Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

Nineteen new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Thursday, including one new case in upper Hauraki. Of those 19 new cases, five are currently unlinked. 

A MIQ worker has also tested positive, but they haven't been included in the day's totals as an investigation remains underway into whether they are a community case or a border-related case. 

The Prime Minister on Thursday also strongly signalled that Auckland's boundary will remain even if the region shifts to alert level 2. She said she doesn't currently expect Cabinet to consider lifting it when meeting on Monday.

It comes as experts on Thursday morning warned a shift to alert level 2 for Auckland was unlikely after 12 mystery cases were recorded on Wednesday.

Those cases have been described by modeller Professor Shaun Hendy as "alarming", while epidemiolgoist Professor Rod Jackson says the 45 new cases are a "wake-up call" in the "war" New Zealand is facing. 

Both suggested a move to alert level 2 for Auckland was unlikely if we continued to see these unlinked cases in the coming days. 

Meanwhile, a major immigration announcement to give "certainty" to migrants whose future in New Zealand has been disrupted by COVID-19 is being widely applauded.

What you need to know:

  • 19 new community cases were recorded on Wednesday, 18 in Auckland and one in upper Hauraki - five have yet to be epidemiologically linked. There have been 1249 cases in this outbreak.
  • One MIQ worker has tested positive, but it's unclear if they are community or border-related case. They are not yet counted in the total
  • Experts say the chances of Auckland moving to alert level 2 are slim if the city continues to see mystery cases or the vaccination rate doesn't pick up
  • New wastewater samples taken around Tauranga, where a positive result was found earlier this week, have come back negative
  • The Prime Minister has signalled the Auckland boundary will remain even if the region moves to alert level 2 next week
  • The Government has announced a one-off residency visa for up to 165,000 migrants, many left in limbo by COVID-19

  • National has unveiled its three-pillar COVID-19 plan, which would aim to have Kiwis travelling and 85 percent of the eligible population vaccinated by Christmas - with no lockdowns

  • The latest locations of interest are available here.

These updates have now finished.

8:40pm - Counties Manukau DHB has advised the Ministry of Health of two COVID-19 exposure events at Middlemore Hospital.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health confirmed the cases arrived at Middlemore's Emergency Department on Wednesday night seeking treatment for issues unrelated to COVID-19.

"In the first case, the patient answered no to all screening questions but, while in triage, clinical staff noted a very minor cough and took steps to isolate and test them. They subsequently returned a positive COVID-19 result. This patient is now in COVID-19 isolation ward at Middlemore Hospital.

"In the second case, the patient answered yes to one of the screening questions, which was also a symptom consistent with the non-COVID-related reason for going to hospital. They were tested and given initial treatment.

"After learning of their positive test result, the second patient chose to self-discharge but is now being managed by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS)."

The Ministry of Health confirmed all staff were wearing the appropriate PPE and therefore no staff members were required to stand down.

"Acting out of an abundance of caution, ARPHS have determined that 66 patients should be considered as close contacts as a result of both exposure events," the Ministry said.

"To date, 34 of these patients remain in the hospital and have been moved to isolation wards, while 32 patients who have been discharged or did not require admission following their ED visit are now under the management of ARPHS for testing and follow up."

The risk to public health of these events is deemed to be low. 

More information will be provided during the 1pm update on Friday.

8:30pm - Health authorities investigating the death of an Auckland girl after she received a COVID-19 vaccination are investigating whether a "suspect medicine" was behind her death.

The 17-year-old girl is one of six new deaths recorded in Medsafe's September Adverse Events report regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, which was published on Wednesday. 

The report said  the COVID-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board (CV-ISMB) have reviewed the death, which occurred after the girl's first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 

"It was the opinion of the Board, with the current information available to it, that the cause of death, was unlikely related to the administration of the vaccine. 

"The Board noted that expert haematology advice has been sought regarding other factors potentially involved and a report had been made to CARM regarding another ‘suspect medicine’ (ie, possible cause) which would be considered by the Medicines Adverse Reactions Committee (MARC) in due course."

7:45pm - COVID-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank says it is important for the Government to increase resources for specific groups to get non-vaccinated New Zealanders vaccinated.

"The modelling work we've done essentially assumes that vaccine coverage is evenly distributed across the population and in different groups," he says.

"We know this isn't true and we also know that any under-vaccinated groups will be at high risk of (a) experiencing a fast-growing outbreak and (b) suffering from higher rates of severe illness, hospitalisation and death. 

