Fifteen new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded on Wednesday, all of whom are in Auckland - bringing the outbreak to 855.
After several days of plateauing numbers - 20, 20, 20 and 21 respectively - there has been a minor drop in infections, with one data modeller optimistic that Auckland will start seeing single-digits next week.
Wednesday also marks the start of alert level 2 for most of New Zealand - Auckland excluded. The restrictions have been modified to add further protection against the highly transmissible Delta strain, with tougher caps on indoor and outdoor gatherings, mandatory record-keeping, and compulsory face coverings in most settings. The rules have proved contentious, with some business owners complaining that reduced capacity is impacting their revenue and ability to trade.
Meanwhile, the failure to isolate a symptomatic patient at Middlemore Hospital, who later tested positive for COVID-19, is being blamed on "chronic understaffing" and intense pressure on the healthcare system - but the Health Minister has defended the blunder, saying staff sought advice and that was the judgement they made.
But failing to isolate the man, who remained in a room with four other patients while awaiting his test result, has resulted in 29 workers being required to isolate - exacerbating the already "chronic" shortage and fuelling concerns around the workload for remaining staff.
Andrew Little told The AM Show staff had been wearing PPE and there was "some distance" - as well as "curtains" - separating the infectious man and other patients.
According to Stuff, the Government is making moves to introduce booster shots next year, with Novavax reportedly the top contender, subject to Medsafe approval.
What you need to know:
- Fifteen new cases were recorded on Wednesday, all in Auckland, bringing the outbreak to 855 - 218 people have now recovered and one case has been reclassified as a border infection
- Five of today's cases were likely infectious in the community, with 17 associated exposure events - the majority of which were at essential workplaces
- The number of unlinked cases to the outbreak has increased to 25, up one from Tuesday
- The rest of New Zealand moved to 'Delta level 2' at 11:59pm on Tuesday - Auckland will stay in level 4 until 11:59pm next Tuesday, September 14
- Thirty-seven people are in hospital - six in the ICU with four requiring ventilation
- The wage subsidy is still available - if any part of the country is at level 3 or 4, people can still apply for the subsidy, including those in the South Island
- The Government is finalising a deal to procure additional supply of the Pfizer vaccine for this month to keep up with the current demand
- Twenty-nine staff are now isolating after a patient at Middlemore Hospital tested positive for COVID-19 - but wasn't isolated while awaiting his result
- See all the latest locations of interest here.
These live updates have finished.
8pm - Essential workers transiting in and out of Auckland will have to be tested weekly and the Government continues to ask all symptomatic people - especially Aucklanders - to get tested.
Professor Michael Plank, from Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, says while PCR testing of nasal swabs is considered the "gold standard", there are other methods that can be useful in specific situations.
"Saliva testing is a different way of collecting a sample, which is then tested by PCR. Most research shows this has comparable accuracy as nasal swabs. Saliva testing would be a good option for people who need to be tested regularly, e.g. border workers and arrivals in MIQ," he says.
This is because it is less invasive, meaning it can be done more frequently.
"This would actually give better protection than weekly nasal swabs because it is more likely to pick cases up early, so they can be isolated before they have a chance to pass the virus on."
The other type of test is a rapid antigen test, sometimes called a lateral flow test, which come in a self-contained test kit.
"They are less accurate than PCR tests and are more likely to miss infections particularly in the very early or late stages of infection. However, they have the advantage that they provide results quickly (usually within half an hour) and do not require lab processing," Plank says.
However, he points out that rapid antigen tests aren't recommended for people who have symptoms - these people should get a PCR test - but widespread use of rapid tests could help in this outbreak as an extra form of surveillance.
"For example, these could be used regularly for essential workers and for people crossing the Auckland boundary," Plank says.
"In the UK, rapid antigen test kits are widely and freely available. New South Wales also uses them for essential workers. They shouldn't be relied on to catch every last case, but they could be very useful as an additional layer of Swiss cheese in our system."
7:20pm - More than three million New Zealanders are enjoying a little bit of freedom under Delta alert level 2, but it isn't the freedom we're used to.
Businesses outside of Auckland are adjusting to the tougher restrictions of the turbocharged version of level 2.
