Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22

Aucklanders are breathing a sigh of relief as the super city moves to COVID-19 alert level 3 after five long weeks at level 4.

It means a slight change to the rules, with stores - including fast food outlets - allowed to open for contactless takeaway and click and collect.

But under level 3 the message is similar, with people urged to stay home as much as they can. People must still stay in their household bubbles and those who can continue working from home are urged to do so.

What you need to know:

  • Twenty-three new community cases of COVID-19 were announced on Wednesday
  • The case total of New Zealand's Delta outbreak is now 1108
  • Auckland shifted down to alert level 3 at 11:59pm on Tuesday for at least two weeks
  • The upper Hauraki area has now been moved to COVID-19 alert level 3 with Auckland
  • Greater New Zealand will stay at alert level 2 for as long as Auckland is at level 3.

Live updates have now closed.

9pm  - New Zealand's Post Primary Teachers’ Association, Te Wehengarua, have welcomed the Government's decision to give extra NCEA credits to Auckland high school students.

President Melanie Webber said it is a welcome acknowledgement of the disruption to students' learning and assessment at such a critical time of the year.

 "Term 3 is a very important time for student assessment and to have a considerable amount of it spent in lockdown this year, particularly for Auckland students, is highly disruptive," she said. 

"While we've all got more used to online teaching and learning compared with the first lockdown last year, the learning environment varies hugely among students depending on where they live. COVID-19 highlights the massive inequity that our students experience. Between those who have devices, internet, somewhere quiet to work, and those who are living without.

"Add to this the loss of physical contact with friends, that is so vital for teenagers, and the result is a lot of anxiety.

"Anything that helps them breathe a little easier and maintains their wellbeing is welcome, and the introduction of further learning recognition credits, along with re-scheduled external exams and portfolio deadlines, will do this.

"I know that teachers who are now back in their classrooms in level 2 are working their hardest to help their students catch up and get back on track with assessments. And it will be the same for Auckland teachers when schools open fully again there. Today's announcement helps reduce a little of their anxiety too."

8:40pm - Auckland high school students are breathing a sigh of relief tonight because they'll get extra NCEA credits after spending weeks longer out of the classroom than the rest of the country.

For every four credits achieved, Auckland teens will get one bonus credit up to a maximum of 16 at level one, and 12 at levels two and three. 

The threshold for gaining a merit or excellence endorsement will also be lowered from 46 to 40 credits.

"I hope this will provide reassurance to those students that their qualifications and the awards that go with those remain within their reach," Education Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Read the full story here.

8:20pm - Police said on Wednesday, officers at the checkpoints turned away a much higher volume of vehicles than in previous days that were attempting to travel through and did not carry evidence of permitted travel.

Police are reminding motorists in Auckland that travel remains heavily restricted under alert level 3.

Here are the latest checkpoint figures:

As of 11.59pm on Tuesday, a total of 213,223 vehicles have now been stopped at the 10 checkpoints on Auckland’s northern and southern boundaries since 11:59pm on August 31.

A total of 2626 vehicles have been turned around during this time.

On Tuesday, 17,030 vehicles were processed at the checkpoints while only 194 vehicles were turned around.

A total of 61 vehicles were turned away at the Northern checkpoints on Tuesday while 133 vehicles were turned around at the Southern checkpoints.

As at 11:59pm September 21, 4350 heavy vehicles have been stopped and 217 of them have been turned around attempting to leave Tāmaki Makaurau. Forty-five of those vehicles were turned around on Tuesday.

8pm - Police have issued a message to Aucklanders: "Dropping alert levels doesn't mean dropping the ball".

"Police will continue to remain visible across the community conducting reassurance patrols and ensuring there is compliance with the requirements under alert level 3," a spokesperson said.

"Aucklanders are reminded that travel is still restricted at alert level 3 and should be for reasons such as accessing permitted services and heading out for exercise. Please remember to keep it local."

Aucklanders are asked to maintain physical distance from those outside of your bubble if you are exercising outside.

"Now is not the time to be bursting your bubbles and socialising in person," police said.

"It is important people stick to these bubbles and work from home, where possible."

Residents going to collect takeaways and to other businesses are reminded to wear a face covering and to be patient if they experience a wait to pick up their items.

The vast majority of people have continued to do the right thing during this outbreak of COVID-19 and police are asking that this continues.

