As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 2

Northland will move to alert level 3 on Thursday night after negative wastewater test results.

It comes after 49 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in New Zealand, all in Auckland. Forty-two people are in hospital with the virus, with six in ICU.

Wednesday marked day one of alert level 3 for all areas outside of Northland and Auckland. While Northland will move to level 3 on Thursday night, Auckland is stuck in the harshest lockdown for another two weeks. 

What you need to know:

These live updates have finished.

9pm - Brigadier Rose King, joint head of MIQ, has commissioned an investigation into how a man allegedly absconded the Ellerslie quarantine facility.

The Terms of Reference are being drafted now, she says, and the investigation will look at what occurred and any improvements or changes that should be made.

As a result of the incident, both stairwells at the facility now have static guards on the ground floor and policing numbers have increased to two.

The Ministry of Health also confirmed Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield was notified of the incident via text at the 1pm COVID-19 update this afternoon.

A spokesperson says since the information available was in a brief notification, and the matter was an active Police-led incident, Dr Bloomfield considered that any public announcement on the matter should be led by Police in the first instance.

8:50pm - NZTA Waka Kotahi is reminding New Zealanders that inter-regional travel is strictly limited at level 4.

Police checkpoints are already in place at Auckland's southern border but more will be added at the northern border once Northland enters level 3 at 11:59pm tonight.

Waka Kotahi warns that there will be traffic delays at checkpoints.

8:20pm - Canterbury Police are reminding locals to keep an eye out for courier deliveries to ensure their items don't go missing.

"This is a busy time for postal deliveries and Police want to remind everyone to do what they can to stop parcel theft," says Inspector Leairne Dow, prevention manager in Canterbury.

"Also a target could be items left out for pick-up, such as dry-cleaning, food and gifts. Perhaps arrange with the receiver that the items will be hidden from view.

"Another issue is opportunity thieves following courier drivers and keeping an eye on deliveries left on door steps. We would like to remind couriers to secure deliveries if possible."

The advice from police is:

  • Get packages delivered to a place where someone will be home to receive them, or to a work address if you are an essential worker
  • If you do have deliveries made to your home, make sure you're going to be home to sign for them, or have a secure location where they can be left
  • Make sure your delivery instructions are clear, and ask for packages not to be placed at your front door, or on top of an apartment building post box
  • If you're not going to be home when the parcel is delivered, arrange to collect your parcel from the depot, or have the parcel redirected to the address of someone you trust
  • Be smart when disposing of packaging, so passers-by can't see if you've been buying expensive items
  • Report any suspicious behaviour to Police, for example, if you see a car following a courier van, or an unexpected visitor knocks on your door asking for someone you don't know.

7:50pm - National's proposing a points-based system to make getting a spot in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities fairer - but the Government says that would be too much paperwork and slow the process down. 

Another fix is more hotels - but the question is who will staff them? There are more health workers ready and waiting, but they can't get through MIQ.

Read and watch the full story from Newshub political reporter Amelia Wade here.

7:20pm - Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency, is reminding New Zealanders that essential cancer surgery is continuing throughout New Zealand despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief executive Diana Sarfati says the organisation has been in regular contact with DHBs to make sure cancer care continues.

"For those living with cancer and their whānau, please know your cancer doctors, nurses and other health professionals are working really hard to make sure cancer treatment continues no matter what the alert level," she says. 

Travelling between regions in alert levels 3 and 4 is also allowed for essential cancer appointments.  

"No form of approval is needed but you should carry some evidence of your appointment - like a hospital letter or text message from your cancer nurse," Sarfati says.

"Any cancer patient or whānau member who has not received a COVID-19 vaccination should get one as soon as possible.

"The vaccine is safe for cancer patients and is vital for staying healthy. If you have not yet been vaccinated, please book online or call your doctor to arrange an appointment."

Additionally, any cancer patients who are unwell should seek assistance. 

"It is safe to come to the hospital. If you are unwell, the hospital is the safest place to be."

6:50pm - A staff member at Spring Hill Corrections Facility (SHCF) is no longer considered a positive case of COVID-19, chief custodial officer Neil Beales says.

The worker returned a positive result on Sunday evening. They were tested after being contacted on Saturday night that they'd visited a location of interest.

The staff member had no symptoms and was fully vaccinated.

"I would like to acknowledge the staff member for doing all the right things when they were first notified of their connection to a location of interest. We all know how much more transmissible the Delta variant of COVID-19 is, and the staff member's actions enabled us to respond to the risk that the positive test result presented quickly," Beales says.

"At every step we have followed the guidance of Public Health in our response. We are not prepared to take any risks with COVID-19 in our environment. As we have seen in prisons internationally, the impact can be devastating."

6:20pm - Newshub understands the man who absconded MIQ on Thursday has allegedly escaped before.

Initially, after he tested positive, he was allowed by the Ministry of Health to isolate at home. Newshub has been told he breached that isolation order on Wednesday, left the house, and police busted him when he came back.

The Ministry of Health then sent him to quarantine on Wednesday night and he allegedly broke out.

Read and watch the full story from Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien.