"Delta is really good at finding unvaccinated people and groups. This is why it's essential to look not just at national vaccination rates but also at specific subgroups, and to put additional resources into increasing uptake in under-vaccinated parts of the population."

7pm - Don't get too excited about the COVID-19 alert level dropping to 2, Aucklanders - it's more likely to be a Delta-style level 2, explains Newshub's investigations reporter Michael Morrah.

After Wednesday's 45 cases, there were 19 on Thursday - 18 in Auckland and one at Mangatangi School in Upper Hauraki.

It's bad news for Auckland parents hoping to escape for the school holidays next week, as the Prime Minister hints the boundary will stay in place - with only people with special exemptions allowed to leave.

Read the full story here.

6:30pm- Here are the latest locations of interest, added at 6pm:

  • Valley Fresh Panmure
  • Pak'nSave Glen Innes
  • Sensational Chicken Auckland CBD
  • Hillsborough Dairy Hillsborough
  • Z Beach Rd
  • Pak'nSave Mt Albert
  • Lotus Supermarket Mt Roskill
  • New World Mt Roskill
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

6pm - Newshub Live at 6 is on now where our reporters will have the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. Watch the show here or on Three.

5:30pm - National Party leader Judith Collins says because Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland could move to alert level 2 next week but keep its boundary highlights the Government's "lack of strategy underpinning the current lockdown".

"Today in Parliament the Prime Minister continued to maintain that she hopes to eliminate COVID-19 from Auckland," Collins said.

"But this sentiment isn't matched by her actions. Despite five weeks of a harsh level 4 lockdown, Auckland was unable to eliminate Delta. Two weeks at level 3 has seen case numbers begin to increase again. It's hard to believe moving to level 2 next week will succeed where higher levels haven't.

"So what is the strategy? Aucklanders just want clarity. Is the strategy elimination? Is it to buy time until vaccination levels come up? Or is it to flatten the curve and protect ICU? If you give us a goal we can get behind it but right now it is hard to see what lockdown is achieving.

"News that even if Auckland shifts to Level 2, with the rest of the country also at level 2, a regional boundary will likely remain in place further confuses things. Are we now in a situation where we are trying to simply quarantine Auckland rather than trying to eliminate COVID?

"If that's the case how long will it be for? Auckland can't be an island cut off from the rest of the country forever, so what's the next step?

"Will families spread out across New Zealand be isolated for Christmas? These are the questions Aucklanders, and frankly the rest of the country, want answered.

"The Prime Minister must tell Aucklanders at what vaccination rate they will be able to move out of their current isolation from the rest of the country. They need to see a light at the end of this lockdown tunnel."

4:55pm - Dr Fran Priddy, the executive director of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa, says groups that have lower vaccination rates are sometimes called 'hard to reach', but that's a label put on them because they might not engage with health care/vaccination in the ways we demand. 

"If you turn that perception upside down, it's not the populations but the program that is not fit for them," she said.

"Looking at other countries and also past experiences with public health outreach locally, there are a number of ways to engage diverse groups. Usually it involves getting down to an almost individual level of communication or influence. Some of these are already being pursued in NZ, but others may not yet be. 

Ask people in those groups directly what might work for them, through focus groups or by meeting with key influencers in those groups, and try to deliver on it. If at all possible, put it in the hands of that community to deliver.

Find key influencers in those groups who are willing to spread the word, often by identifying their own network of key influencers who can reach many more people.

Offer individual incentives to get vaccinated, eg cash, lottery ticket, donations, a free meal, a fun event.

Make being unvaccinated an obstacle to enjoyable activities - like attending sports matches, large events, restaurants and shows.

Bring extended families in through their children - school-based vaccination could be considered during the final term of 2021.

"Do all of these things together, not one at a time. These are all easier said than done, and some will raise challenging issues about autonomy and privacy."

4:30pm - Cedar Park Superette Wattle Downs has been added to the list of locations of interest. Anyone who was there on Friday 24 September from 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm must stay at home and get tested immediately.

Here's the Ministry of Health's advice:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

4:20pm - Livvy Mitchell, a research analyst at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, says the Government's initiative of offering free taxi rides to people in Tāmaki Makaurau to get to vaccination centres for their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is "a step in the right direction".

She noted discrimination exists within New Zealand's primary health care system.

"Māori, Pacific Peoples, disabled people, and people living in lower socioeconomic areas are consistently missing out on doctors and dentist appointments more than others. Some progress has been made for improving the ethnic gap in children's access to primary health care, but Māori and Pacific children are still clearly disadvantaged," she says.