6:45pm - An initiative to get people vaccinated against COVID-19 in New Plymouth this morning using the lure of a free bacon buttie is being hailed a success.

The city's vaccination centre threw out the appointment book and put on breakfast and an espresso for anyone getting a jab between 7am and 9am. 

Read the full story here.

6:18pm - Foodstuffs has confirmed the issue involving tills in some South Island stores is now fixed and stores have been advised they can return to normal trading.

6:15pm - The Ministry of Health has updated the locations of interest list. The new locations are:

  • PJ's Laundromat Clover Park
  • Mountfort Park Manurewa Sports Centre Steps
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22

6:05pm - Some South Island supermarket till systems were down on Wednesday afternoon after a standard IT update caused stability issues with the point of sale network.

A spokesperson for Foodstuffs (which operates Pak'nSave, Four Square, New World) confirmed the IT maintenance update was pushed through the system at 4pm causing some issues.

"The issue has been identified and the team are carrying out an urgent fix at the moment – and we hope to have the system back up and running shortly," they said. 

"We would really like to apologise to customers who have been trying to shop during this time, we know the system being offline is an inconvenience, but rest assured we are working hard to get things online again as quickly as possible.

"I can confirm this issue was not caused by a cyber-attack – it was simply an IT maintenance issue which unintentionally destabilised the stores online environment."

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.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: Getty Images

5:45pm - High winds could affect travel on SH1 over the Auckland Harbour Bridge overnight, with MetService forecasting gales, potentially in excess of 100 km/hr.

The winds may force a change to the lane layout on the bridge or the bridge may be fully closed.

While traffic volumes are lower in Auckland while the city remains in alert level 3, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is reminding road users to still plan ahead and allow more time for their journey.

Motorists are urged to keep within their lane when crossing the bridge, drive to the conditions and look out for our electronic message boards which will indicate further lane closures and reduced speeds.

Drivers of high sided vehicles and motorcyclists are encouraged to avoid the bridge and use the Western Ring on State Highways 16 and 18.

Wānaka couple William Willis, Hannah Rawnsley.
Wānaka couple William Willis, Hannah Rawnsley. Photo credit: Newshub

5:18pm - Police have completed their investigation into an Auckland couple that allegedly used essential worker exemptions to travel through a Police checkpoint, to then fly to Wānaka from Hamilton.

The 26-year-old woman and 35-year-old man have both been summonsed to court on a charge of failing to comply with the health order (COVID19).

A police spokesperson said they are expected to appear in the Papakura District Court on October 14, 2021.

"Police have carried out a thorough investigation into this matter.

"While we appreciate there is a high level of public interest in this case, Police are unable to comment further while the matter is before the Court."

4:45pm - National Party leader Judith Collins has questioned the Government's use of the COVID Response and Recovery Fund to increase Radio New Zealand's operating budget by $7 million.

She said it is an example of money borrowed on behalf of taxpayers to fund "pet projects" unrelated to the pandemic response.

"Today, the Prime Minister defended using the COVID fund to spend public money borrowed to get all New Zealanders through COVID on dodgy Creative NZ funding decisions, the failing Three Waters policy and a $7 million baseline increase for Radio New Zealand," she said.

"But couldn't recall whether money from the fund had actually been used to increase ICU capacity – which is a real and urgent need in this pandemic.

"The Prime Minister defended funding the Three Waters policy from the COVID fund by citing the creation of jobs and building infrastructure.

"It's pretty hard to believe the $710 million for Three Waters is a COVID response when the Government committed to the programme in 2018.

"And how does pumping another $7 million a year into Radio NZ's operating budget qualify as spending on COVID recovery? Radio NZ is already fully funded by taxpayers and doesn't rely on advertising revenue, so why does it get more money while commercial operations have seen their turnover slashed?

"The truth is that the COVID fund is nothing more than a slush fund for the Government's pet projects."

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

4:15pm - Othello Superette in the south Auckland suburb Clover Park and BP Connect Flatbush have been added to the locations of interest.

Here's what you need to know if you were there during the corresponding times:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22

3:50pm - The Ministry of Health has confirmed Upper Hauraki has moved to alert level 3. They have issued a statement confirming the changes which can be read below:

Upper Hauraki has moved to Alert Level 3 in line with Auckland’s Alert Level change overnight.