6:10pm - There are some new locations of interest, including some supermarkets and petrol stations. They are:

  • New World Papatoetoe, Wednesday 18 August from  3:04 pm - 4:04 pm and Thursday 26 August from 3:04 pm - 3:34 pm
  • Hoyts Cinema Flat Bush, Tuesday 17 August from 3:30 pm - 7:00 pm
  • Platypus Ormiston Town Centre, Tuesday 17 August from 3:20 pm - 3:30 pm
  • Round The Clock Dairy Manurewa, Sunday 29 August from 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm
  • Countdown Manukau, Monday 30 August from 12:00 pm - 12:40 pm
  • Ponderosa Dairy Favona, Wednesday 1 September from 5:08 pm - 5:15 pm
  • Countdown Mt Wellington, Saturday 21 August from 6:45 pm - 7:30 pm
  • Countdown Mangere East, Wednesday 25 August from 11:00 am - 1:30 pm
  • Chemist Warehouse Ronwood Centre, Monday 30 August from 5:56 pm - 6:30 pm
  • Gas Mascot Ave Mangere, Saturday 28 August from 11:38 am - 11:45 am
  • Mobil Walmsley Road, Friday 27 August from 11:59 pm - 12:15 am.

5:50pm - The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) says expanded testing confirms there is no detection of COVID-19 in wastewater outside of Auckland.

They have collected samples from 148 locations covering an estimated 3.8 million people, and 95 percent of the New Zealand population connected to reticulated wastewater systems.

Dr Joanne Hewitt, senior scientist and project co-lead at ESR, says there are no unexpected detections to report based on the testing from 98 locations in the North Island and 50 locations in South Island over the past two weeks.

"The team in ESR's Porirua laboratory and those helping with sampling and transportation around Aotearoa have pulled out all the stops to ensure there is unprecedented coverage of wastewater for testing," she says.

"While the latest results continue to detect SARS-CoV-2 (that causes COVID-19) in the Auckland region, there have been no unexpected detections around New Zealand. This includes from 26 sampling locations in Northland."

But she says that wastewater testing doesn't capture people who are on septic tanks.

"While we believe that it is possible to identify the virus from potentially just a single infected person, the likelihood of detection becomes much higher, the more cases in a community there are," she says.

"So, while the absence of the virus in wastewater doesn't guarantee that there isn't someone potentially infectious present, it does suggest that there aren't lots of infected people."

5:25pm - Two thieves at KFC Queenstown have taken off with a customer's drive-thru order on the first day out of lockdown.

The incident occurred at about 8:30pm on Wednesday, when a person was waiting in the drive-thru in their car for their KFC order to be prepared, a police spokesperson said.

But when their order of beloved colonel was placed on the drive-thru window, two men carrying skateboards stole it.

Read the full story here.

5:10pm - Police have confirmed they've arrested a man who escaped the Ellerslie quarantine facility earlier today and have taken him into custody.

Police were wearing full PPE when arresting the COVID-positive man.

"The man has been charged under the Health Order with failing to comply with order (COVID-19) and he has appeared in the Auckland District Court via a contactless video link this afternoon," a police spokesperson says.

"A judge has bailed him to return to a managed quarantine facility.

"The man's family have been extremely cooperative with Police and we thank them for this."

5pm - National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says "answers are needed quickly" from the Government over the person who escaped the quarantine facility.

He says this is a "very concerning situation" that will cause people to worry about the safety and security of MIQ facilities.

"Three questions arise from today's news. The first is why it took ten hours for Police to be informed of the escape. Police have confirmed the person escaped at 12:34am, but they were only told at 10:30am the next morning. Why the delay?

"The second question is at what time management at the MIQ facility knew or suspected this person had escaped.

"The third question is why the Prime Minister did not see fit to inform the public of the escape at today's press conference. This is hardly the transparency expected from a Government that said it would be the most transparent government in New Zealand history, and it is hardly using the podium as the 'Podium of Truth' as the Prime Minister has called it before."

Bishop says an urgent investigation is needed and the Government needs to outline quickly what will be done so it doesn't happen again.

Chris Bishop.
Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Getty Images

4:35pm - The Ministry of Health has added two more locations of interest. They are: 

  • Pak'nSave, Mangere, Sunday 29 August from 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
  • Fresh Choice Mangere Bridge, Saturday 28 August from 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm.

4:20pm - Northland Inc and NorthChamber are reminding local businesses needing to travel across alert level boundaries from tomorrow to apply for business travel documents.

NorthChamber CEO Steve Smith says getting the paperwork sorted will make movement across the Northland-Auckland boundary quicker and easier.

"It's important that everyone who is travelling carries their business travel documents. Print out the paperwork and place it on the dashboard so that officials on the boundary can see it or have an electronic copy ready to view on your smartphone," he says.

"Being able to travel will help Northland businesses to bounce back from lockdown. In this dynamic landscape we are committed to supporting business operators to dodge all the curveballs COVID-19 throws their way."

4pm - Waka Kotahi NZTA says regions who have moved to level 3 can now get their Warrants of Fitness (WoF) and Certificates of Fitness (CoF) at most sites.

WoFs and CoFs that couldn't be renewed under level 4 can be renewed at level 3, and there is no need to wait, they say.

"Most inspection sites in regions under alert level 3 are now open, and we're encouraging people not to delay booking in their inspections," says Nicole Botherway, senior manager of Safer Vehicles.

"Visit the website of your local inspection site or contact them to see if they are open and to book an appointment to ensure your vehicle meets required safety standards and you are driving legally."

She says that sites will be following strict COVID operating procedures and will provide a contactless service. 

Vehicle owners should wear a mask and ensure their car is clean and tidy and all personal belongings are removed before they drop it off.

"As all vehicles are also legally required to display a current vehicle licence (rego), Waka Kotahi will allow online vehicle relicensing without a current WoF or CoF for the time being," Botherway says.

"We would not normally allow this as all vehicles must have a current vehicle inspection to receive a rego but it is something we can do to assist Kiwis while access to inspection sites to obtain a WoF or CoF is restricted to essential workers or is not possible at alert level 4, and may be limited at level 3."

