As it happened: Latest on Auckland COVID outbreak - Wednesday, March 3

Auckland is now on its fourth day of seven in the latest COVID-19 alert level 3 lockdown, while the rest of New Zealand remains at level 2.

There are currently 15 community cases of COVID-19, all linked to the Auckland February cluster.

The Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced on Tuesday there were no new cases in the community, and so far none have been reported on Wednesday.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will be on The AM Show in the morning to provide an update before Dr Bloomfield addresses the nation in the 1pm press conference.

What you need to know: 

These live updates have finished.

9pm - Over 9000 vehicles fled Auckland between the lockdown being announced on Saturday night and it coming into effect early on Sunday morning.

Those living in the regions around the city say they've noticed an increase in the number of people in their towns.

Read the full story here.

8:30pm - President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on US states to prioritise COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers to ensure children could return to school quickly and safely, and said every educator should receive at least one shot by the end of March.

Biden's drive to get educators vaccinated more quickly comes amid a political controversy that has pitted parents pushing for schools to reopen against the teachers unions that helped put him in the White House and say the risks are still too great.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Biden's announcement was "great news for everyone who wants in-school learning".

Biden, whose new education secretary took office on Tuesday, said increased production of the three vaccines would boost what he called a "national imperative" to reopen US schools given growing mental health concerns and widening disparities caused by the challenges of remote learning.

Biden said over 30 states had already taken steps to ensure educators were vaccinated and that he was using the full authority of the federal government to direct the remaining states to follow suit.

- Reuters

8pm - The National Party's COVID-19 response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, says the party's plan for a self-isolation payment is an "economically sensible thing to do".

The proposed scheme involves the Government paying 100 percent of a person's wages and salary for two weeks if they're asked to self-isolate. Wage payments would be capped at twice the average ordinary-time weekly earnings and payments will go directly to employees, with no requirement for employers to claim.

"The basic point is if the Government says that you should self-isolate, you shouldn't be worse off from doing so, in actual fact, you're doing the whole country a favour," Bishop tells The Project.

"We want people to stay at home who are asked to stay at home. We don't want them going to work."

Bishop also says the Government's response to the pandemic has been "pretty good", but it can be better.

"I think that's where we're trying to add a bit of value from Opposition now," he says.

"We're trying to be constructive, put forward some ideas around saliva testing, this latest COVID isolation payment, for example, and just put those ideas forward and see where we get to."

7:30pm -There are growing calls for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to apologise to a young KFC worker accused of failing to isolate during the current COVID-19 outbreak. 

On Friday, February 26, Ardern expressed her displeasure at a 19-year-old COVID-19 victim, known as Case L, who works at KFC. 

Ardern said she was "frustrated" and said the teenager "should have been" isolating.  

However, on the same day, a Government COVID-19 website stated Case L was "not required to isolate".

"I think she's made the statement, so if I was her I would be the one to apologise," National leader Judith Collins said.

ACT leader David Seymour has drawn attention to the power imbalance between the Prime Minister and the KFC worker.

"It's clear that either the government is spreading misinformation on Facebook or the Prime Minister is spreading misinformation through the media," Seymour said. 

Read and watch Newshub investigations reporter Michael Morrah's full story here.

As it happened: Latest on Auckland COVID outbreak - Wednesday, March 3
Photo credit: Getty Images

7pm - A third shipment of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines has arrived in the country, with the families and household contacts of border workers to be "vaccinated in earnest" next week.

The latest shipment arrived on Tuesday afternoon and contained 65,500 doses. It brings the total number of vaccines in New Zealand to 200,000.

According to the Ministry of Health, as of midnight Tuesday a total of 9431 people had been given their first dose of the vaccine, with more than 70 percent of those in Auckland.

That means more than half of the estimated 12,000 border workforce have now been given their first vaccination.

Read the full story here.

6:40pm - The National Party's education spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, says lockdown's impact on students' learning is "dire" following NZQA's assessment that the University Entrance pass rates for 2020 would have "fallen off a cliff" without free credits.

"Every time we go into lockdown our children are missing out on vital class time," Goldsmith says.

"With our educational achievement falling off the pace internationally already, we should be doing everything we can to avoid further lockdowns."