This means residents in Upper Hauraki must adhere to the current Alert Level 3 restrictions.

In addition to the Alert Level 3 settings in place for Upper Hauraki, a section 70 Health Act direction remains in place. The section 70 was introduced on Monday to reduce the chance of any transmission of cases outside of the Upper Hauraki area.

The section 70 direction applies to anyone who lived or visited a household, worked indoors or attended an indoor gathering in the Upper Hauraki area between 8 September and 20 September, and who left the area before 7:30pm on 20 September. The section 70 direction does not apply to anyone who drove through the Upper Hauraki area during that time period and did not stop (or who only stopped at petrol stations or truck stops).

This means those covered by the section 70 direction must isolate at their place of residence and should monitor for symptoms. In addition, if any people have attended a specific Location of Interest as listed on the Ministry of Health’s website, they will have specific self-isolation requirements.

People who are subject to the section 70 notice are able to leave their place of isolation to get a COVID-19 test, access a health service, including to get a COVID-19 vaccine, or for any other reason if necessary to preserve their own or any other person’s life or safety.

For those people still living or working in the Upper Hauraki area, the Alert Level 3 restrictions apply and will be regularly reviewed.

Upper Hauraki’s move to Alert Level 3 has been made possible because of the community pulling together to follow the rules, get tested and keep each other safe. For instance, approximately 95 percent of contacts identified as part of the Mangitangi School exposure event have now been tested, with just six results pending. All results so far have been negative.

We are regularly reviewing these settings, based on public health advice and evidence of testing and compliance in the area, to make decisions on the next steps for Upper Hauraki and the people covered by the section 70 direction in the coming days.

At this stage, the requirements to isolate under the section 70 notice are in place until 11.59am this Friday morning (24 September).

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: Supplied/ Police

3:25pm - Three people have been arrested following an investigation into a series of burglaries in Auckland that have occurred during the alert level 4 lockdown.  

A police spokesperson said on Tuesday officers from the Auckland City West Area’s Tactical Crime Unit, with assistance from the Financial Crime Unit, carried out search warrants at two properties in Mount Albert and Mount Roskill.

"A 27-year-old woman has been charged with a number of offences including eight burglaries in the Auckland City Area.

"This included five alleged burglaries targeting Post Shops in Mt Roskill, Epsom, College Hill and Auckland's CBD along with other burglaries at construction sites in central Auckland during lockdown."

The woman will appear in the Auckland District Court next month.

Two other people have also been arrested as a result of further fraud offences identified.

"Police located a large amount of stolen property during the search warrants including high-end bags, tools and construction equipment," the spokesperson said.

"Police are making follow up enquiries in relation to this stolen property."

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: Newshub

2:50pm - ACT Party leader David Seymour is calling on the Government to confirm when the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is expected to be completed.

"Businesses and households want certainty about what happens next. If they can't get certainty, they at least need transparency about how decisions will be made. At this point, it's not clear when the vaccine roll out will be complete, or what that even means," he said.

"So today I asked Chris Hipkins. I asked him when the roll out will be complete, what modelling has been done. He gave a completely new answer.

"The roll out will be complete, he said, when enough people are vaccinated to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID. That may be a sensible target, but if it's true, why didn't he just say that earlier.

"If it's the case that we're not waiting for everyone to have had a chance to be vaccinated, we're not waiting for 90 per cent of people to be vaccinated, we're waiting for vaccination rates to be sufficient to protect the hospitals, the Government should release this thinking and the modelling behind it.

"If they do not have such modelling, and they really are flying blind, they should say that, too."

2:30pm - Several visits to Pak'nSave Clendon Park and Countdown Manurewa have been added to the Ministry of Health's locations of interest.

Read the full times and health advice below.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22

2:10pm - Winston Peters has questioned the Government on New Zealand's COVID-19 response.

"When is cabinet going to finally admit that covid elimination is just not possible - and mass vaccination is the only way to our economic and social freedom?" he tweeted on Wednesday. 

"Stop the daily hand-wringing and get on with the programme that should have started months ago - as was promised."

1:45pm - To recap what we just heard from the COVID-19 press conference:

There are 23 new cases of COVID-19, all in Auckland.

All but one of those cases have been linked to the original Delta outbreak.