Driver licensing and testing facilities remain closed until level 2. Customers with tests already booked will be rescheduled to the earliest possible test once services resume.

3:45pm - Joint head of MIQ Brigadier Rose King has confirmed that the person absconded from the Novotel & Ibis Ellerslie quarantine facility in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The person entered the facility on Wednesday evening.

"The fact that someone has absconded from one of our facilities is a disappointing and unacceptable breach," King says. 

"Police and the Ministry of Health are leading the work on gaining an understanding of this person's movements since they left the facility.

"We are investigating how this happened and will make more information available as we gather the facts."

Police outside the Novotel.
Police outside the Novotel. Photo credit: Newshub.

3:25pm - Commenting on the person who allegedly escaped a quarantine facility, Chris Hipkins says he understands that someone has been arrested.

"CCTV reviews are happening, and so on. I don't have all of the information yet. I do have some information that suggests someone hiding in a bush while a security guard walked past them," he says. 

"We haven't got confirmed information as to how exactly the person made it out of the facility, whether it was an area that was single-fenced or double-fenced."

The exercise area at the facility has a 1.8 metre fence followed by a 2 metre fence, so they would've had to scale two fences, Hipkins says.

"My understanding was that the person was located by police at their usual place of residence and has subsequently been removed by police. As to how they got there or how long they were there for, I don't have that information."

Hipkins adds that anyone leaving a MIQ facility, especially if they have COVID-19, is "utterly unacceptable".

3:05pm - ACT leader David Seymour is concerned about the number of contacts in the South Island who are still awaiting COVID-19 tests.

"Sixteen days on from the South Island going into lockdown there are still 22 people waiting for a second test," he says. 

"So this is our future; 22 people who are isolating, who've had a negative day five test can keep a million people locked down. The Government's response was so unprepared, we have to wait under lockdown until the outbreak would likely have died out anyway."

Seymour says that what happens to the South Island in this outbreak matters because it's a window into the future of the entire country's strategy.

"It is an extraordinary indictment on the Government that what was initially a 'short, sharp, lockdown' takes longer than a whole infection cycle. Apparently testing, tracing and isolating actually makes no difference to the restrictions New Zealanders must face in an outbreak," he says.

"On our current strategy, every outbreak will lead to weeks of lockdown because testing and tracing is not up to it. That's not to mention that the hard border must remain as the rest of the world moves on.

"It is a dismal future showing the Government has made no effective improvement to its COVID response."

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty Images

2:45pm - A person who previously tested positive for COVID-19 has escaped a quarantine facility in Ellerslie and police are preparing to arrest them.

Superintendent Steve Kehoe says police were notified just after 10:30am today about their escape.

He says police have cordoned off an Ōtāhuhu address and are preparing to arrest the person. They are also working with the Ministry of Health to understand the person's movements since they left MIQ and were found in Ōtāhuhu.

"Police staff responding to this incident have been dressed in full PPE. All Police staff that have responded to this incident have been following all health guidelines, in accordance with Police COVID-19 procedures," Kehoe says.

"Police are working closely with our partners on where this individual will be taken and we can assure our community every precaution is being taken."

2:35pm - A staff member of CHT St Margaret's in Te Atatu Peninsula, who works in the Dementia Unit, has tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive result was confirmed late on September 1, CHT CEO Carriann Hall says.

"This staff member is a household contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case and went into precautionary self-isolation before undertaking their COVID-19 test and subsequently testing positive. They have now been transferred to MIQ and will undergo routine testing, only returning to work once ARPHS has cleared them to do so," she says.

"We are grateful that this staff member immediately isolated, got tested and communicated to us so that we can swiftly manage this situation. This staff member had also recently received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine."

Staff members who worked closely with the positive worker have also gone into self-isolation and will be tested.

2:30pm - Ministry of Finance Grant Robertson has just told the House that $1.37 billion has been paid out in wage subsidies in this outbreak alone.

You can watch what's happening live in Parliament here.

2:15pm - The Ministry of Health has added some locations of interest. They are:

  • Fresh Choice Mangere Bridge, Saturday 28 August from 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
  • Fresh Choice Mangere Bridge, Saturday 28 August from 7:00 pm - 8:35 pm
  • Pak'nSave Westgate, Thursday 26 August from 7:59 pm - 8:30 pm
  • Kingsland Pharmacy Kingsland, Friday 27 August from 11:20 am - 12:00 pm
  • AUT South Campus, Tuesday 17 August from 11:00 am - 2:15 pm.

2:10pm - A total of 3059 vehicles have been stopped at five checkpoints on Auckland's southern border between 11:59pm on August 31 and 3:30pm on September 1. 

Of these, only 114 were turned away for non-essential travel, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says.

The checkpoint with the most vehicles turned around was the southbound checkpoint at SH1/Mercer off ramp where 49 vehicles were turned away.

"Two men who were stopped at the Mercer checkpoint provided the excuse that they wanted to head to Hamilton to buy face masks, however Police pointed out there were a number of local places near their home where they could do so and they were turned around," Coster says.

"We reiterate that motorists without the appropriate exemption or proof of essential travel can expect to be turned around at our checkpoints."

The five southern checkpoints are at these locations:

  • SH1/Mercer off ramp - southbound traffic
  • SH1/Oram Rd - northbound traffic
  • Mangatawhiri Rd/SH2
  • East Coast Rd - Waharau Regional Park
  • SH22/Pukekawa-Churchill Rd and Logan Rd.