It's level 2, but not as we know it. Hospitality venues, even larger ones, are now limited to 50 customers inside at a one-metre distance.
At public facilities, like museums and gyms, there's no limit on people as long as they're distanced by two metres.
6:50pm - A leading COVID-19 expert says it's possible we will see another big cluster of cases after the Middlemore Hospital slip-up, - a scenario which could delay Auckland's move out of alert level 4.
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says it will all depend on how infectious the case was who was put on the ward - and the fact he wasn't wearing a mask is a concern.
Another key factor will be the day five tests from all the close contacts - 120 patients and 29 staff are among them.
6:35pm - All Countdown supermarkets outside of Auckland will move back to their regular trading hours from Thursday.
General manager of safety, Kiri Hannifin, says with customers adjusting to level 2 and the supply chain and stores seeing less pressure, they are able to go back to normal hours.
"Customers throughout the country are doing a great job when it comes to wearing their masks in our stores - including at alert level 2. We'd ask that they keep it up and continue to be kind to our teams working in stores," she says.
Countdown stores throughout the Auckland region will continue to operate with shorter hours from 8am to 9pm. This excludes Countdown Mangere East and Countdown Manukau, which will close slightly earlier at 7pm, and Countdown Mangere Mall and Countdown Onehunga, which will close at 8pm, due to some team still needing to isolate at home.
"Auckland stores will continue to open their doors early for medical personnel, MIQ and emergency workers from 7am to 8am every day, giving them time and space to pick up the food and essentials they need," Hannifin says.
6:15pm - More than 60 additional police officers from around New Zealand will be deployed to assist at Auckland's northern and southern checkpoints.
"This boost in support ensures Police have sufficient resource to service regular operational demands and maintain a strong focus on alert level 4 compliance in Tāmaki Makaurau," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says.
"It also means staff currently working on checkpoints get a well-earned break."
The support will arrive later this week and will consist of 34 staff who have volunteered for the deployment. They will be rotated out for an additional 34 staff at the completion of a set of shifts.
"Staff will be working and accommodated in the Waikato region, under alert level 2, and won't be required to cross into the alert level 4 region," Coster says.
"We want to acknowledge our hard working staff who are currently operating our checkpoints in what can, at times, be unforgiving weather conditions."
6:05pm - There are two more locations of interest. They are:
- Kwality mini bazaar, Thursday 26 August from 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm
- Galaxie Dairy Mt Eden, Saturday 4 September from 2:09 pm - 2:12 pm.
5:50pm - Earlier this morning, a vehicle failed to stop for police at the southern boundary checkpoint in Mercer, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says.
The Eagle helicopter watched the car as it drove north before stopping at a Kelston address.
After police arrived at the address to find the male driver, he allegedly assaulted two officers.
"A number of people" at the address then came out and began "obstructing and being assaultive" to police, Coster says.
Two officers needed treatment for injuries.
"A 27-year-old was due to appear in the Waitākere District Court this afternoon on a number of charges, including failing to stop, aggravated assault x3 and driving while suspended," Coster says.
"A 60-year-old female has been summonsed to appear in the Waitākere District Court on 20th October on charges of assaults Police and Obstructing Police.
"A third person will be referred to the Iwi Community panels."
5:40pm - ACT leader David Seymour is calling on the Government to apologise "for the mistake that most likely caused the current lockdown" - cancelling pre-departure testing from New South Wales.
"The Government was always wrong and now by reinstating pre-departure testing from New South Wales, it has admitted it was wrong. That comes after days of defending its cancellation of pre-departure tests against all logic," he says.
"Passengers on the newly announced 'red flight' from Sydney must have pre-departure tests within 72 hours of departure.
"The Government previously dropped the requirement for pre-departure testing for Kiwis coming home from New South Wales, while practically every other location on earth requires pre-departure testing and MIQ if you want to come to New Zealand."
Seymour says while he's pleased the Government has introduced this measure, it's "a shame" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn't admit they were wrong not to have introduced it in the first place.
5:15pm - Auckland University of Technology says all teaching and learning will remain online for the rest of semester two, regardless of changes in alert levels.
An AUT spokesperson says there will also be no in-person assessments or in-person exams for semester two courses. Exceptions for online learning will be allowed for practical course activities and students will be told about these.