Goldsmith says giving out extra credits was the right thing to do at the time to recognise the pressures students were facing, but believes we "should not kid ourselves" into thinking there wasn't a huge impact on learning.

"Students, teachers, schools and parents worked hard through 2020 to make the best of a difficult situation, and in Auckland they're doing it again now," he says.

"But when decisions are made to disrupt learning again, we should be under no illusion about the material affect it is having.

"Shutting schools and disrupting learning should be the very last resort."

6:20pm - The Waikato DHB says there is no current information that suggests a positive COVID-19 case attended the recent Six60 concert in Hamilton.

"We are aware of misinformation circulating about the event as this has caused a significant increase in attendance to our community testing centre," they say.

"No potential exposure event has been identified in Hamilton and people who attended the Six60 concert are not being asked to seek a test if they are well."

They say that although it is encouraging that the community remains vigilant, it's also important to use official sources for information on COVID-19.

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

5:40pm - President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on US states to prioritise COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers to ensure children could return to school quickly and safely, and said every educator should receive at least one shot by the end of March.

Biden also announced that Merck & Co Inc would help make rival Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, a partnership similar to those seen during World War Two.

With three vaccines now available, Biden said he was confident there would be enough vaccines available for each adult in the United States by the end of May.

The Democratic president said he was upbeat about reaching his goal of delivering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, but urged Americans to remain vigilant in wearing masks and observing social distancing.

“Today’s announcements are a huge step in our effort to beat this pandemic,” Biden said in a televised statement from the White House. “But I have to be honest with you. This fight is far from over.”

- Reuters

5:20pm - The Government is being urged to hurry up with its vaccination awareness campaign to avoid being drowned out by the anti-vax movement. 

The Ministry of Health says it has plans for a paid advertising campaign that will launch in the coming months. 

With vaccines already being offered to border workers and their families, community leaders worry that anti-vaccination protesters are getting louder and they could be putting people off. 

Read the full story here.

5pm - CERT NZ, the Government's cyber security agency, says it is aware of two COVID-19 vaccine phone scams.

One involves a phone call about the vaccine being for sale and the other is a call about voting to secure your vaccine.

"Remember: the COVID-19 vaccine is free. At no point will you be asked to pay for the vaccine, or pay for your place in the queue. You will never be asked for your bank account or card details," CERT NZ says.

"Vaccines will be rolled out through a COVID-19 immunisation programme as supply becomes available. Border and managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) workers are being vaccinated first."

4:40pm - Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the most sweeping rollback of coronavirus restrictions of any US state on Tuesday, lifting a mask mandate and saying most businesses may open at full capacity next week.

Abbott's executive order comes as many US states and major cities see a sharp decline in coronavirus infections and hospitalisations begin to ease the unprecedented lockdowns put in place a year ago.

"It is now time to open Texas 100 percent," Abbott, a first-term Republican, told a news conference. He said the order would take full effect on March 10.

The order lifts all mask requirements statewide and forbids local authorities from penalising residents who do not wear a face covering. It removes all restrictions on businesses in counties without a high number of hospitalisations.

Local officials can still apply limits to businesses where hospitalisations remain high, according to the order, but were prohibited from mandating that they operate at less than 50 percent capacity.

The governor said he was able to lift the restrictions because Texas, the third most-populous US state, had administered nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots to its 29 million residents.

According to Abbott's office, by the end of March every senior who wants a vaccine would be able to get one.

The decision puts Texas in conflict with US President Joe Biden, a Democrat who has urged Americans to keep taking COVID-19 precautions, including wearing masks, until vaccinations have fully tamped down the virus.

- Reuters

4:20pm - The Ministry for Pacific Peoples says it is co-hosting Zoom sessions with the Ministry of Health each night this week to allow community members to discuss the challenges of COVID-19 and for them to find out the support that is available.

"We will discuss the support and care packages available to our communities across Aotearoa and answer any questions regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine," they say.

"If you're interested in joining us, please email to request the Zoom registration link for the meeting you would like to attend."

4pm - The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) says it welcomes the announcement from Minister of Finance Grant Robertson to extend the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme.

Applications open for the wage subsidy from March 4, with payments going out from March 8. 

Richard Wagstaff, CTU president, says he's pleased the Government has continued with this "necessary" scheme.