The upper Hauraki area has now been moved to COVID-19 alert level 3 with Auckland.

Meanwhile, more NCEA relief is on the way for Auckland students, with a maximum of 16 credits to become available under the learning recognition scheme - two more than the rest of New Zealand.

1:44pm - Hipkins reminds New Zealanders it's "never too late" to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and urges people to come forward for the jab.

1:40pm - COVID Minister Hipkins says alert level 4 gave New Zealand "the best possible start" to stamping out the virus again.

1:35pm - According to the latest Ministry of Health data, 40 percent of New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

1:31pm - The Government is continuing to pursue a COVID-19 elimination strategy or a "zero tolerance" for cases, Hipkins says.

1:26pm - Hipkins says he wants daily COVID-19 vaccination numbers to keep climbing.

1:25pm - COVID Minister Hipkins says the Government is working hard to reach the younger demographic to encourage them to get vaccinated against the virus.

1:23pm - Dr Bloomfield says vaccination the most important part of getting New Zealand back to COVID-19 alert level 1.

1:18pm - Wednesday's COVID-19 data by the numbers:

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

1:15pm - Hipkins, also the Education Minister, confirms the number of learning recognition credits for senior secondary school students will be increased for Auckland pupils.

"It means students in Auckland will have a fair opportunity to attain NCEA, despite the additional disruption they have experienced," he says.

1:12pm - Hipkins says the Government is considering making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for health care workers.

"I've asked the Ministry of Health to consult with key stakeholders on a proposal that would require the majority of health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19," he told reporters.

"This would apply to staff in roles with a COVID-19 pathway that includes emergency departments, those in primary care, those in settings with vulnerable patients and it would include people working in aged care residential facilities."

1:09pm - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is speaking now. He says 59,000 vaccine doses were administered on Tuesday.

1:06pm - Health chief Dr Bloomfield says false information about COVID-19 is still spreading "like the pandemic" itself. He urges people to point others to reliable sources of information.

1:04pm - Dr Bloomfield says there's been a good response to COVID-19 testing in the upper Hauraki region. A Section 70 health order was put in place in the area for five days after three household members of an infected remand prisoner tested positive for COVID-19 there on Sunday.

1:01pm - There are 23 new community cases of COVID-19, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirms. All of the infections are in Auckland.

12:45pm - Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and COVID-19 Response Minister will arrive at Parliament shortly to provide updates on New Zealand's Delta outbreak. You can watch the 1pm press conference live on Three and in the video above.

12:43pm - On Tuesday, the number of eligible New Zealanders fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 1,644,597.

12:26pm - Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford says about three-quarters of Auckland's shops will be able to partially operate under COVID-19 alert level 3.

"The reality is that the sales that they generate through those channels will be substantially lower," he told Newshub. "We expect sales to be about 20 percent of what they would normally be."

12:16pm - The Ministry of Health has added three new COVID-19 locations of interest on Wednesday afternoon, one being a Pak'nSave supermarket.

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

12:11pm - Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will provide an update on New Zealand's Delta outbreak and vaccine rollout, during a press conference at Parliament at 1pm. You can watch it live on Three and in the video above.

12:05pm - Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is blasting the Government over its COVID-19 elimination strategy.

"When is Cabinet going to finally admit that COVID elimination is just not possible - and mass vaccination is the only way to our economic and social freedom?

"Stop the daily hand-wringing and get on with the programme that should have started months ago - as was promised."

11:57am - Asked by National Party COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop why the Government didn't negotiate additonal Pfizer doses between October and December, Hipkins said there was "no basis" to do that.

Hipkins says the Government made decisions based on the information available on different vaccines - including Pfizer and AstraZeneca - at the time.

11:53am - Hipkins says the Government originally wanted a "balanced portfolio" of COVID-19 vaccines - hence why it didn't purchase more Pfizer doses in October.

11:50am - Asked by ACT leader David Seymour what's stopping Auckland moving to COVID-19 alert level 2, Hipkins said it was mainly due to the number of cases yet to be linked to the original Delta outbreak.

11:47am - COVID Minister Hipkins says the number of COVID-19 cases currently emerging from household contacts and driving infection numbers up isn't "something I would lose sleep over".

11:44am - Hipkins says about another 7000 MIQ rooms are still to be released this year "based on the most recent count I had".