"The New Zealand Health Survey shows adults' and children’s unmet needs for health care exists because either the appointments are too expensive, there is no transport available to get to the appointments, or because there are simply not enough appointments available. In the case of children's unmet need, this also includes the lack of childcare for other children. "When we see the same groups of people consistently have a higher unmet need for primary health care compared to others, this suggest there is ongoing structural and direct or indirect discrimination in the access to health care in Aotearoa – a failure by the New Zealand Government to ensure the right to health care and protection is enjoyed by all our people.

"Given these inequalities in primary health care access have existed for a long time, it is reasonable to expect that these populations are also at risk of having unequal access to COVID-19 vaccinations, resulting in under-vaccination. While appointments to get vaccinated are free in Aotearoa, accessing such appointments may still be more difficult for these people if transport, childcare arrangements, and other accessibility factors are not considered in the vaccination roll-out. The New Zealand Government's recent initiative of offering free taxi rides to people in Tāmaki Makaurau to get to vaccination centres for their first dose is one step in the right direction toward addressing unequal access to COVID-19 vaccinations."

4pm - The Ministry of Health has issued an update on the sub clusters of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here's the latest data they have sent out:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

3:40pm - National MP Chris Bishop has apologised to drum and bass fans after joking about them at a press conference on Wednesday.

At the unveiling of the Opposition's proposed COVID-19 plan on Wednesday, Bishop used an example of a "drum and bass fanatic" getting vaccinated against the disease in order to be allowed to attend a gig.

However it was his saying he didn't know why anyone would be a fan of the music genre that created a stir and was called out by George FM.  

The National Party's COVID-19 Response spokesperson subsequently said sorry in Parliament later on Wednesday.

Read more here.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff. Photo credit: Newshub

3:10pm - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has hailed the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre's plan to provide free taxis to take people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Goff said the initiative will help boost the vaccine rollout and he is encouraging anyone needing the service to use it.

"With more than 80 per cent of Aucklanders now having received their first dose of the vaccine, we need to pull every available lever to enable those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so," he said.

"It's good to see health authorities working with Auckland businesses to reduce barriers to vaccination, and I expect we will see further initiatives to help boost the rollout in coming weeks."

The NHRCC taxi service will be run in partnership with Auckland's Co-op (Blue Bubble) Taxis and will transport people to community vaccination centres who have previously been unable to access them. 

The service is only for those having their first doses of the vaccine who are either unable to drive or access any other form of transport. 

2:40pm - There are two new locations of interest: Pak'nSave Mt Albert and Pak'nSave Glen Innes.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

2:20pm - National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says it's unclear what the Government's COVID-19 strategy is.

"We were told Level 4 would work and it would be "short and sharp". It didn't. But we went to L3 anyway which we were also told would work. It didn't."

New Zealand recorded 19 new cases on Thursday. After a high number of mystery cases on Wednesday, modeller Prof Shaun Hendy told The AM Show that could have been avoided if Auckland had stayed at alert level 4 for another week. Bishop's comment also comes as Prime Minister Ardern signals Auckland will keep its boundary even if it moves to alert level 2 next week, something that hasn't happened before.

The Government continues to say it has zero tolerance for cases. 

2:10pm - Across the ditch, New South Wales has recorded 941 new cases of COVID-19. That's not as many as Victoria, which reported 1438 on Thursday morning.

2pm - Experts say there would be very few Kiwis with a genuine medical excuse not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

With growing concern the Delta variant of the virus might be here to stay, getting as many people vaccinated as possible is seen as key to reopening the country and lifting Auckland's tough level 3 restrictions as soon as possible

But there are groups and individuals spreading false information about the vaccines - some of them being health professionals, others unqualified but with significant online followings.

"Early on we had lots of people with lots of other health problems saying, 'I really want to get the vaccine, can I have it?" Peter McIntyre, a medical advisor to the Immunisation Advisory Centre, told The Project. 

"And now we're at the point where you've got people who actually are reluctant and not sure because they've got these health problems. We really need to reassure them it's okay." 

Read more here.

1:45pm - Here's the Ministry of Health's case summary for the day:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

1:35pm - Back on the Auckland boundary, Ardern says we want to get to a position where there is movement, but it has to be safe. She recognises the stress it creates for Kiwis as well as the workload for authorities. The bounday's role will continue to be assessed, but she doesn't expect it to be lifted on Monday.

1:30pm - A turnaround in the number of port workers vaccinated is being attributed to success in tackling misinformation and making it mandatory for those on the border's frontline.