"It makes it clear that employers must continue to employ employees for the period that they are receiving the subsidy. We would encourage all employers to make sure they are doing the right thing and paying the full wages of their employees, not just the governments contribution," he says.

"The Government has now made a range of support available for businesses because of COVID-19. Employers should be making sure that they are looking after their workforce, minimising the threat of COVID-19 transmission, and working with employees and their unions to protect jobs and livelihoods.

"On Monday the CTU and Business New Zealand released a joint statement calling on all workplaces to play their part in helping New Zealand beat the latest COVID outbreak and help minimise the risk of future outbreaks. This subsidy from the Government will provide further support to deliver on that goal."

Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Getty Images

3:45pm - The Ministry of Health has provided more information on the two new COVID-19 cases in managed isolation.

The first is a historical case that is no longer infectious. This person arrived on February 22 from the United States and they tested positive on day zero routine testing.

The second person arrived on February 28 from India via Nepal and the United Arab Emirates. They tested positive on day one routine testing.

Nine previously reported cases have now recovered, making the total number of active cases in New Zealand 62.

The total number of tests processed by laboratories to date is 1,736,931. On Tuesday, 16,019 tests were processed. The seven-day rolling average up to yesterday is 8949 tests processed.

3:30pm - Auckland February cases contact tracing update from the Ministry of Health

Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Manukau

Contact tracing of the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Manukau campus has identified 21 close contacts of Case M, who are being followed up and provided advice from public health staff regarding isolating and testing, the ministry says.

The dates and times of potential exposure events are on the ministry's locations of interest page. This page also has public health advice for people who were at the MIT Manukau campus at these dates and times.

The vast majority of people on the campus at the same times as Case M are considered casual contacts and need to watch for symptoms. They do not need to have a test unless they have symptoms, or are a close or casual plus contact. All casual contacts should be limiting their movements and interactions with other people.

City Fitness in Hunters Plaza

Contact tracing of City Fitness in Hunters Plaza has identified 163 casual plus contacts. These contacts will be followed up by contact tracing teams to ensure that they get a test and stay at home until the test is negative.

If you were at the gym on February 20 between 11:15am and 1:45pm or February 26 between 3:25pm and 4:30pm and have not been contacted then please phone Healthline for advice.

KFC Botany Downs contacts

KFC staff - there are 12 close plus contacts who worked at the same time as Case L. All 12 of these people have returned negative test results.

All other test results received so far have come back negative.

Detailed advice about the actions required for the different categories of contacts is provided on the Ministry of Health website.

Progress with tests at Papatoetoe High School

Case A had 31 close contacts at the school, one of these tested positive (Case D). All others have tested negative twice for COVID-19.

All casual plus contacts have been undergoing a follow-up test on or after February 22. More than 98 percent of results are back, and all results from the follow-up tests are negative.

Kmart Botany contacts

A total of 33 staff members have been identified as close plus contacts.

All 33 people have tested negative.

The Ministry of Health has been contacted by 1868 people who reported being at the store at the times of interest. They have been provided with public health advice.

These people have been asked to isolate for 14 days and be tested at day five and day 12 after their exposure to the case. People who have symptoms will be tested at the appropriate time.

There are currently have 1823 negative test results for this group.

Kmart Botany.
Kmart Botany. Photo credit: Newshub.

3:15pm - A person has been taken to the hospital from a central Auckland isolation (MIQ) hotel.

In a statement, the Government's MIQ department said a returnee was transferred from Queen St's Four Points by Sheraton hotel earlier on Wednesday afternoon.

The department said they weren't ill with COVID-19 and the transfer wasn't coronavirus-related.

Full personal protective equipment was worn and all health protocols were followed, the department said.

3pm - Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman says it is "deeply disappointing" that the Government isn't supporting easing trading rules that would make the COVID-19 vaccine affordable to developing world countries. 

"Now is the time to stand with all the essential workers, all the immunocompromised, everyone who needs us most, around the world. We must make this vaccine the people's vaccine," she says.

2:45pm - The NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) says as the country moves between alert levels, it's important for those wanting to get outdoors to stay up to speed on what is appropriate outdoor recreation.  

With Auckland currently in alert level 3 and the rest of the country in alert level 2, there are different restrictions on various outdoor activities. 