The spokesperson adds that this applies to ensure learning can continue with minimum disruption and students and teaching staff can plan ahead.
5pm - Health experts have given advice for managing the shift back to school once they reopen on Thursday.
Dr Jin Russell, a developmental paediatrician at Starship Children's Hospital and PhD Student at the University of Auckland, says she's glad the Delta outbreak is controlled outside of Auckland and students can return to school.
"Parents and children may feel both relieved and anxious at the same time to be returning to school. While we do need to be cautious about the delta variant and ensuring we are following public health advice closely, parents and students can feel reassured that when there is very low likelihood of community transmission, students are at very low risk of catching COVID-19 in schools," she says.
"The majority of children who are infected with COVID-19 experience a mild or asymptomatic infection, however the risk to children is not zero, and rarely, severe disease can result. This is why it is so important for children over the age of 12 to be vaccinated, and for school staff to be vaccinated as well."
Dr Dougal Sutherland, a clinical psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington, says while level 2 will come as a relief for some, there may be worry and anxiety among others - especially among parents as their children go back to school.
"Parents and teachers will be well aware of the difficulties of enforcing physical distancing between children, whether they be five or 15 years old, and this may raise the concern of COVID-19 spreading, especially given the apparent speed of the Delta variant," he says.
"Anxiety may be compounded for some families if parents remain working from the relative safety of home whilst children are out and about."
Dr Sutherland says the "ambiguity" of rules for children over the age of 12 could cause worry and confusion for families and teachers.
"Children over 12 are now able to be vaccinated, yet they are not required to wear masks at school nor on school buses, which often resemble sardine cans," he says.
"In such times of uncertainty, focusing and acting on factors within an individual's control (e.g., wearing a mask, washing hands, and getting vaccinated) can alleviate some of this worry."
4:30pm - There is a new location of interest. It is:
- Unichem Pharmacy Mangere East, Wednesday 1 September from 12:00pm - 12:30pm.
4:10pm - A second red flight for people eligible for MIQ emergency allocations is scheduled to fly from Sydney to Auckland on Wednesday September 15.
The deadline for applications via the MIQ website is 5pm (3pm AEST) on September 11.
Brigadier Rose King, joint head of MIQ, says all travellers on red flights must stay in MIQ for 14 days and the normal rules on paying for the stay will apply.
"Following the Sydney-Auckland red flight on Sunday 5 September, when 93 people returned to New Zealand, a second flight will enable more people in urgent situations to come home. With emergency allocations suspended for people in Australia since July, this brings Australia back in line with the rest of the world, where people have continued to have access to emergency allocations,". King says.
"Although an announcement on the future of quarantine-free travel with Australia is expected later in September, people who are eligible for this flight on 15 September are encouraged to take this opportunity to return to New Zealand."
All travellers on this flight must have the right to enter New Zealand, must have not been at a location of interest in the previous 14 days, and must present a negative pre-departure test when checking in at the airport.
This flight isn't open to the public, so people shouldn't be contacting airlines directly.
4pm - Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy has provided a look inside his COVID-19 modelling, which demonstrates how vaccine uptake could make the path to elimination much shorter.
But Hendy also revealed that high rates of vaccination won't necessarily lead to herd immunity, and that measures such as mask wearing and social distancing will still be needed to keep people safe.
In a virtual presentation to Parliament's Health Select Committee on Wednesday, Hendy showed a series of graphs, one which depicted how long the path to elimination COVID-19 would be, depending on vaccine uptake.
"Is it correct to read that the time to eliminate an outbreak roughly halves if we move from 30 to 50 percent vaccination?" asked National MP Chris Bishop.
"I think that's a fair assessment," said Prof Hendy. "You generally expect something like that, I mean, rule of thumb is, as you increase your vaccination rates, the time to elimination will decrease."
3:40pm - Police and the Ministry of Social Development have teamed up with community partners to help access support they need while in lockdown.
"COVID Response is a joint Police and MSD collaboration put in place for the 2020 alert level 4 lockdown. It was reinstated last month to help families and individuals get the support they need but can't access because of the necessary restrictions," Police said on Twitter.