Just last month COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said misinformation was keeping 44 percent of port workers from getting even a single dose.

Now 95 percent are fully vaccinated, in time for today's requirement for border workers to be immunised.

Read more here.

1:25pm - Dr Bloomfield says a case in Albany may be linked to the west Auckland cluster.

1:15pm - Of the 45 Wednesday cases, 20 were infectious while in the community. Five of the new 19 cases remain unlinked, but there some plausible connections.

There 18 people in hospital, with in ICU.

The Prime Minister signals that there is a high likelihood the Auckland boundary will remain even if the city moves to alert level 2.

1:10pm - There were more than 11,000 tests in Auckland. Suburbs of interest now don't include Otara, but Henderson and Papakura have been added. People in suburbs of interest should get tested regardless of symptoms.

Testing teams are going out to about 40 transitional or emergency housing units to test them in the coming days, Dr Bloomfield says.

There have been no more positive wastewater test results in Tauranga.

Speaking about 'long COVID', Dr Bloomfield says a study has found one in three people with COVID-19 experience one or more symptoms of 'long COVID' diagnosed months after infection, Dr Bloomfield says. 

Ardern says there has been "volatility in cases in recent days", but she says officials still have control of the outbreak. We don't have enough people vaccinated to tolerate a widespread outbreak, she says.

Restrictions will eventually ease, but they are doing a job at the moment, Ardern says, so people need to stick to the rules.

She notes that there are cases across Auckland, including in west Auckland.

Only 3 percent of cases in this outbreak were fully vaccinated, Ardern says. 

Achieving 90 percent is possible, she says. Auckland is currently at 83 percent first dose.

1:05pm - Dr Bloomfield says there are 19 new cases in the community, 18 in Auckland and one in northern Hauraki, a student. That takes the total to 1249. 

He says of the new cases, 16 are household or known cases, one is a household contact who had not been previously identified and one is a possible contact. Of the 45 Wednesday cases, just four remain unlinked.

Nineteen of our recent cases are linked to transitional or emergency housing. This is "some but by no means all" of the recent cases.

The upper Hauraki student has been isolating at home for the last ten days. The result came after the child became symptomatic and was tested at day 11. Household contacts are being followed-up. The student initially tested negative after the scare in the area earlier this month.

There is also a MIQ worker who has tested positive in Auckland. It isn't included in the day's total as investigations are underway into whether this is a community case or border-linked.

12:45pm - The press conference will begin at 1pm. You can watch it on Three or in the video above.

12:25pm - There are two new locations of interest:

  • Countdown Greenlane - Thursday, September 23 between 7:40pm and 8:20pm
  • Flat Bush Laundromat Otara - Saturday, September 25 between 4:30pm and 7:15pm, and on Wednesday, September 29 between 3pm and 3:30pm

Full information here.

12:15pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield are expected to provide the latest update at 1pm. You'll be able to watch that on Three or stream it above.

12pm - Pressure is building on the Finance Minister to provide rent relief for Auckland businesses running out of cash due to more than a month of lockdown. 

Grant Robertson maintains that the Government has helped with rent pressures by expanding the Resurgence Support Payment into a three-weekly payment, but Retail NZ and Hospitality NZ says it's not enough. 

Read more here.

11:50am - The daily number of people getting their first COVID vaccine dose has tumbled.

Four weeks ago an average of 55,000 New Zealanders were getting their first shot each day.

Since then numbers have fallen off sharply; so far this week, just 13,000 first doses were given each day, just a quarter of the peak demand.

Nearly one million eligible people still have not had a dose.

Read more here.

11:30am - It's time for Newshub Live at 11:30am, which will have the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. Watch on Three or here.

11:25am - Vaccine certificates are likely to be granted to people without a person needing any actual proof they've been vaccinated.

And the certificates themselves could be ripe for misuse, because there is no identification needed for the proposed system, and people did not have to provide ID when getting their innoculation.

Read more here.

11:15am - New research from Youthline has found young Kiwis feel less able to cope with challenges in the wake of COVID-19.

"New Zealand was facing increasing levels of mental distress in young people prior to COVID-19, and evidence suggests that the pandemic is worsening that trend," said chief executive Shae Ronald.

"This research aligns with the elevated levels of risk that Youthline has seen across its services since the emergence of COVID-19 last year."

The nationally representative study found that for older teens (aged 16-24 years) stress, anxiety and worries about finding a job were the top issues that had started or gotten worse as a result of COVID-19.