To help people understand the differences, MSC established a website during the first lockdown last year, and the tool is still active and aligned to current alert level guidance.   

All activities and regions can be checked on the website. Users can select their location and pick from a list of recreational activities and the website will say whether that particular activity is permitted and if there are any restrictions or important considerations. 

Mike Daisley, MSC chief executive, says that on the whole, Kiwis have done a good job following the restrictions across the multiple alert levels.  

"We are finding ourselves in the situation where different parts of the country are in different alert levels at the same time, the guidance on alert levels is clear, and this tool helps to make that even more specific to communities across Aotearoa," he says.

"New Zealanders use the outdoors in such a varied way, and most people participate in multiple forms of recreation, each activity has its own unique considerations under each alert level."

MSC says it will continue to maintain the website and update guidance in accordance with the official rules.

2:30pm - ACT leader David Seymour says the vaccination rollout is an "insulting lottery".

"Chris Hipkins is performing an absurd dance of the seven veils, announcing today the Government intends to reveal group by group to an expectant public who will get access to COVID-19 vaccine next," he says.

"On Monday the Prime Minister said who would get vaccines and when would be a 'rolling decision making programme'.

"Today Chris Hipkins described it as more like 'a rolling maul'."

Seymour says he's always had the view that if the Government has a plan, the public deserves to know it, and similarly, if they don't have a plan, the public should know that too.

He believes Cabinet is "making our vaccination programme up as it goes along".

"I'm sure the 57,000 non border frontline health workers who got the nod today will be very pleased they're following the 50,000 family contacts of border workers who make up phase two of the programme," he says.

"Want to know which group is next? Tune in next week when Chris Hipkins will reveal whether you've won the vaccine lottery.

"This is insulting madness. The Government needs to start treating us like grownups."

As it happened: Latest on Auckland COVID outbreak - Wednesday, March 3
Photo credit: Getty Images

2:15pm - Appearing on The Rock radio station earlier on Wednesday, Jacinda Ardern said people breaking the rules is "frustrating".

"But one of the things I think I should remind everyone of is - we've been doing this for 12 months now - there's never been a time we've been perfect," she said.

"We've always had breaches, we've always had someone who broke the rules and there's consequences - that's actually happened all the way through and we had some pretty bad examples in August. But most are forgotten."

But going back into any lockdown is "bloody hard", she says, but when we come out of it again, we remember "how good" freedom is and forget how hard it was.

"When we go back in we're reminded how gruelling it is, and so I think every time it's been hard. We've just had quite long gaps in between, which is also a privilege."

2pm - A total of 822 vehicles have been turned away at border checkpoints between 6am on February 28 and 3:30pm on March 2.

Inspector John Thornley, road policing manager for Tāmaki Makaurau, says the latest figures show 54,633 vehicles have been stopped at border checkpoints in this same period.

"Police continue to be pleased with the motorists' co-operation and compliance across the 10 checkpoints set up across Tāmaki Makaurau," he says.

"There continues to be minimal delays across all checkpoints.

"We would like to remind the public that they must have the correct documentation, or an approved exemption, if intending to travel through these checkpoints."

As it happened: Latest on Auckland COVID outbreak - Wednesday, March 3
Photo credit: Getty Images

1:50pm - Hipkins says Cabinet won't consider alert level changes before Friday.

He says they've changed the law so they can remove restrictions more quickly and sometimes they will make a decision in advance of when they want it to take effect.

He adds removing restrictions straight away on Friday is probably unlikely, but it's possible.

1:38pm - Hipkins said it was "completely irresponsible" for Hannah and Brian Tamaki to leave Auckland on Saturday night - right before COVID-19 alert level 3 restrictions kicked in.

"Sneaking out of Auckland before lockdown and then holding gatherings isn't acceptable," he said"

Dr Bloomfield noted they weren't the only ones who left the city on the eve of lockdown.

1:36pm - When asked about National's self-isolation COVID-19 payment scheme, Hipkins said he didn't know how they planned to pay for it.

"We can't compensate every possible scenario brought on by COVID. We're asking employers to do the right thing.

He said the Government is "doing what we can" to provide a range of support.

"We always continue to review things, but at this point we're not proposing to make any changes to financial support schemes."