"During the 2020 lockdown, COVID Response helped 566 whānau - so we know working together works and that providing assistance creates reassurance in uncertain times."
3:15pm - Police are reminding Kiwis to continue adhering with the rules as most of the country enters its first day at 'Delta level 2'.
"Police aim to operate pragmatically and with a high-trust approach regarding the new rules," a spokesperson said on Wednesday. "Again, most people are complying with these restrictions, and police thanks the majority who are doing their bit.
"For those in Tāmaki Makaurau, who remain at alert level 4 for longer - thank you for your efforts in helping keep New Zealand safe."
- Since alert level 4 came into place, 202 people have been charged with a total of 217 offences nationwide as at 5pm yesterday
- Of the charges filed, 196 were for offences committed in level 4 and 21 were for offences committed in level 3
- Of these, 145 are for Failing to Comply with Order (COVID-19), 44 for Failure to Comply with Direction/Prohibition/Restriction, 19 for Health Act Breaches, and nine for Assaults/Threatens/Hinders/Obstructs Enforcement Officer
- In the same time period, 515 people were warned for 518 offences
- Of the formal warnings, 222 were for Failing to Comply with Order (COVID-19), 159 for Failure to Comply with Direction/Prohibition/Restriction, 136 for Health Act Breaches, and one was for Assaults/Threatens/Hinders/Obstructs Enforcement Officer.
Since August 18, police have been issuing infringements for COVID-related breaches.
As at 5pm on Tuesday, police have issued 3872 infringements nationwide - 2936 of these were issued under the previous Health Order, primarily for people who left their homes for non-essential personal movement.
Since the new Health Order came into force on September 1, 936 infringements have been issued as follows:
- Left home / residence other than for essential personal movement (AL4) – 500
- Left home / residence other than for essential personal movement (AL3) – 350
- Other breaches under the new Health Order – 86.
Police have now received a total of 17,907 105-online reports of rule breaches - 11,018 were about a gathering, 5141 were about a business, and 1748 were about a person.
3:10pm - Students from two of Auckland's largest specialist schools have stepped up to have their vaccinations with the support of the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre (NRHCC) outreach team.
Sommerville School in the Auckland suburb of Panmure (one of New Zealand's largest specialist schools) and Parkside School in Pukekohe cater for students aged five to 21 years with complex social, physical and educational needs.
On Tuesday, the NRHCC's outreach team visited Somerville School, vaccinating 80 students and their families. Today, the team moved on to Parkside to vaccinate almost 200 students and their whānau across the school's two bases.
Sommerville Principal Belinda Johnston said: "We've got some very happy families who couldn't have had their children vaccinated without this opportunity."
Johnston said a lot of her students, who have anxiety, would have struggled to get jabbed at a large vaccination centre.
"For some, being in an unfamiliar situation doesn't help their anxiety levels, so being able to have them here in a friendly, quiet environment where they are supported is just amazing."
NRHCC disability lead Katie Daniel said while Auckland's main vaccination centres do offer good accessibility for people with disabilities, taking the vaccination programme to specialist school communities enables students to be vaccinated in a familiar, safe environment.
3:05pm - The opening of a new and larger vaccination centre on Graham St in the heart of Auckland's central city will be welcome news for its nearly 40,000 residents, says Mayor Phil Goff.
The centre, which replaces the former vaccination site in the atrium next to the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility, will have the capacity to vaccinate 1000 people per day - an increase of roughly 400.
"The city centre is one of the most diverse and densely populated parts of our city, with a high proportion of residents living in apartments and other multi-unit dwellings which present unique challenges for residents during lockdown," Goff said in a statement. "It's critical people in these environments have easy and accessible vaccination options close to where they live.
"With this increase in capacity, city centre residents can now book their jab for an earlier date, and I encourage them to do so."
The new vaccination centre on Graham St is in addition to 10 primary care clinics providing vaccinations in the central city:
- Auckland City Doctors – 415 Queen Street
- Caring Clinic Doctors – level 8, 175 Queen Street
- Calder Health Centre – 23 Union Street
- The Doctors Quaymed Britomart – 68 Beach Rd
- The Doctors Quaymed Wynyard – 58 Gaunt Street
- Zoom Pharmacy – 11 Westhaven Drive
- Newton Medical Centre – 353 Karangahape Road
- White Cross CityMed – 8 Albert Street (enrolled patients only)
- 109 Doctors – level 3, 109 Queen Street (enrolled patients only)
- Unichem – 280 Queen Street (enrolled patients only).