When Northland moves to alert level 3 at 11:59pm tonight, police will establish checkpoints at the northern border of Auckland.

These will begin being set up from early this evening.

The northern Auckland checkpoints will be set up at the following locations:

  • SH1/Mangawhai Road (Twin Coast Discovery Highway)
  • Mangawhai Road / north of Coal Hill Road
  • Black Swamp, west of Rako Road
  • Mangawhai Road and Cames Road
  • Mangawhai Road and Ryan Road.
As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 2
Photo credit: Newshub.

1:55pm - There are 512 South Island contacts and 15 are overdue their day 12 test.

Ardern says these are just the known contacts, so any decisions on an alert level change has to take into account that they've "got this wrong" and there are more contacts out here.

1:45pm - The youngest person in ICU is 18 years old, Dr Bloomfield says.

Everyone who is in ICU is in a stable condition, but anyone on a ventilator is still "very unwell".

1:35pm - Eleven people who caught COVID-19 in this outbreak have now recovered, Dr Bloomfield says.

That means there are 725 active cases in this outbreak.

1:20pm - Ardern says new funding has been approved to support Whanau Ora with the current COVID-19 response. She says Whanau Ora provided practical support and comfort during the last lockdown and the need for it has been even greater during this outbreak.

"The three Whānau Ora commissioning agencies will receive an immediate boost of $8.816 million to continue to provide direct and integrated support to hard-to-reach whānau presenting with complex and overlapping needs,” Minister for Whanau Ora Peeni Henare says in a statement.

A further $14.216 million will be distributed based on need as information on the impact of the current change in alert levels unfolds. This will support the work of Whānau Ora providers to meet the increased community need for support and services, including accessing vaccinations, testing and self-isolating spaces.

The Ministry of Social Development is also making a $2 million fund immediately available to partner with iwi responding to critical unmet need.

"The Ministry of Social Development has been in regular contact with our Maori provider and iwi partners. This fund recognises the potential for emerging need particularly in areas which may not have access to other forms of support during higher alert levels” Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said.

Funding of $1 million, from the COVID-19 Response and Resilience Fund, will also be available to support iwi community responses and assist them to update pandemic response plans to take into account the new reality of the Delta variant.  

"This support follows talks in the past fortnight with over 100 iwi leaders, marae chairs, and urban authorities,” Minister for Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Kelvin Davis said.

"The message has been clear, that they are well placed and eager to help improve the uptake of vaccinations in their communities, but that they need assistance and resources. We all want to raise vaccination rates and protect ourselves and each other."


Peeni Henare said that since the COVID-19 resurgence, Whānau Ora commissioning agencies have mobilised their provider and partner networks to redirect resources and operations to support immediate needs ranging from providing whānau with kai and hygiene packs to setting up hubs so whānau can access the support they need.

1:15pm - Dr Bloomfield wants to see higher levels of testing across Auckland.

There were 89,546 vaccine doses administered on Wednesday, taking our total to 3.59m overall. Nearly 200,000 new bookings were made with the eligibility expanding.

Ardern says it is not unusual for the case numbers to bounce around, but there are positive trends. The rolling average is declining, down to 61. There are fewer cases that have been infectious in the community, with just seven of Thursday's cases infectious in the community. Their most common location were supermarkets. 

The Prime Minister says Northland will move to alert level 3 on Thursday night, following negative wastewater test results. Checkpoints will in place between Auckland and Northland.

At the southern boundary, traffic has been low and orderly, Ardern tells reporters. She thanks people for getting their documentation sorted.

However, she condemns reports of abuse towards bus drivers.

1:10pm - The Prime Minister and Director-General of Health have arrived.

Dr Bloomfield says there are 49 new cases in the community, all in Auckland. That takes the total to 736, with 709 in Auckland and the rest in Wellington. There are four cases in recent returnees in MIQ. 

The lower number is "encouraging" and showing lockdown is working. The numbers could still bounce, he says. There is a 95 percent probability the R value is under 1.

About 85 percent of Wednesday's cases were contacts of known cases, 56 percent were household contacts isolating, and 36 percent were infectious in community.

There are 42 cases in hospital, with six in ICU and three ventilated.

More than 37,000 individual contacts have been identified, and 81 percent have been contacted. Around 86 percent have had a test. Work is ongoing to follow-up the rest. All Northland contacts have been contacted and 96 percent have returned a test, all of which are negative. 

There has been no unexpected wastewater detections. All Northland samples have returned negative results.

12:50pm - A number of new locations of interest have just been released. They're all supermarkets in Auckland, including Pak'nSave Mt Albert, Countdown Manukau Mall, and New World Papatoetoe. People are being advised to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

Find the full list here.

12:40pm - The 1pm press conference will feature Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. They're expected to reveal if Northland will shift to alert level 3 on Thursday night.

You'll be able to watch that above shortly as well as on Three.

12:30pm - There have been no new locations of interest released so far on Thursday. They're normally added to the list every two hours from 8am, but none have yet appeared, but which may simply be because there aren't any. 

12:20pm - Rest homes and retirement villages around New Zealand are looking after their residents more than usual to ensure they stay connected to the community during lockdown.

But some are still feeling lonely as they struggle to use modern technology to communicate with their much-missed friends and family.

Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb said the digital divide was making life increasingly difficult.

Read more here.

12:05pm - Education Minister Chris Hipkins has laid out criteria under which changes could be made to school qualifications.

"If schools and kura are disrupted by Alert Levels 3 or 4 for 20 or more school days, Learning Recognition Credits will become available at the same rates and levels as originally announced in 2020," he says.