1:33pm - "We can all feel there's light at the end of the tunnel (due to vaccine), but the tunnel's a very long one," Hipkins said. "It's going to be some time before we can breathe a sigh of relief and we have broad coverage from the vaccine."

1:32pm - Dr Bloomfield said he is getting more optimistic as each day goes past that the outbreak will be contained.

But he said the Ministry "absolutely" wants to examine what they could do differently if there is another outbreak. Dr Bloomfield said they conduct reviews after each outbreak.

1:27pm- Hipkins said health authorities will get a better sense of people who are turning down vaccine once we've vaccinated the whole border workforce.

"It's not compulsory to have a vaccine though we strongly encourage people to do so," he said.

Border workers who refuse the vaccine will only be allowed to do certain jobs.

1:23pm - In response to questions regarding case L, who went to work at KFC Botany while potentially symptomatic, Bloomfield said she had "very clear instructions" to isolate.

He admitted some of the communications to this case did change, potentially causing a miscommunication, "but it was very clear that all students needed to be tested and case l hadn't been tested by the Monday".

He said 98 percent of Papatoetoe High School students, including casual-plus, had been tested before they went back to school on Monday.

Hipkins agreed: "very clear guidance was sent to households".

"Case L went to work despite two siblings being symptomatic and no one in the family having been tested," he said. "There was clearly enough risk here for them to know to get tested."

He said repeated attempts were made to get in contact with this family.

Hipkins urged Kiwis to be kind on social media, says "pile-ons" don't help our overall efforts.

"Human beings make mistakes, and we want these people who've made mistakes to come forward... The bullying of these people is not okay."

1:16pm - Hipkins said despite the positive result that New Zealand has no new community cases, we are still in a "critical period as we wait for test results to come back".

"We are not there yet," he said.

Hipkins said New Zealand is still waiting on results for "important potential contacts".

1:15pm - Dr Bloomfield said he was able to reassure Jewish/Muslim communities that the vaccines are both halal and kosher.

1:13pm - Dr Bloomfield said between Feb 14-26, 80 percent of contacts of a case were contacted within 48 hours.

The latest contact tracing data is expected to be published on the Ministry of Health website next week.

He said to people who are symptomatic: "You should remain isolated until you get a negative test result". 

"If you're being tested in relation to the outbreak, you should isolate until at least after you get neg test."

Border workers don't need to isolate if they're waiting for a test unless they're symptomatic.

1:10pm - Dr Bloomfield has provided more information regarding the two new cases in MIQ. One case is historical and not infectious, the other travelled to New Zealand from India and is now in the Jet Park Hotel.

"Thank you to Aucklanders who have been isolating. It's because of your actions that we can be increasingly confident on community outbreak," he said.

1:08pm - Hipkins said the next group to be vaccinated is on-border frontline health workers.

"I want to thank everyone who's agreed to be vaccinated. You're protecting us as well as yourselves," he said.

1:07pm - Hipkins said they were no new cases, despite more than 16,000 tests being done on Tuesday. There are two new cases in MIQ facilities.

Over 9400 people have received first doses of vaccine by Tuesday night - more than half of our frontline border workforce.

New Zealand has also recieved our third batch of pfizer vaccines. We now have more than 200,000 vaccines available.

1:03pm - Chris Hipkins has announced that there are no new community cases.

12:50pm - The Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins are providing an update on New Zealand's COVID-19 cases in 10 minutes, response and the vaccine rollout. The press conference can be watched live above and we'll be doing live updates throughout.

12:30pm - Age Concern Auckland is urging Kiwis to check up on their elderly friends and relatives, as many older people are particularly affected by the increased COVID-19 restrictions.

"Every time we go into level three we get an influx of calls from older people worried about all sorts of things. It can be concerns about accessing food or even anxiety about the tracer app and what they will do if they don't have a smartphone," chief executive Kevin Lamb said.

He is asking Aucklanders, and those who have elderly relatives in Auckland, to call, skype and message them and let them know they aren't alone.

12:15pm - A new survey completed by some members of E tū union found only 22 percent of respondents who had to miss work due to COVID-19 had been properly paid in full. Most others either lost their pay or had to use their leave.

E tū is calling for workers to be paid 100 percent of their wages for any time off as a result of testing, isolation, or alert level changes.

assistant national secretary Annie Newman said workers need to feel confident that they will not lose wages for trying to do the right thing. 