11:43am - Asked how many people are currently awaiting managed isolation rooms, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the Government doesn't have a "great estimate" of that.

11:00am - Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield are appearing before a select committee on the pandemic response. Watch it live here:

10:51am -
UK TV show Spitting Image has once again turned its satirical eye on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, this time in a Sound of Music parody of New Zealand's latest COVID-19 lockdown.

In a sketch that aired on Saturday night (local time), Ardern announces at one of her familiar stand-ups New Zealand has had a single case of the deadly coronavirus so "nanny has no choice but to impose a full lockdown".

10:38am - Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi is angry his electorate's residents haven't been consulted properly over two new managed isolation facilities proposed for Rotorua.

The party claims one the facilities is planned for quarantining positive COVID-19 patients.

Waititi told Newshub residents don't want it.

"They believe they've got enough, they've done enough and it's time for other towns around the country to start picking up some of the weight." 

10:26am - The Warehouse Group, which operates stores including The Warehouse and Noel Leeming and employs 11,000 New Zealanders, is offering $100 to every employee that gets fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

"To help protect our people, our communities and our customers against COVID-19, we are offering our team of 11,000 an incentive in the hope it drives them to get the jab," company chief executive Nick Grayston says in a statement.

"All employees who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine up until November 26 are eligible. The $100 payment will be paid out to staff in December," the statement says.

10:23am - Some believe restrictions lifting in Auckland could signify a shift in the Government's COVID-19 response.

Auckland University medical professor Des Gorman says New Zealand's attitude is changing.

"I think the decision to move from level 4 to level 3 is a concession that there's going to be a need to move from a 'zero tolerance for cases' to a 'zero tolerance for deaths' and then that will soften even further still," he told Newshub. 

10:11am - ACT leader David Seymour is lashing out at the Government's "horrific" handling and transparency around COVID-19.

"Clearly, level 4 wasn't working but they kept it going for a couple of weeks anyway because they don't seem to care about balancing all the other aspects of New Zealanders' welfare," he told Magic Talk's Leah Panapa.

"COVID's important but it's not everything and for a growing number of people, especially in small business, it's not even the most important issue that we're facing."

10:03am - COVID-19 has now killed as many US citizens as the 1918-19 flu pandemic, otherwise known as the Spanish Flu.

About 2000 a day are dying at present, with at least 675,000 Americans dying from the disease.

Click here for the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from aroud the world.

9:59am - Aucklanders are being urged not to take their new COVID-19 freedoms too far now the super city is at alert level 3.

"Alert level 3 is not alert level 'free,'" Auckland City councillor Alf Filipaina said.

9:44am - Josephine Bartley, a councillor for Auckland's Maungakiekie-Tāmaki ward, thinks people should be vaccinated against COVID-19 at KFC while waiting in the drive-thru.

"I'm more than aware that KFC has a massive customer base in Auckland and notably in areas for raising COVID vaccination rates," she says in a letter to KFC owner Restaurant Brands, shared on social media.

"Is there a way to have a vaccination bus or vaccination drive through stations at these outlets[?]"

Her idea has received praise from fellow Auckland councillors.

"We've got to try every possible avenue to get people informed & vaccinated. Good thinking @jobartleynz & appreciate all your efforts for the community," Manukau Ward councillor Efeso Collins said on Twitter.

9:41am - Government emails about billionaire Larry Page show he wanted his child's medical evacuation to New Zealand to be kept quiet.

An email from private air ambulance company New Zealand Air Ambulance Service (NZAAS) to Customs and health officials noted the family had requested a "high level of discretion and confidentiality".

Gill Bonnett of RNZ reports.

9:39am - Clincal psychologist Dougal Sutherland says it could make a world of difference for Aucklanders getting back into a routine, now COVID-19 restrictions have eased slightly meaning some can return to work.

"[It] helps people - beacuse when you're feeling productive, when you're contributing and feeling valued - that can also help lift your mood," he told Newshub. "Plus, it allows you to get out of the house." 

9:28am - Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says the best thing New Zealanders can do to stop a climb in  COVID-19 cases is to get vaccinated.

Since making the alert level move announcement, both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Bloomfield have stressed a need for caution - noting most people should still remain at home and keep their bubbles intact. They say New Zealand can stamp out the virus if the rules are followed. 