For younger teens (13-15 years) concerns about schooling or education, depression and anxiety were top issues. The research also found that rainbow young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic when compared to non-rainbow youth.

Of the young people surveyed, 78 percent felt that mental health issues were the biggest challenge facing their generation today.

"This research highlights the importance of having a safe place to talk and be heard. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Take Time to Kōrero – Mā Te Kōrero Ka Ora’. We want young people to know that our Helpline team are available 24/7 to listen and support them with what they are going through. We know these conversations are vital in supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

"We also want adults in young people’s lives to know the important role they play when they take the time to listen without judgement to young people about the challenges in their lives."

Last year, Youthline managed more than 243,000 contacts through its free 24/7 Helpline service. The organisation continues to see high levels of demand through the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

Youthline’s Helpline service offers free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Young people and those who support them can contact Youthline for support on the phone (0800 376 633), via free text (234) from 8am to midnight, via Webchat from 4:30pm to 10pm (by visiting and by email from 8am to midnight (     

10:55am - The Royal NZ College of GPs is urging Kiwis not to take their COVID-19 advice from social media influencers. 

"While patients have every right to, and should, ask questions about side-effects and interactions with medication, GPs across New Zealand have reported an increase in the number of patients coming to them with vaccine hesitancy because of what they’ve read online," said medical director Dr Bryan Betty,

"Doctors, such as specialist GPs, have had many years of training and understand how medications work, and their effects. Ask us your questions, not the influencer you follow on Instagram or TikTok.

"The sheer amount of misinformation that is being amplified online is staggering and the people who are propagating these myths are actually causing more anxiety and harm. Misinformation is undermining the vaccination rollout.

"It is easy to look at something like microchipping and say it is in the realm of conspiracy theories, however unsubstantiated rumour such as the vaccine causing infertility, which has no basis whatsoever, is in the realm of pseudoscience and more difficult to counter.

"We need vaccination rates to be as high as possible to protect us if there is another outbreak because we have seen just how fast Delta can spread in the community. If we want to get back to some type of new normal, high levels of vaccination will help us get there."

10:40am - A prominent epidemiologist has called on politicians to "stop sniping at each other" over COVID-19 response, saying there's only one true way to beat the latest outbreak - getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible

If Aucklanders don't, they can expect to stay in level 3 for as long as mystery cases keep showing up, says University of Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson. 

"We're staying in level 3," he told The AM Show on Thursday, after Wednesday's figures of 45 new cases with 12 unlinked.

"Auckland's not getting out of level 3. Auckland's gonna be in level 3 until we don't have mystery cases."

Read more here.

10:20am - There are three new locations of interest:

  • Countdown Manukau - Monday, September 27 between 5:45pm and 7:40pm
  • SuperValue Flat Bush - Saturday, September 25 between 1:30pm and 3:30pm
  • Flat Bush Laundromat - Saturday, September 25 between 4:30pm and 7:15pm

10:10am - The 45 new community cases have called into question the effectiveness of Auckland's lockdown, with the COVID-19 Response Minister admitting there were "undoubtedly" rule-breakers among them. 

But Chris Hipkins told The AM Show on Thursday "apportioning blame" is not the way to go, because the Government needs Aucklanders on its side and the outbreak could go downhill if "we get into the blame game". 

"There will undoubtedly be some people who haven't followed the rules in this. I don't have a detailed breakdown of exactly who's in that situation, but yes, there have been instances of that where that has resulted in people spreading COVID-19.

Read more here.

10am - Back on the immigration announcement, which should help tens of thousands of migrants currently in residency limbo due to COVID-19, National's Erica Stanford says the Government has adopted her party's policy. 

"While this is a good move, why did it take Mr Faafoi so long to solve the problem? We know of some highly skilled migrants, such as Ōtaki doctor Harding Richards, who simply gave up and left the country, but how many more examples are there?" the party's Immigration spokesperson said.

"It is unacceptable that delays in processing residence visas have been left to explode out of control for three years, to a point where the only option the Minister now has is to fast-track residence to 165,000 people.

"Granting residence to 165,000 people is a panicked reaction from a Government who had no other choice because it broke our immigration system."

The party wants to see the number of staff processing the residency applications increased.

"National is also calling for all split migrant families who are eligible for the 2021 Residence Visa to apply in the first phase on December 1 to expedite their family reunification. We must prioritise split migrant families.

"Those migrants unfairly disadvantaged by processing delays who passed the age requirements for residence should also be granted an age waiver so that they remain eligible for this new visa category. 