A further three GP clinics and community pharmacies in the CBD will also begin providing vaccinations this month.
People can book online at bookmyvaccine.nz or by calling 0800 28 29 26.
2:55pm - Here is the full summary of Wednesday's developments from the Ministry of Health.
Fifteen community cases of COVID-19; one new case in managed isolation; over 4 million vaccines administered to date.
Number of new community cases
Number of new cases identified at the border
Location of new cases
Location of community cases (total)
Auckland 838 (210 of whom have recovered); Wellington 17 (eight of whom have recovered)
Number of community cases (total)
*855 (in current community outbreak)
Cases infectious in the community
Five (25 pct) of yesterday’s cases have exposure events
Cases in isolation throughout the period they were infected
15 (75 pct) of yesterday’s cases
Cases epidemiologically linked
13 of today’s cases
Cases to be epidemiologically linked
Two of today’s cases
Cases epidemiologically linked (total)
830 (in current cluster) (25 unlinked)
Number of sub-clusters
Eight epidemiologically linked subclusters. The two largest subclusters are the Mangere church group: 371; and Birkdale social network cluster: 76.
And nine epidemiologically unlinked subclusters.
Cases in hospital
37 (total): North Shore (8); Middlemore (14); Auckland (15)
Cases in ICU or HDU
Confirmed cases (total)
3,473 since pandemic began
Historical cases, since 1 Jan 2021 (total)
130 out of 1,655 since 1 Jan 2021
Number of contacts identified (total)
Percentage who have received outbound call from contact tracers (to confirm testing and isolation requirements)
Percentage with at least one test result
Locations of interest
Locations of interest (total)
126 (as at 10am 5 September)
Number of tests (total)
Number of tests total (last 24 hours)
Tests in Auckland (last 24 hours)
Tests rolling average (last 7 days)
Testing centres in Auckland
No unexpected detections in past 24 hours
COVID-19 vaccine update
Vaccines administered to date (total)
4,032,710; 1st doses: 2,662,131; 2nd doses: 1,370,579
Vaccines administered yesterday (total)
72,893; 1st doses: 49,594; 2nd doses: 23,299
1st doses: 245,139; 2nd doses: 120,907
1st doses: 157,145; 2nd doses: 82,434
NZ COVID-19 tracer
Registered users (total)
Poster scans (total)
Manual diary entries (total)
Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday
There may be some delays in providing data in some instances. On these occasions we will use data from the day before and clearly note this.
*A previously reported community case has been reclassified as a border case. The total number of cases associated with this outbreak has increased by 14 since yesterday.
New cases identified at the border
- Arrived from the Philippines via Singapore on September 4 and tested positive on day one due to routine testing. They are isolating in Rotorua.
2:45pm - The Park and Ride drive-through vaccination site at Auckland Airport has been closed for the rest of the day due to the bad weather.
A spokesperson said strong winds and rain have made it too challenging to continue to operate safely, but the site is expected to reopen on Thursday as usual.
2:40pm - New South Wales has recorded 1480 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night (local time).
To date, 37,535 cases have been recorded in NSW since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nine further deaths have been reported.
2:30pm - New Zealand's vaccine rollout so far has relied entirely on a single supplier, but that might change.
Millions of doses of a vaccine developed by Novavax are expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2022, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Stuff on Wednesday. Whether it will be used as an alternative to the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, as a booster or both isn't yet known, although Stuff reports that the vaccine will likely be used for a booster programme.
Trials to date have found NVX-CoV2373, as it's called, is highly effective against early strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and perhaps less likely to cause side effects than the Pfizer jab.
2:15pm - Speaking at Parliament, Health Minister Andrew Little refused accusations that Middlemore Hospital staff had failed in their duty by not isolating a COVID-positive patient while his test result was processed.
He said the public health response has been assiduous and diligent, and advice was sought after the patient began presenting symptoms of the virus.
He said staff were advised to "leave him where he was" and were told that keeping him in the room with four other patients was "sufficient to contain any risk [the man] presented".