"The most important thing New Zealanders can do to support one another during this time is to ensure that they take all measures possible to protect themselves and others - including taking time off work to self-isolate if that's required.

 "There is a range of financial support available to both businesses and workers, but the Government needs to make sure full-time workers aren't shouldering the financial burden of not being able to go to work."

11:55am- The Backstreet Boys have announced they have been forced to reschedule the New Zealand leg of their DNA World Tour.

It was supposed to go ahead in April, but will now take place in March 2022.

"Those of you who already have tickets, please hang on to those tickets as they will be valid for the new dates," the band said in a statement.

"We can't wait to get back to doing what we love and that's performing for you. We miss you, we look forward to getting back out on the road, getting back out on that stage and interacting with the fans each night."

Read the full story here.

11:35am - Auckland Church Leaders are urging Christian people to support and cooperate with COVID-19 restrictions.

This comes after Police on Wednesday revealed they had to bust a church gathering in south Auckland despite the city being under strict COVID-19 lockdown.

Ps Jonathan Dove, chair of Auckland Church Leaders, said that the New Testament frequently reminds them that they have a "responsibility to cooperate with the authority and mechanisms of the State, and thus to live as good citizens and act for the well-being of the wider community". 

"In particular we recognise the importance during this Alert Level 3 period of not gathering in our churches, staying home unless essential, and not leaving the borders of the Auckland area," Dove said. 

"We offer our prayers for all who have been given the responsibility of decision-making and who are guiding our nation through this challenging time. We commit ourselves to supporting those endeavours in every respect."

11:15am - The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said on Tuesday that it has halted a trial of convalescent blood plasma in the treatment of patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms as it was unlikely to benefit this group.

The NIH said its decision was based on the findings of an independent data monitoring board.

The health agency’s move comes less than two months after an international trial of convalescent plasma was halted as no benefit was found. Other studies conducted in India and Argentina have also found no apparent benefit for those severely ill with the disease.

The US trial had enrolled 511 of 900 participants, who were either given blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients or a placebo.

A recent analysis indicated no significant difference in the proportion of patients who needed emergency treatment, had to be hospitalised or died within 15 days of entering the trial, NIH said.

- Reuters

10:55am - National leader Judith Collins is calling on Jacinda Ardern to apologise to case L, who worked at KFC, after it appears they received contradictory information about self-isolation requirements.

"The Prime Minister needs to explain whether the COVID-19 Facebook post is accurate. If it is then she should apologise to the KFC employee," Collins said.

 "The communications coming from the Government has left a lot to be desired of late. The invention of new terms on the fly like 'casual plus' and 'close plus' contacts is confusing to many people.

"The Government needs to get its public messaging right. Communication breakdowns like this can be the difference between Kiwis living COVID-free and a lockdown that costs the New Zealand economy $500 million a week."

10:35am - Destiny Church leaders Brian and Hannah Tamaki reportedly fled Auckland late on Saturday night before the COVID-19 alert level 3 restrictions kicked in.

"The couple left the city for Rotorua, arriving around midnight, where they told a crowd gathered for the Sunday morning service they had escaped Auckland to avoid the level 3 lockdown," RNZ reported.

On Sunday morning, Hannah said during a church service that they didn't want to get stuck in lockdown.

"It was better for us to be here - be in the atmosphere, be able to do this for you. So thank you for all the team that has made this happen."

Read the full story here.

10:20am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will be fronting the 1pm COVID-19 update which will include an update on New Zealand's vaccine progress.

10:10am - Grant Robertson confirmed in a statement the details of COVID-19 support for businesses and workers.

"The increase in alert levels on Sunday has activated a new round of support, which now includes a nationwide COVID-19 Wage Subsidy as Auckland will be at alert level 3 for at least a week," he said.

Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said businesses can apply for the wage subsidy from the Ministry from 1pm Thursday March 4. Payments will begin from Monday March 8. 

"The payment is to support employers (or self-employed people) to pay their employees and protect jobs," Carmel Sepuloni said.

 "This payment is available to all businesses in New Zealand that meet the eligibility criteria, not just those in Auckland, to recognise that firms throughout the country may have their revenue affected by Auckland being in higher alerts levels for longer."