"The Government has clearly panicked under the pressure and hit reset on our immigration settings, but today’s announcement has come far too late for many people who have played a valuable role in our health and economic response to COVID-19."

The Green Party is claiming the change as a win for them.

"For too long many migrants have not only dealt with the pandemic, but have also faced added uncertainty and insecurity about whether they can stay and make a home here, and the stress and anxiety that creates," said Green spokesperson for Immigration Ricardo Menéndez March.

"The Green Party has been working throughout the pandemic to create an immigration system that changes this."

9:45am - The Brewers Association of New Zealand says it is concerned about a lack of sector specific support for hospitality despite signalling for weeks the need for assistance. 

Executive director Dylan Firth hopes Kiwis support their local. 

"As a country we have a great tradition for looking after our neighbours and mates. Most of New Zealand’s hospitality businesses are owned, run and worked in by those same people and we should be supporting them," he said.

"Our members have been the first to acknowledge the role of industry to support business where they can. To date our members have committed to support the wider hospitality sector through renegotiation of debt, extension of credit, cash back for unused product which was spoiled over lockdown in 2020 and multi-million dollar spend in marketing encouraging consumers to support local.

"While we acknowledge the value of the wage subsidy and resurgence support payment, this only covers some staff costs and a fraction of what it takes to survive idle at level 3 or at significant restricted capacity at level 2, which as we now know will continue for the whole country for some time. Business owners all over New Zealand have dipped into their reserves, refinanced their houses and taken on extra debt throughout the last 24 months and many are at breaking point."

9:25am - Here's the latest update on the vaccination rollout:

  • 44 percent of the eligible 12+ population is fully vaccinated (1,865,831 people)
  • 78 percent have had their first dose (3,266,796 people)
  • 80 percent are either booked in or have had at least one dose (3,375,832 people)
  • 44,649 doses were administered on Tuesday, of which 13,519 were first doses and 31,130 were second
  • 83 percent of Auckland residents have had their first dose and 48 percent are fully vaccinated

9:10am - A prominent epidemiologist says Auckland should expect to stay in level 3 until either one of two things happen - mystery cases of COVID-19 dry up, or everyone gets vaccinated .

Auckland's due to come out of level 3 next week, unless the Government extends the restrictions a bit longer - perhaps more likely than it was at the start of the week, after the massive jump in case numbers on Wednesday. After trending downwards into single-digits, Wednesday saw 45 new cases reported - worryingly, 12 of them unlinked to known cases. 

Experts are now wondering whether the move out of level 4 a week earlier was the right one. 

"I always say 'don't read too much into one day's numbers', but it's those 12 unlinked cases that are quite alarming," Te Pūnaha Matatini disease modeller Shaun Hendy told The AM Show on Thursday morning.

Read more here.

8:50am - There is a massive push for Kiwis to get vaccinated. Epidemiologist Prof Rod Jackson and modeller Prof Shaun Hendy both said earlier that rates need to increase for Auckland to move out of level 3. The Government wants to see more than 90 percent of the eligible population jabbed, while National says it would restart international travel at 85 percent.

So, if you haven't got vaccinated yet, head over to BookMyVaccine and book an appointment. There appears to be a large number of empty slots, including on Thursday. 

8:35am - National's Judith Collins was asked on RNZ whether she would accept a number of deaths resulting from allowing COVID-19 into NZ. She said she isn't comfortable with any deaths, but she's a "realist". 

"When we drive cars, we have 300 road deaths a year, we don't stop driving cars. We have 500 to 700 flu deaths a year, we have vaccinations, we don't force people to have them," she said.

"That's a lot of resource. It's a lot of effort. But it's even more importantly, a lot of heartache. So the fact is, is we can't keep locking ourselves up forever."

8:20am - There is a possibility Auckland's alert level could drop next week but with travel to and from the city remaining restricted.

The Government will review current alert level 3 settings for the city and alert level 2 settings for the rest of the country on Monday.

Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins told RNZ on Wednesday evening the decision would be made on the most up-to-date information available but agreed the city could face a phased transition to level 2, involving more freedoms within Auckland, but border restrictions remaining.

Read more here.

8:10am - Speaking to RNZ earlier, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he's not expecting Thursday's case number to be as high as the 45 on Wednesday. That's based on what officials were seeing with contact tracing.

"But you know, extra cases can come in overnight, so I don't want to draw hard and fast lines in the sand over that."

Hipkins continued to deny that the 45 cases showed the outbreak was out of control, noting that most of those were to be expected as many are household contacts.

The latest wastewater results from Tauranga have been negative, he says.