"The way that people can reassure themselves and the rest of Auckland is to abide by those level three restrictions, that is, stay within your bubble as much as possible - even going out to work - use a mask when you're going out, watch physical distancing, and of course the most important thing is don't go to work or anywhere if you're around unwell," Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show.

9:20am - Auckland City Mayor Phil Goff is urging residents to stay local during COVID-19 alert level 3.

"While alert level 3 is a much-needed boost for Auckland, I ask that people continue to follow the rules and stick to their bubbles," he says.

"Aucklanders have done the hard yards for the past five weeks but the job isn't done yet. We all need to remember that the end of alert level 4 is not the end of lockdown and we still need to be vigilant.

"None of us want to go back to alert level 4 and there are two things we can all do to help ensure that doesn't happen; stick to the rules and get vaccinated - it really is that simple."

9:09am - Health officials believe the rise of COVID-19 cases in New Zealand will continue for a few more weeks yet.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says the country needs to get used to it.

"We know Delta spreads quite liberally inside households," Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show.

"These are household members or very close contacts, who are now isolating and we just know... that over the next couple of weeks about 50 or 60 of them are likely to come through [positive]."

9am - After failing to get a spot through the managed isolation (MIQ) lottery, Climate Change Minister James Shaw and his entourage got a room anyway to return from a conference in Glasgow.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern got involved, ensuring the delegation would get MIQ spots on their return from the climate conference.

The Opposition has blasted the decision.

"Captain Planet was a hero but James Shaw sadly isn't taking pollution down to zero - he's actually raising it by flying over there and potentially bringing COVID back to boot," ACT leader David Seymour said.

"The Prime Minister should step in and tell minister Shaw not to travel... or, at the very least, significantly reduce the size of his entourage," said National Party Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith. "The minimum 10 - possibly now up to 20 - rooms that will be taken up by minister Shaw and his delegation on return could, for example, be used by nurses wanting to enter New Zealand to alleviate pressure on our emergency departments, family members wanting to see dying relatives, or New Zealanders desperately trying to come home for Christmas."

8:53am - Speaking to RNZ's Morning Report, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said New Zealand may not get back to having no community cases of COVID-19.

"We may not get back to zero but the important thing is we're going to keep finding any infections and basically continue to contact trace, test, isolate people so that we stop the virus circulating in the community - and that is the aim," Dr Bloomfield said.

"Everyone recognises, including the modellers, that it [the vaccination rate] needs to be north of 90 percent for us to be really comfortable that we can open up to the sort of freedoms we had in alert level 1. It's the best new tool in our toolbox.

"The other thing is that if we get that very high vaccination rate then the level of baseline restrictions will be minimal and that's where we want to be."

8:44am - WOMAD NZ will return in the summer of 2022, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles - who's been one of New Zealand's leading voices during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Digital entertainment editor Monika Barton reports.

8:35am - Ashley Bloomfield says there "clearly has been some interaction between households that has lead to some of these new cases" but he's "confident that the vast majority of Aucklanders... will be doing exactly what's required of them under alert level 3".

"That's why we got on top of what was quite a big Delta outbreak," the Director-General of Health told The AM Show. "We're now down to a relatively small number of cases," Dr Bloomfield said.

8:25am - The Director-General of Health is confident the "vast majority of Aucklanders" will adhere to the alert level 3 rules while admitting there has been some interaction between households leading to cases.

For those concerned about the move down alert levels in Auckland, Ashley Bloomfield told The AM Show on Wednesday they can be reassured by noting the "vast majority of [new COVID cases] are close family and other contacts and many of them are in isolation facilities or isolating at home".

"The way that people can reassure themselves and the rest of Auckland is to abide by those level three restrictions, that is, stay within your bubble as much as possible - even going out to work - use a mask when you're going out, watch physical distancing, and of course the most important thing is don't go to work or anywhere if you're around unwell."

Between 50 and 60 cases of COVID-19 are expected in the coming weeks amongst household members, Dr Bloomfield said.

People wait for coffee outside Honey Bones cafe in Auckland's Grey Lynn.
People wait for coffee outside Honey Bones cafe in Auckland's Grey Lynn. Photo credit: Getty Images

8:13am - Judith Collins says employers shouldn't make vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory, fearing we'll "end up with two classes of people in this country" if they did.

