Show has been asking: Should QR code scanning be compulsory?

As of 8:15am, 53 percent of people say 'Yes' and 47 percent say 'No'.

You can vote here.

8:05am - New Zealand will begin vaccinating border workers on Saturday. Frontline staff will be the first getting the jab, while vaccines should become available to the general public in the second half of the year.

Overseas, Israel continues to lead the pack in the share of population who have received at least one dose of a vaccine with 46.08 percent of its people having been jabbed. It's followed by the UK (22.54 percent), Bahrain (14.75 percent), the US (11.45 percent) and Chile (10.95 percent).

In terms of the number of people who have had at least one dose, 38.29 million have in the US, followed by 15.3 million in the UK, 3.99 million in Israel, 2.74 million in Germany and 2.26 million in France.

7:55am - Daily new cases of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have continued their downward trend, hitting levels not seen since September.

The rise in the confirmed death toll is slowing too, but not quite as quickly, now at 2.42 million.

Here's the latest on the pandemic from around the world overnight.

7:45am - The Human Rights Commission says COVID-19 is fuelling discrimination against Tangata Whenua, Chinese and other ethnic communities.

Research shows 39 percent of respondents report having experienced discrimination since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, with higher rates for Tangata Whenua (55 percent), Chinese (54 percent), Pacific (50 percent), and Asian (49 percent) respondents.  

"The pandemic feeds fear, which in turn is manifesting itself in racism and discrimination. We must not forget that the virus is the problem and not people, especially as we find ourselves in COVID lockdown again," Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says. 

Common forms of discrimination include online abuse, being stared at in public, being excessively avoid and real-life abuse.

"An unfortunate by-product of COVID-19 is that certain ethnic groups are often blamed and subsequently vilified for their perceived “role” in an outbreak. 

"Whether it was Pacific people in the resurgence last year or New Zealanders returning home from overseas, there is a racialising of this disease that is discriminatory. Our research contributes to the body of evidence around this phenomenon.

"No one should not have to change their behaviour to avoid risking discrimination, made to feel they don’t belong, worry about their public safety, or experience negative mental wellbeing because of discrimination or racism.

"Everyone deserves to be treated well, to live in a safe community, free from discrimination, and to live a life of dignity.

"We all have a responsibility to ensure our workplaces, public spaces, and communities are safe and free from discrimination.” 

You can read more here.

7:30am - Chris Hipkins is now on The AM Show. He confirms there have been no new positive cases overnight. He expects he would have been notified of any unless they turned up in the labs very recently. It's "encouraging" that there has not been a surge in cases as seen during the Auckland August cluster.

Cabinet will consider any available information about the source. All potential sources, such as through the laundry service, are looking like they are "highly unlikely but possible".

"We may never be able to nail it down," Hipkins says. 

If positive cases pop up not connected to the three cases, that would change the dynamic, he tells The AM Show. That was the case with the Auckland August outbreak.

Positive cases that can be connected to other cases or the border may not mean further restrictions, he says. 

Vaccinations will begin as planned on Saturday, Hipkins says. Fewer than 100 people will be vaccinated on Saturday before ramping up next week.

7:15am - Dr Siouxsie Wiles tells The AM Show it's good news there have been no positive tests yet, but the virus may still be incubating in some. The incubation period can be up to 14 days. 

She also cautions there are many test results not back yet. It is also worrying not knowing the source of the outbreak as there may be chains of transmission not detected.

Dr Wiles would keep Auckland in alert level 3 for slightly longer to ensure we don't have to yo-yo back and forth in the future.

7:05am - Speaking to Newstalk ZB, COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins says he has not been notified of any new positive cases overnight. He says it looks like a short, sharp response has been effective.

He is "optimistic at this point", but there are still a few pieces of the puzzle to weigh up. There is still no confirmed source. 

Officials will want to make sure there has been wide enough testing in the community to pick up any potential cases, Hipkins says.

He wants to see more people scanning QR codes.

7am - Due to the new community COVID-19 cases and the resulting alert level changes, the Heart Foundation has cancelled this year's Big Heart Appeal Streeet Collection.

Speaking to The AM Show, the medical director, Dr Gerry Devlin, says it's disappointing the event won't go ahead as it's the foundation's largest fundraiser of the year. It's also a chance to engage with the public and explain the foundation's role and where Kiwis' money goes.

But Dr Devlin said the decision to cancel was a "relatively easy" call to make due to the current COVID-19 situation. The fundraiser will still continue online.

6:50am - Waka Kotahi / The New Zealand Transport Agency is reminding Kiwis that travel into and out of Auckland remains restricted due to the current lockdown and travel should only be for essential purposes. 