8am - In case you needed a reminder, here's the Ministry of Health's case summary from Wednesday, showing the massive 45 new cases recorded:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 30

7:45am - An Otago University law professor says there's a need for a prioritisation system within MIQ bookings, with people left waiting over a year to be granted entry to the country.

Legal action is brewing by Grounded Kiwis - which advocates for vast numbers of expats who want to get home but cannot.

With the demand for MIQ rooms massively outstripping supply, the right to return home is hugely constrained by the country's border policy.

Read more here.

7:30am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins tells The AM Show no decision has been made on alert levels. The nature of cases is what matters, not necessarily the number, he says. The Government wants to give Auckland back its freedoms as soon as possible, the minister says. He won't put "a hard and fast number" on how many cases we could stomach at level 2.

Mystery cases are often linked to the outbreak in the days after reporting them, he says. There could also be a plausible link officials need more time to investigate. Hipkins doesn't have a number of mystery cases he is willing to accept when moving down alert levels. 

Most infections are known contacts or have happened through acceptable interactions, the minister tells The AM Show. There will no doubt be transmission that has occured through rule-breaking, he says. The majority of the 45 cases reported on Wednesday are household contacts. 

None of the recent cases were infected at supermarkets, Hipkins says.

The minister won't rule out a move to level 4 for Auckland. But there are other tools available other than lockdowns, he says.

Hipkins says a press conference with all political leaders urging Kiwis to be vaccinated wouldn't necessarily reach the people that need to be jabbed. Many of them are under 35 and won't be watching the news, he says.

7:15am - Speaking to The AM Show about the 45 new cases recorded on Wednesday, modeller Prof Shaun Hendy says we can't read too much into one day's numbers, but the 12 unlinked cases are "alarming". This is the time we would expect more cases due to the shift to level 3 and we may see more days like this, he says.

Epidemiologist Prof Rod Jackson agrees. He calls it a wake-up call in this "war". These aren't normal times and we will likely see the numbers tick up, he says. People need to get out and get vaccinated. We have won the first half of the game, but we have taken our eye off the ball in the second half, he says. We win it through vaccinations.

Prof Jackson says we don't need to go back to level 4, but we need to get "surgical". He says Auckland must remain in level 3 until we don't have mystery cases.

Prof Hendy says if the unlinked cases are the start of a trend, Auckland has  to stay at level 3. The vaccination rollout has been accelerated and the finish line is in sight, he says. We might have got the mystery cases down to zero if we had spent another week at level 4, Prof Hendy says.

All political party leaders should come together for a joint press conference to encourage vaccinations, Prof Jackson says.

7:05am - The AM Show's Question of the Day is: How would you rate New Zealand's overall pandemic response?

You can vote here.

6:55am - An amendment to New Zealand's COVID-19 Public Health Response legislation began its way through Parliament on Wednesday night.

The Bill puts forward a number of changes, including: 

  • Strengthening the infringement regime for COVID-19 breaches: Increase fees and fines to provide for a greater deterrent to breaches of the Order and better reflect the grave risk to the community when people do the wrong thing. Establish separate fees and fines for individuals and businesses  
  • Expanding the purpose for which Orders under the Act can be made to keep people safe from COVID-19
  • Providing for more efficient management of COVID-19 testing infrastructure. This will improve quality control and create minimum standards for all testing providers
  • The ability for the Chief Executive of MBIE to make rules about the day-to-day operation of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities to ensure that they can continue to operate effectively
  • Changing the default liability for MIQ charges so that everyone will be liable for charges unless exempted in regulations
  • People who enter MIQ will be required to provide accurate contact information for invoicing purpose

"Over the past year we have identified some areas of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act which could use improvement, so we are making changes to ensure the legislation is future-proofed, flexible and responsive," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

"Most New Zealanders are familiar with key Orders already provided for under the existing Act – for example requiring returnees to go into MIQ and for people to wear masks on public transport – and the Amendment Bill will not be changing any of these."

6:40am - Dissatisfaction with the Labour Government is mounting among small business owners, a new survey has found.

Almost half (46 percent) of those surveyed thought the National Party had a better understanding of their business needs, followed by the Labour Party at 30 percent and ACT at 23 percent.

It comes as the COVID-19 Delta outbreak, which plunged the country into level 4 lockdown on August 18 has squeezed business cash flows - and increased costs.

Read more here.

6:30am - It's another busy morning on The AM Show. Coming up, modeller Prof Shaun Hendy and epidemiologist Prof Rod Jackson speak about lockdowns, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will provide the latest case details, and Faafoi will discuss the immigration change.