The National Party leader appeared on The AM Show on Wednesday, and was asked if employers should have the right to not hire - or even fire - employees who refuse to be vaccinated.

"I think that's a bit too tough actually," she told host Ryan Bridge. "There's no other illness, virus or anything else that people have to have an immunisation to stay in a job. We can understand if it's frontline health workers, frontline people, border-facing workers, there's a different situation there.

"Their chances of getting and spreading COVID-19 are so much greater than everyone else."

Watch her full interview here.

8:10am - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has reprimanded the world for the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, describing it as an "obscenity".

Click here for the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from around the world.

7:55am - German politicians have expressed shock over the killing of a 20-year-old petrol station worker after an argument about a face mask and said that coronavirus deniers who are willing to use violence will not be tolerated.

The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein has hit the national headlines as it is one of the only such cases linked to COVID-19 restrictions.

Prosecutors have said that the petrol station cashier had asked a 49-year-old man who wanted to buy beer to comply with the rules and put on a mask.


A queue at Coffix in Auckland's Glen Eden.
A queue at Coffix in Auckland's Glen Eden. Photo credit: Greg Presland/Supplied

7:44am - The building industry is appealing to the Government to allow more foreign workers in to help construction.

Auckland's five week alert level 4 lockdown has caused major disruptions for construction jobs as building products were made unavailable. 

Building Industry Federation chief exeuctive Julien Lays says 60 spaces in managed isolation per month isn't enough.

"We have a shortage of 25,000 building and construction workers in the sector and so we really need the Government to help us find ways to increase that number, because we just can't do the work," he told Newshub. 

7:34am - Across the Tasman, the streets of Melbourne were on Tuesday taken over by violent protests over COVID-19 restrictions. 

A reporter was attacked by a mob twice while live on air. 

Police officers fired pepper balls and rubber pellets to disperse about 2000 protesters who defied stay-at-home orders to damage property, block a busy freeway and injure three officers, leading to more than 60 arrests.

7:22am - The Opposition leader has made an impassioned call for clarity as Auckland transitions from alert level 4 to 3.

Cafes, fast food joints and restaurants can open for contactless payments and deliveries. 

But National leader Judith Collins says not everyone understands the rules.

"People need to know. I say to the Government, release the health advice," she told The AM Show.

"They had health advice they said they relied on, on Monday, to make the decision to put Auckland into level 3 despite the fact that there were new COVID cases in the community.

"So what is that advice? Can they release it and why not?"

7:11am - Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has told The AM Show that as of Tuesday night, there have been no further positive cases of COVID-19 detected in northern Hauraki.

A Section 70 health order was put in place for northern parts of Waikato for five days after three household members of an infected remand prisoner tested positive for COVID-19 in the area on Sunday.

6:55am - National Party leader Judith Collins says it's "a bit too tough" for employers to implement "no jab, no job" policies.

"There's no other illness, virus or anything else that people have to have an immunisation to stay in a job. We can understand if it's frontline health workers, frontline people, border-facing workers - there's a different situation there," she told The AM Show. "Their chances of getting and spreading COVID-19 are so much greater than everyone else. I think it really is one of those things where the Government has thousands of people working for it in the Ministry of Health - they can be working out some policies and guidance for employers and employees.

"I think it's also very important that we don't end up with two classes of people in this country."

Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, September 22
Photo credit: The AM Show

6:49am - A leading professor of medicine hopes increased fines for COVID-19 rule violations will have a positive impact.

People can now face a fine of up to $4000 for breaching COVID-19 restrictions. 

Auckland University medical professor Des Gorman says it may improve the morale of people who are doing the right thing.

"People are trying very hard and are paying a high price for that," he told Newshub. "I think it's reassuring them to see that people who don't actually play the game, as it were, are being held to account."

6:40am - Esssy stopped early at McDonald's Māngere to get his family breakfast.

"Really excited... especially the kids, they waited for a long time," he said. "[We got] a big hunger buster and a hotcake."

6:20am - The move to alert level 3 means takeaway stores can open.

Courtney and Daniel queued up for burgers at an Auckland McDonald's that opened at 3am and say it was well worth the wait.

"It's amazing," Courtney told The AM Show.

"It lives up to what it's said to be," Daniel added.