They confirmed a further Resurgence Support Payment from Inland Revenue has also been activated, with applications opening on March 8. 

9:50am - Finance Minister Grant Robertson is expected to put out an update about the wage subsidy on Wednesday morning.

In an early statement to Newshub, Robertson's office said: "Applications are open from tomorrow with payments going out from Monday".

Read the full story here.

9:35am - The New Zealand Chiropractors' Association (NZCA) is warning that the effects of repeated COVID-19 lockdowns is putting "significant numbers" of private primary healthcare practices at risk.

"We warned last year that a crisis in health care provision may be on the horizon and now it is well and truly here," acting president Dr Cassandra Fairest said. 

NZCA has reported that two chiropractic practices have already shut down due to the latest lockdown.

"After 12 weeks of no hands-on patient care in the past year they just can't afford to continue," she said.

"Most other countries are allowing highly skilled allied health workers such as chiropractors to continue, even under elevated levels with appropriate PPE and infection controls. Are primary healthcare providers less trusted than real estate agents, supermarkets and takeaway restaurants to manage COVID-19 precautions?"

 Fairest said this comes as members have been reporting a sharp increase in people needing care during level 3.

9:10am - The Government is under fire for providing contradictory information regarding Case L, who attended work at Botany KFC before testing positive for COVID-19.

Case L claims that she and her sibling, Case J - a Kmart Botany employee who worked two shifts before testing positive - were not asked to self-isolate and believed it was okay to go into work.

Health officials pushed back against the claims, arguing there were multiple attempts to contact the family and the advice had been clear and consistent.

But a comment, posted by the Unite against COVID-19 Facebook page four days ago, clearly states that "Case J (Kmart worker) and Case L (KFC worker) were not required to isolate at the time".

Read the full story here.

8:45am - The Government has been quietly investigating if returnees and border workers should use a phone app that can detect COVID-19 two or three days before symptoms set in, RNZ reported on Wednesday.

Ëlarm is able to pick up on slight changes in heart rate, body temperature and respiratory rate which are often the first signs of COVID-19.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker has dubbed the app: "the future of healthcare".

In a statement, ACT leader David Seymour said it was "great progress" that the Government was considering the technology.

"This company based in the Epsom Electorate suburb of Parnell has so far had more luck with private companies offshore than the Ministry of Health, but it's great that's changing," he said.

"I have personally been using the app for the past week. It monitors my heart rate and reports any signs that I may have taken on a virus. I'm pleased to say I'm healthy, and it's nice to have another data point. But what's nice for an individual could be critical in building New Zealand's collective defence against the epidemic." 

8:20am - Crimson Global Academy executive principal John Morris has told The AM Show the recent lockdown in Auckland has been hard when the school year has only recently begun.

"It's a tough time for teachers, it's a tough time for kids, for parents as well," he said. "The more lockdowns we have the more things are going to get even worse. I think it's really unfortunate that it's happened again just when we are a week away, it's just at the beginning of the school year when teachers are really wanting to set the tone, set examples and so on. It's not an ideal scenario at all."

He said many children are missing school and are keen to get back into the classroom and back to 'normal'.

"The more often this happens the more complicated that's going to be," Morris said. 

8am - The National Party has just released some more information on their proposed self-isolation scheme, which involves:

  • The Government paying 100 per cent of a person's wages and salary for two weeks if they are ordered to self-isolate
  • Wage payments will be capped at twice the average ordinary time weekly earnings
  • Payments will go directly to employees, with no requirement for employers to claim.

The Government's current Leave Support Scheme pays full-time workers $1176.60 and part-time workers $700 as a lump sum for a two-week period, with the money going to their employers.

"This is well below the minimum wage and below what a full-time worker would earn from sick leave," Collins said. "We must make it easier for people to stay home when required."

The proposed scheme is modelled on the previous National Government's Compensation for Live Organ Donors Act, where the Government pays 100 per cent of the wages and salary of people who take time off from work to donate organs.

7:45am - Hipkins said he has touched base with people in south Auckland about the messaging and he said they told him it was: "quite clear".

"I think it's important to remember - sometimes the messages do change," he said. "There was a story in the paper this morning about a family where someone had been to Kmart, it was a child, they had been asked to get a test to stay home and then in the daily phone conversations they started to report symptoms and so their advice did change."