You can watch the show on Three or by clicking here.

6:25am - The immigration announcement is being widely supported.

Greg Harford from Retail NZ says it is good news due to the shortage of workers.

"Many of those on temporary visas have been living in a state of limbo during COVID-19, creating uncertainty for both the employees and their employers," he said.

"Many temporary workers have been in New Zealand for a number of years and play an important role in helping businesses function, and it is good news that the Government is moving to create a pathway for many of these workers to gain residency in New Zealand."

The EMA's chief executive Brett O'Riley says the move should be applauded.

"News today that around 165,000 workers and their families may now qualify for a one-off resident visa provides both relief and a degree of certainty for New Zealand businesses," says O’Riley.

"Minister Kris Faafoi and Immigration NZ have copped a fair amount of flak in the past few months, but a response of this magnitude shows that they have listened and responded to the feedback we have been providing.

"This response will go some way to easing the pressures businesses continue to face in sourcing skilled and willing people to fill what we have called the skills chasm in New Zealand workplaces."

Others welcoming the announcement include BusinessNZ, DairyNZ, the Council of Trade Unions, and Federated Farmers.

6:20am - Kia ora, welcome to Newshub's live updates for Thursday.

The Government has just made a major immigration announcement aimed at assisting migrants stuck in limbo due to COVID-19. Here's the full statement:

The Minister of Immigration, Kris Faafoi, has today announced the 2021 Resident Visa, a one-off, simplified pathway to residence for around 165,000 migrants currently in New Zealand.

"We are providing a way forward for our migrant families who have been long disrupted by COVID-19, while ensuring businesses have the certainty they need to plan into the future and continue driving the economic recovery," Kris Faafoi said.

"The changes give migrants certainty about their future here, allowing them to continue putting down roots, and will help reunite many families who were separated by the border restrictions that prevent COVID-19 entering the community. 

"We acknowledge the uncertainty and difficulties COVID-19 and our closed borders have caused our migrant community. We have been carefully working through this residence option to offer certainty they need to truly make New Zealand their home.

"The 2021 Resident Visa will also help us attract and retain the skills that our businesses need to help relieve labour pressures caused by COVID-19.

"This is something employers have asked for and we are delivering. Employers will now have the opportunity to retain their settled and skilled migrant workers, reflecting the critical part they play in our economy, essential workforce and communities.

"Immigration New Zealand estimate the eligible visa holders will include over 5,000 health and aged care workers, around 9,000 primary industry workers, and more than 800 teachers. There are also around 15,000 construction and 12,000 manufacturing workers on relevant visa types, some of whom will be eligible for the one-off pathway.

"These people have all played an important role in keeping our country moving over the last 18 months," Kris Faafoi said.

The 2021 Resident Visa will be available to most work-related visa holders, including Essential Skills, Work to Residence, and Post Study Work visas and their immediate family members.

To be eligible, the principal applicant must have been in New Zealand on 29 September 2021 and must hold or have applied for (and subsequently be granted) one of the eligible work visas. They must also meet on of the following criteria:

  • lived in New Zealand for three or more years, or
  • earn above the median wage ($27 per hour or more), or
  • work in a role on the Long Term Skill Shortage List, or
  • hold occupational registration and work in the health or education sector, or
  • work in personal care or other critical health worker roles, or
  • work in a specified role in the primary industries. 

The visa will also be available for those who enter New Zealand as critical workers, and their families, for roles six months or longer until 31 July 2022.

Visa holders can also include their partners and dependents in their application.

The application process for the 2021 Resident Visa is simplified to deal with applications as quickly as possible. Applicants will still need to meet health requirements and pass police and security checks, as is required under the current residence application process.

The one-off arrangement for the new 2021 Resident Visa would see the majority of applications granted within a year of the category opening.

"The Government is committed to rebalancing the immigration system for those who can come to work, study and live in New Zealand once our borders re-open. The 2021 Resident Visa is part of this," Kris Faafoi said.

"This initiative addresses that immediate issue while work on the immigration rebalance looks longer term at preparing for the eventual reopening of New Zealand's borders.

"But our message to industries and employers remains clear; they need to look for ways to build resilient workforces and to attract, train and retain local workers and reduce their reliance on low-skilled migrant labour," Kris Faafoi said.

Applications for the 2021 Resident Visa will open in two phases; on 1 December 2021 and 1 March 2022.

Immigration New Zealand will contact visa holders who are eligible to apply from 1 December by the end of October with more information about the application process.