If this threshold is met, students would be entitled to one extra Learning Recognition Credit for every 5 credits they earn towards their NCEA through assessment. Students working towards NCEA Level 1 could earn up to 10 additional credits, while those at Levels 2 or 3 would be eligible for up to 8 additional credits.

"If Alert Levels 3 or 4 are in place for a total of 20 or more school days, the thresholds for Certificate Endorsements, Course Endorsements and University Entrance will also be adjusted to reflect those announced in June last year."

The statement says Course Endorsements would require 12 credits at Achieved, Merit or Excellence level, rather than 14. Students would still need to achieve at least 3 credits from external assessment and 3 from internal assessment, where these requirements usually apply. To receive a Certificate Endorsement, students would need to receive 46 credits at Merit or Excellence level, instead of the usual 50.

For University Entrance, students would need to achieve 12 – rather than 14 – credits in each of 3 University Entrance Approved Subjects. Students would still need to attain NCEA Level 3 and meet literacy and numeracy requirements.

He says signalling these changes is intended "to give students confidence that they will continue to have a fair opportunity to attain NCEA, even if they need to spend more time away from the classroom".

"These changes are in addition to delays to end of year exam and portfolio submission dates, and other adjustments to assessments already in place.

"I would like to recognise universities and Universities New Zealand, school principals, teachers and my NCEA Professional Advisory Group, who have worked with the Ministry of Education and NZQA to move quickly to support students.”

11:55am - Flight Centre's Australian founder and chief executive Graham Turner has lashed out again over New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting only "authoritarian regimes" will impose lockdowns in the future.

On Wednesday, Turner co-wrote an opinion piece in The Australian with Adam Schwab, the chief executive of Luxury Escapes.

Neither of them is known to have any expertise in epidemiology. 

Their article criticises governments around the world for carrying out "aggressive non-pharmaceutical interventions, specifically lockdowns, as their weapon of choice against the COVID-19 virus".

Read more here.

11:45am - The World Health Organization (WHO) has elevated a new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 to 'Variant of Interest' (VOI) status.

Mu, first detected in Colombia in January, was previously known as B.1.621. While it makes up just a fraction of cases globally - about 0.1 percent - its rapid rise in South America has experts worried. It now accounts for 39 percent of cases in Colombia and is making inroads in neighbouring Ecuador, where it's now responsible for 13 percent of cases, according to the WHO's latest weekly update.

It's been picked up in 39 countries to date. According to variant tracking site GISAID, the closest it's made it to New Zealand is Hong Kong and Hawaii. 

Read more here.

11:25am - The Green Party is calling for the Government to provide more support for vulnerable families during the lockdown. It mentions a new Salvation Army report showing the high need for emergency food parcels and welfare support.

"We support the urgent call from the Salvation Army today to bring forward the April 2022 benefit increases immediately, to make housing hardship grants more easily available, introduce rent freezes, and to ensure migrant workers have access to the emergency benefit," said the party's social development and employment spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March.

"Our Government partner should focus their resources on those families who disproportionately feel the impacts of lockdown, and ensure our communities are supported for the current and any future outbreaks. The tools that would ease food insecurity immediately are already in the toolbox.

"We acknowledge the hard work our charitable organisations are doing, but the Government should step up and not let people rely on volunteer efforts to have enough food on the table”.

"Bringing forward benefit increases and extending the emergency benefit for migrants are common sense approaches to supporting our communities right now."

11:10am - New Zealand is in "slightly uncharted territory" as it attempts to drive the R number of the Delta variant outbreak down under 1 for a sustained period, a COVID-19 modeller says.

The Ministry of Health reported 75 new cases in the community yesterday, a number that was no cause for alarm, according to Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, despite being up from the 49 reported the day before.

Bloomfield said the R value, based on the latest modelling, continued to be promising. There was a 90 percent probability it remained under 1, showing the lockdown was continuing to work and chains of transmission were being broken.

Read more here.

11:05am - The Government has agreed to a $26m investment in supporting the Pacific community during this COVID-19 outbreak, associate Minister of Health Aupito William Sio has just announced. 

He says this will help in the effort to get everyone vaccinated.

"This investment will allow for more targeted and effective support to our Pacific communities as we continue to do everything in our power to eliminate the virus and to keep the people of Aotearoa New Zealand safe from COVID-19.

"The extra funding will go towards Pacific health and disability services; sustaining the response to the current outbreak, scaling up mobile outreach and Pacific community vaccination services, and improving engagement and communications to reach specific ethnic groups within the Pacific community.

"This $26 million is a significant and much needed investment into our response. This will ensure that our Pacific health and disability sector have the resources they need both to continue delivering critical services, and to upscale further support for our aiga and communities."

He said the Pacific providers had shown time and time again they are "heroes on the frontline" keeping families and communities safe.

10:50am - The National Party has released a plan which it says will "fix the managed isolation allocation system". 

It's proposing:

  1. A ban on bots and third-party providers
  2. A new prioritisation system to allocate space (a points system)
  3. The introduction of a waiting list
  4. Transparency over room release dates
  5. The introduction of a Kiwi Expat Advisory Group.

"The underlying problem of MIQ is that demand generally massively exceeds the number of spaces in any given period," leader Judith Collins says.

"At the moment, with the exception of a 10 per cent quota for critical workers, some contingency rooms, and a very limited number of emergency allocations, spaces in MIQ are simply allocated on a 'first-in, first-served' basis."

She wants zero tolerance for bots.

The party's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says the current system makes little judgement about the motivations of people coming back. That's why it wants a prioritisation system with points allocated, taking a similar approach to how skilled migrants are assessed. 