Hipkins said if the risk profile changes, then the advice might change so he is asking people to check every new piece of information they receive.

Some cases have told Newshub they have received conflicting advice from the Ministry of Health regarding self-isolation. 

The COVID positive KFC worker, known as Case L, said she's upset the Prime Minister told the country she should have been self-isolating, as the official advice she got was that she didn't need to.

Duncan Garner asked Hipkins if he accepted that the KFC worker may have been told two or three things.

"Sometimes the advice does change," Hipkins said. "I don't have in front of me absolutely every piece of advice that that person was given so I can't give an absolute commentary on that. But I think it was very clear to the school community what we were asking them to do."

He said he hasn't put any effort into figuring the situation out, as his focus is currently on testing and managing the outbreak.

7:30am - When asked about those positive COVID-19 cases that broke the rules, Hipkins said he understands Aucklanders are angry but there is more to the issue than the public knows.

"I feel frustrated as they will feel frustrated as well but there is always a lot more complexity to this. There is a lot of information that doesn't get shared about people's personal circumstances and so on. Ultimately though, there was some people here who didn't follow the rules and that's frustrating but we haven't got the luxury of looking backwards.

7:20am - Host Duncan Garner questioned Chris Hipkins about whether the Health Ministry should hand their files of rule-breaking self-isolators over to the police for prosecution.

"Ultimately a more punitive approach is more likely to mean that other people won't come forward if they start showing symptoms," Hipkins replied. "Ultimately we need people to come forward and our main aim is stomping out the virus."

7:13am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed there are no new cases of coronavirus in the community overnight.

"It's still early in the morning but we will see how we go throughout the day," he said.

7:10am - The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised that hydroxychloroquine, which was once touted by former US President Donald Trump, should not be used to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Trump and entrepreneur Elon Musk suggested in March 2020 that the anti-inflammatory was worth considering as COVID-19 treatment. 

Trump at one point said that hydroxychloroquine, when taken with an antibiotic, could become "one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine".

CBS reported that a panel of WHO experts have found the drug has no meaningful effect and it may even increase the risk of adverse effects.

6:55am - A new study involving Kiwi researchers has made the "significant finding" that two drugs normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can reduce a COVID-19 patient's chance of death by almost a quarter.

Tocilizumab and sarilumab, anti-inflammatories which work by dampening the body's natural immune response to COVID-19, stopping it from going overboard.

Read the full story here.

6:40am - Judith Collins says covering wages of those who need to self-isolate is particularly important as there are many people who can't afford to go two weeks without a wage.

"You are talking about where is the biggest issue here for people," she said. 

"If we were looking, for instance, at someone who works at KFC, good on somebody for working in a job where there isn't huge income. They want to go to work, they've got bills to pay. But if they are told to self-isolate, we have to understand that they have costs to pay as well."

Collins agreed that she thought some sort of punishment was needed for those that do break the isolation rules.

"In the latest outbreak, it seems there has been some misinformation and some challenges around what the Ministry of Health and what the Prime Minister is saying. But certainly in relation to some of them, yes, we do need to. 

"But the thing is - we need to make it easy for people to do the right thing. We also need to check up on people. If people are supposed to be self-isolating, it's not just phone calls, it's not just emails, it's also going around and checking they are in their homes because failure to do that has lost everyone else."

6:15am - National is calling for the Government to cover 100 percent of lost wages for those who have to self isolate.

They say it will make the isolation process easier.

"You've always got to make it easy for people to do the right thing," leader Judith Collins told The AM Show.

"We think rather than expecting people to take a pay drop to stay at home when they are forced to self isolate and do the right thing for the country, how about we pay them 100 percent of their wages for that two weeks."

She said it could help motivate those who have considered flouting the rules.

6:15am - France will allow people under 75 with existing health problems to get the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the health minister said, departing from an earlier stance that the vaccine should be for the under-65s only. 

The reassessment is likely to help speed up France’s vaccination campaign which many have criticized as too slow. As of Saturday, 4.55 million people had received at least one shot of an AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

That compares to 6.17 million in Germany and up to 20.9 million in Britain.

- Reuters

6:05am - The AM Show has begun. National leader Judith Collins will be on at around 6:25am to dicsuss the COVID-19 response. She will be followed at 7:10am by COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.