6:40am - Health authorities in England have identified 38 cases of a new coronavirus variant which has a key mutation that is thought to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, the government said on Tuesday (local time).

"There is currently no evidence that this set of mutations causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility," Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England (PHE) said in a statement. PHE said the cases were dispersed across England.

The variant, known as B.1.525, has the E484K spike protein mutation, which is also present in the South African variant and is the key mutation found so far that could undermine the effectiveness of vaccines.

The B.1.525 variant has also been detected in Nigeria, Denmark and Canada, Public Health England said. 

- Reuters

6:30am - National's Judith Collins tells The AM Show if there are no positive COVID-19 tests revealed on Wednesday, she can't imagine there is any reason to remain in lockdown. The current alert level settings are of enormous difficulty for Auckland and the rest of the country, she says.

Collins says she would listen to the medical expert advice and believes it's extraordinary that no close contacts have tested positive for the illness.

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show.

6:20am - Let's look at the current COVID-19 situation in New Zealand.

There are a total of 46 active cases, of which three are in the community and 43 have been detected at the border. 

Overall, New Zealand has seen 2337 cases, made up of 1981 confirmed cases and 356 probable cases. On top of the 46 active cases, 2265 have recovered and 26 people have died from the illness. 

6:10am - The Government is not ruling out making QR code scanning compulsory. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says we're good at signing in when things go awry, but get lax too quickly.

Should QR code scanning be compulsory?

Vote in The AM Show Question of the Day. Click here.

6am - It's time for The AM Show. Among the guests on Wednesday is National Party leader Judith Collins, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

5:55am - The testing station at Papatoetoe High School will operate again on Wednesday between 9am and 3pm. After large queues on Monday, it was quieter on Tuesday, with the school reporting no queue at the drive-in line and few walk-ins. 

5:45am - When Cabinet meets at 3pm, what will it consider? 

The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, told reporters on Tuesday that his recommendation to Cabinet will be based on whether there has been any onward transmission from the three cases and if community testing has picked up any parallel chains of transmission.

While current test results have revealed neither, Cabinet will have the latest information in front of it when it makes its decision regarding alert levels. 

"Ultimately what we'll do through the course of the day tomorrow is we'll assess what information we have during the day, then we'll make a decision when we feel we're in a good position," said COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

"Once we identify what course of action to follow, we then need to work out how we operationalise that. Depending on the decision we make, there may be a notice period before that gets implemented.

"[But] really it depends on how confident we are of the information we have and how early we get that information.

"We've been in this position before, where we thought we could make a decision at a particular time then we realised a few more hours and we'd have a few more pieces of the puzzle. So it's all very speculative at this point."

Cabinet will also look at whether any new information has been discovered about the possible source of the infections.

5:30am -  The Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) says that as of 4pm on Tuesday, 1133 community tests taken on Tuesday in Auckland had been registered in a lab. That compares to 8638 registered tests from Monday.

"The demand for testing in Auckland has remained strong [on Tuesday], with wait times at a number of CTCs in Auckland, especially those closest to the locations of interest," the NRHCC says.

"As at 3pm, the wait times had reduced to less than an hour at the Otara CTC, less than 30 minutes at the Wiri CTC, and less than 10 minutes at the Botany CTC. There were no reports of queues at any of Auckland’s other CTCs.

"[On Tuesday], we opened further two community testing centres – a pop-up CTC at Kohuora Park in Papatoetoe and an additional CTC in Takanini.

"We have boosted capacity at all of Auckland’s community testing centres, with additional staff and extended hours. This same testing capacity will remain in place [on Wednesday].

"We are monitoring the demand for testing closely and will continue to increase capacity and hours at the current CTCs and open new CTCs as needed."

5:15am - Like on Tuesday, one of the key pieces of data to look for on Wednesday is the result of the close contact tests.

While on Tuesday there were initially 42 close contacts, that jumped to 109 when it was revealed the father visisted a medical centre. Of those 109 close contacts, the Ministry of Health says 33 have returned a negative test, while the results of 74 tests are pending.

There are also 2000 casual-plus contacts. These include people who work at the workplaces of the mother and father, as well as those who work at or attend Papatoetoe High School, and visited other locations of interest. 

5am - Kia ora, good morning and welcome to Newshub's live updates for Wednesday. It's decision day for New Zealand with a change in alert levels possible from Wednesday evening.

At 1pm, the Ministry of Health will provide a statement revealing if the country has any new cases of COVID-19. Cabinet, with the latest information, will then meet at 3pm, with a decision to be announced by the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health at about 4:30pm. We will bring you every update as it happens.

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