"We believe people coming home to farewell dying family members or for urgent medical treatment should not be treated the same as people coming to New Zealand for a holiday. Likewise, Kiwis returning home to live permanently should be prioritised over people returning home for short periods of time.

"We need to be upfront about the fact that there will generally always be a shortage of space in MIQ, and we should therefore be clearer as a country about who should be prioritised for valuable MIQ space over others.

"The system should assign points to particular categories of people who could then be allocated guaranteed spaces in MIQ for a period of time once they meet the threshold for points set by the Government."

Those it believes should get more points, meaning "preferential treatment" into MIQ, include:

  • "Those coming to New Zealand to visit sick or dying family members or for urgent medical treatment. This would essentially be an expansion of the existing emergency allocation, which is currently too narrow 
  • People coming to New Zealand to fill skill shortages. This could and should include split migrant families who the Government has callously disregarded."

It also wants a waiting list and more transparency over when rooms will be released so people can plan. 

"Finally, National is proposing the establishment of an Expat Advisory Group that MIQ is required to consult with about the overall MIQ system," Bishop said.

"Many of the problems in the last year have festered for some time, and many were foreseeable. The system has not been designed in a user-friendly way and ongoing consultation with expats abroad would be a valuable thing.

"New Zealanders overseas and here at home have spent more than a year dealing with a broken MIQ system. Unlike the Government, National has come up with a plan to change that."

10:40am - Tim Malone, from the Kiwis Coming Home group which assists those trying to return to New Zealand, told Newshub it's too early to say how much of an improvement the new MIQ booking system will be. 

Vouchers are currently paused while facilities host infected community cases. When they return, the booking system will include a virtual lobby which Kiwis trying to get home will be picked out of randomly and given a slot.

Malone says anything will better than the current system of just refreshing a page hoping for a slot. But more detail is needed.

"There is a lot that we don't know about that. Is there going to be a separate lobby for every day? Will people be able to stand in more than one lobby and will some people end up with more than one space?" he asks.

"Or if they can only stand in one lobby, will they end up with nothing and wish they stood in a different lobby? I would like to think it is going to be an improvement, but we really need to see some level of detail before we know if it will happy properly or not."

He said it's important to remember many of the Kiwis overseas can't just sit around waiting for a slot then suddenly pack up and return home. 

"A lot of people have houses to sell, employment contracts which are due to be finished or rolled over, they have businesses that they own, staff that they have to advise," he said.

"It is not a simple matter of just packing up your life and being able to come home on a whim or on their own choice. It is actually a pretty complicated thing to come home from New Zealand from where some of these people are."

Malone said it's not surprising there are issues when you consider up to a million New Zealanders were abroad before COVID and there is very limited MIQ spots in the hotel facilities.

"Some people are overly stressed, in my view, they are more stressed than they need to be. December, for example, hasn't even been released yet. There is going to be 8000 or so people who will arrive in New Zealand successfully in December. It is a reasonably high number of people. 

"But when you have to sit back and do nothing for four or five weeks during a pause where you are told you cannot book to get home to New Zealand, that causes anxiety for sure."

10:20am - As of Wednesday, 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in New Zealand, made up of 2.29m first doses and 1.21m second doses.

On Tuesday, 84,971 doses were administered, of which 57,733 were first doses and 27,238 were second doses.

Māori have had 208,854 first doses and 108,639 second doses, while Pacifc Peoples have had 134,701 first doses and 74,157 second doses.

Wednesday saw everyone aged 12 and over become eligible to be vaccinated.

10:10am - The Salvation Army is calling on the Government to impose a freeze on rent increases, among other measures, to help those most in need as demand for food and housing support skyrockets

Since lockdown began at 11:59pm on August 17, there has been an 84 percent increase in demand for emergency food parcels, with the rising need concentrated most heavily in south Auckland, says the Army. More than 2200 parcels were distributed across the country last week, almost double the number requested the week prior, with marked increases in need evident across all major centres.

The proposal to freeze rent increases is one of several outlined in the Salvation Army's new COVID-19 Lockdown Briefing. Released on Thursday, the briefing suggests a number of practical measures to help ease the burden of lockdown for families in hardship. Since the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020, the number of people waiting for social housing has increased by 8200, and the number of those receiving welfare support has risen by around 45,000.

Read more here.

9:55am - We are expecting a press conference at 1pm from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Ardern will reveal if Northland will move to alert level 3 tonight as results of wastewater testing come in.

Newshub will livestream that and broadcast it on Three.

9:35am - Here is the Ministry of Health's summary for Wednesday. The new cases includes community, border and historical infections.

As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, September 2

9:20am - There was positive news for the country on Wednesday from the Director-General of Health.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the number of cases being recorded daily is expected to continue to decline based on the 'R' value.

"Moving to the reproductive rate - the R value - based on the latest modelling, that continues to be promising, and there’s a 90 percent probability that remains under one with the numbers coming through over the last few days, indicating that the number of cases will continue to decline and we are successfully breaking the chains of transmission."

When the R value is at 1, every infected person will cause one new infection. When it's below one, they will cause less than one new infection and the disease will eventually die out. 

9:15am - The Greens have thrown their support behind calls for a purpose-built managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility, saying it's looking like the pandemic is going to drag on for longer than initially thought. 

The current system of using converted hotels has been stretched to its limits with the recent Delta outbreak. More have been turned into quarantine facilities for confirmed cases and close contacts, and capacity in others has been reduced to cut down the chance of infected people passing on the virus. 

Read more here.

9:05am - All three of Auckland's main hospitals are building more negative pressure rooms to keep up with the Delta strain of COVID-19.

The city's district health boards have revealed details of the work that is going on at the same time as they treat 32 COVID-19 patients between them, eight in intensive care.

A DHB spokesperson said the negative pressure rooms were being built at Middlemore, Auckland City and North Shore hospitals in general wards, intensive care units and emergency departments.

Read more here.

8:45am - It appears no new locations of interest have been added so far on Thursday. The Ministry of Health normally updates the list every two hours from 8am, but the last addition was at 8pm on Wednesday night. 

A large number of supermarkets were added on Wednesday as officials take an extremely cautious approach to contact tracing. The advice for many of the people who went to these stores at the relevant times is to monitor themselves for any symptoms for 14 days.

See the full list here.

8:35am - Sheryl Mai, the Mayor of Whangarei, is hoping for a quick transit for Northland from alert level 4 down to alert level 2.

Northland will on Thursday learn the results of recent wastewater testing, with hopes that no signs of COVID-19 will mean shifting to alert level 3. But that's not where Mai wants to stop. 

"We are definitely hoping that today is the day that we get to join the rest of the country south of Auckland at alert level 3," she told Newshub.

"Today is the day we get the results back from the wastewater testing and it does take time. We were happiest when we knew that we were going to be joining the rest of the country without having to wait a week or more. 

"We see all the queues around the fast food outlets in the other parts of the country and I am sure there will be some queues in Northland when we join them. But realistically, we accept that there was a very good reason for us to stay at alert level 4 for these extra couple of days.

"I think what we are really hoping for is a fast transit through to alert level 2. Alert level 3 still has very heavy restrictions on movement around our region. We certainly can't get into Auckland and Aucklanders can't come north, and that is certainly for all the right reasons.

"We are really hoping that the disease has been stopped in its tracks and the whole country can get back to its daily lives as normal."

8:25am - The COVID-19 community outbreak is stretching the limits of the country's quarantine system, and the number of rooms available with suitable air filtration systems that can withhold the virus.

There are now more positive Delta cases in the community than the Government has rooms available with top-of-the-line ventilation systems.

A public health expert says the Government has dropped the ball with the state of its quarantine facilities.

Read more here.

8:10am - The Restaurant Association is backing a rental support package being proposed by the National Party, describing it as the type of scheme the Government needs to adopt to ease financial pressure on hospitality businesses. 

According to National's shadow Treasurer, Andrew Bayly, the package would see small businesses who have experienced a 40 percent reduction in revenue under alert level 3 or 4 entitled to 50 percent of their assessable rent and associated building operating costs being paid by the Crown.

However, it would also require the landlord contributing a 25 percent discount on rental costs for the duration of the period the Rental Support Payment is provided to the small business owner. This would leave the just 25 per cent of the rental costs to be paid by the tenant.

Bayly says the Government's current Resurgence Support Package - which provides up to $21,500 for fixed costs depending on a business's number of FTEs - doesn't go far enough "when you factor in significant costs like unexpected stock wastage, insurance, rates, and the fact that the one-off payment is dependent on the number of FTEs a business has".

"This outbreak is likely to continue for a number of weeks and many businesses will have to wait until Level 2 to be even partially operational. Not to mention the uncertainty of whether we will face more lockdowns in the future."

Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, says lease costs are the biggest fixed costs for the industry and not every business has been able to secure a rent reduction. 

"The wage subsidy and resurgence payments while helpful are unfortunately only just a drop in the ocean," she says.

"The stress this creates for our members, most of whom are small business owners, is immense. And whilst some landlords might be in a position to offer rent holidays, many are not. We don't feel that it should be left up to business owners to have to negotiate with landlords yet again.

"We've seen lots of support from the Government for employees but business owners seem to be continually overlooked.

"There appears to be a misguided assumption that small businesses owners are in a financial position to top up wages and finance business fixed costs on top of their personal expenses at a time when their businesses are closed.

"It's beyond unfair that whilst some business owners can continue to operate their businesses from home, those that are fully closed down are receiving minimal support.

"Our industry knows what it needs to do to help us to eliminate COVID once again, but we feel that there should be specific compensation offered to those who stand to lose the most."

7:55am - Looks like Jacinda is cancelling Christmas for Kiwis stuck overseas, writes Ryan Bridge.

"And again, some critics argue it's because the Government's been caught off-guard by an entirely predictable situation and proven themselves seemingly incapable of forward-planning."

Read The AM Show host's opinion piece here.

7:45am - While we await wastewater test results from Northland, here is what Dr Ashley Bloomfield said about sample results from the rest of New Zealand on Wednesday: 

"The latest results from ESR show no unexpected detections to report, and a sample collected from Moa Point here in Wellington on Monday has returned a negative result for the first time since 19 August.

"COVID-19 was also not detected in a sample collected on Monday from the broader Christchurch waste-water treatment plant. And, while COVID-19 continues to be detected at a number of locations across Tāmaki Makaurau, for the first time since 18 August it was not detected in a sample taken from the western Auckland network. "

7:30am - A lot has happened overseas over the last 24 hours, with a number of countries starting to ease COVID-19 restrictions as they see cases fall.

Find out more here.

7:15am - Green MP Julie Anne Genter is on The AM Show responding to comments from COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. He said on Wednesday that Kiwis abroad shouldn't try to come home for a New Zealand summer as they make take MIQ positions away from people needing to desperately come back for emergency reasons or coming home for good.

It comes as changes are being made to the MIQ booking system, such as the introduction of a virtual lobby, from which people will be randomly chosen to get a MIQ spot. There's a pause on MIQ vouchers at the moment as many rooms are being used for community cases.

Genter says she understands the Government is in a difficult position and has to prioritise the safety of Kiwis here, but it's also become clear how hard some overseas have it. With new variants of COVID-19, it's also apparent we will need more MIQ positions for longer, she says. Coming home is a right for Kiwis, the MP tells The AM Show.

She says it's worth the Government looking into a building a specific facility for MIQ purposes that isn't in the middle of a major city. A number of overseas jurisdictions are doing so, including, recently, Queensland.

7:05am - Health Minister Andrew Little has just released a statement to Newshub regarding news some hospital services are being diverted from Auckland to other centres: 

"We know that system is under pressures, especially in metro-Auckland. At this stage the most important thing is to know is that anyone who needs urgent medical treatment is getting it. Our hospitals and health professionals are doing an excellent job in continuing to provide care to the most vulnerable while keeping the rest of us safe from COVID-19," Little says.

"The Ministry of Health and district health boards are working together to manage the effects of latest COVID outbreak on hospital occupancy, ICU capacity and planned care and that any acute or non-deferrable services are supported and managed appropriately."

That includes, he says, diverting some services to other centres.

"For example, spinal-cord injuries for patients south of Pokeno, which would normally be sent to Counties Manukau DHB, are currently being diverted to Christchurch where clinically appropriate."

Pokeno is near where the northern boundary is located, splitting the country between alert level 4 in Auckland and Northland, and alert level 3.

"Any transfer of patients from Auckland metro needs careful planning and coordination alongside alert level strategies to mitigate any risk of spreading COVID.

"We take seriously planned care being disrupted by COVID-19. I am confident that DHBs are doing everything to manage planned care in their districts. These are clinical judgments that are made by the health professionals attending to people who need that help.

"There are some people who, inconvenient as it might be, will experience some disruption and delay. There are others for whom there should not be and there will not be deferral or delay, because their condition warrants treatment and attention straight away.

"Last year we allocated an extra $282.5 million over three years to help DHBs catch up with the backlog and this year we put in another $90 million. We have also given DHBs an extra $50 million to pay for any extra facilities they need to help them get on top of the waiting list. We will continue to monitor this spend."

7am - A new study by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), Watercare and the University of Auckland backs wastewater testing as an early warning system for COVID-19.

It assessed the sensitivity of community wastewater sample to detect potentially infectious COVID-19 cases. Results found testing it was a reliable and sensitive platform.

"Even when case prevalence is low, we saw that wastewater testing provided a good opportunity of early detection for community outbreaks of COVID-19, however with 10 or more cases the probability of detecting the virus moves to more than 87 percent," said senior ESR scientist Joanne Hewitt. 

More can be found here.

6:40am - As many as 1 in 7 children may have symptoms linked to the coronavirus months after testing positive for COVID-19, the authors of an English study on long COVID in adolescents said on Wednesday.

Children rarely become severely ill with COVID-19 but they can suffer lingering symptoms, and the study is one of the largest of its kind on how common so-called long COVID is in the age group.

Read more here.

6:25am - The Salvation Army has released a set of proposals it wants to see the Government implement to take the pressure off the most vulnerable Kiwis during lockdown. 

  • Bring forward the implementation of the April 2022 benefit increases with immediate effect 
  • Implement immediate assistance to help families meet rents, such as through increased thresholds for housing special needs grants
  • Implement a freeze on rent increases, at least for Auckland for the duration of Levels 3 and 4 and beyond. 
  • Ensure the Ministry of Education is connected and supporting families who usually receive their healthy school lunches programme. The funding has already been allocated to food support and should be used for these families
  • Ensure that migrant workers have full entitlement to the Emergency Benefit with MSD, following the end of the Manaaki Manuhiri programme.

The rent freeze is a key one for the group, with it noting that since the start of lockdown last year, the number of people waiting for social housing has increased by 8200 and those receiving welfare support is up 45,000.

"In the first week of lockdown this year the Army responded to an 84 percent increase in demand for emergency food parcels," it said in a statement.

"Demand continues to grow. It is concentrated most heavily in Auckland, with most of the Army’s Foodbanks experiencing steady, and in some cases dramatic, increases in need."

Find the full report here.

6:10am - What is the Government waiting on to move Northland to alert level 3?

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government was taking a "cautious" approach due to a case in Warkworth, a settlement on the main route north, and possible exposure points in the surrounding area.

While Wellington moved to alert level 3 on Wednesday after having a number of cases, the difference, the Prime Minister said, was that officials had had over a week to monitor contacts and cases there to ensure there wasn't spread. 

"We just haven't had that level of time for the cases we're concerned about in Warkworth, and with possible contacts beyond. Once we have that same level of reassurance for Northland, we feel confident to move alert levels. 

"Now, additional waste-water testing at over 20 sites in Northland are due on Thursday. In addition, further testing from contacts across Northland - and we had a number of contacts across Auckland who have been at locations of interest, and some that relate to some more recent worksites. 

"Some of those further tests will be available in that time frame as well. If these are all clear, the Director-General and Cabinet has agreed to lower Northland to alert level 3 at 11.59 p.m. this Thursday. So again, just an indication of our intention here if all of those tests come back clear."

6am - It's time for The AM Show, which will have the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak. You can watch it live here or on Three.

5:45am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live updates for Thursday. It's a big day for Northland, which is awaiting the results of wastewater testing from 20 sites. If the samples come back negative then the region will likely move to alert level 3 by midnight.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will hold a press conference at 1pm, where they will announce any shift.