He said after a positive test was returned, the man and the four others were isolated.
"Clinicians made the judgement they did with the information and advice that they had."
He said he has seen reports that there were no isolation rooms available at the time, but has not been able to verify that information.
"I trust our frontline clinicians to make the judgements that they do in the circumstances they are in."
2pm - Ministers are facing a grilling over the slip-up at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.
1:49pm - Hipkins also couldn't help but sneak in a quick dig at the National Party.
Late last month, a minor reshuffle of the National caucus saw Chris Bishop stripped of his shadow leader of the House portfolio, a move Opposition leader Judith Collins said would allow the MP to "focus solely on his critical role as National's spokesperson for the COVID-19 Response".
When a reporter asked Hipkins, who holds several portfolios, if he should be focusing solely on his role as COVID-19 Response Minister, he joked: "It's amazing how much you can accomplish if you focus your time and energy onto your work rather than fighting with your colleagues."
1:48pm - Dr Bloomfield says outbreaks overseas demonstrate the trickiness of Delta, with countries still battling relatively large case numbers despite high vaccination rates.
However, he said the data shows the vaccines are "incredibly effective", even against the Delta variant, at greatly reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death.
He said officials are keeping their options open and continue to monitor what's happening in other countries.
Hipkins added that regarding the trans-Tasman bubble, discussions are ongoing, but Kiwis should not be "holding their breath" for the borders to reopen any time soon.
1:39pm - Hipkins says the possibility of the trans-Tasman bubble reopening is a "fair way away".
The outbreak of the Delta variant has added a "degree of realism" to the situation.
He said it would be "unrealistic to expect speedy decisions around reopening" the bubble at this stage.
New Zealanders who remain in Australia are advised to consider securing a booking in a MIQ facility when the space is available if they want to return. Hipkins said should there be an emergency need to travel to New Zealand, people should reach out to consular officials.
1:23pm - Hipkins says the goal of the modified alert level 2 restrictions is to keep the risk-profile as low as possible, but the system is complex.
There have been questions as to why different venues have different caps on the amount of visitors permitted to enter at any given time.
For example, Te Papa is still able to host several-hundred visitors, while hospitality venues can only allow a maximum of 50 patrons indoors. Outdoor gatherings and events are able to host up to 100 people.
Hipkins said there is "not one hard-and-fast rule" - the limits take into consideration the size and layout of venues and their ability to accomodate physical distancing.
For example, everyone at Te Papa would be wearing a mask, he said, while people at cafes and restaurants are not required to wear a face covering as they would be eating and drinking.
He said Kiwis "do need to make themselves familiar" with those differences.
1:18pm - Dr Bloomfield has defended staff at Middlemore Hospital regarding their decision not to isolate a symptomatic man who later tested positive for COVID-19.
A reporter asked if the health official could admit "a serious error was made and perhaps apologise to those affected".
Dr Bloomfield acknowledged the delay in isolating the patient is being investigated, but did not offer an apology to patients who were kept in the same room as the man while his test was processed.
"It's not my job to second-guess clinicians' decisions," he said.
1:16pm - Hipkins reiterated that the risk of transmission from within a facility will never be zero, but the Government is taking the word of experts.
The source of transmission - how exactly the community outbreak began - may remain a mystery.
Hipkins said he cannot "hand on heart" give 100 percent assurance there won't be transmission at any of the facilities, but authorities are "doing everything" they can to mitigate the risk.
1:11pm - Chris Hipkins is now discussing the investigation into the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility in Auckland. The index case in the current outbreak, a returnee from Sydney, had stayed at the facility before being transferred to the Jet Park.
After significant enquiries, how exactly the virus managed to enter the community still remains unknown.
The Crowne Plaza will reopen to returnees on Thursday after the investigation found there was a "negligible" risk of transmission to the public.
1:08pm - As of Wednesday morning, just over 38,000 individual contacts have been linked to the outbreak, a small drops as numbers are tidied up. Eighty-seven percent have had a test.
Dr Bloomfield has thanked the public for getting swabbed, reiterating the importance of testing in Auckland while its outbreak continues.
He urged Aucklanders to remember that crossing the alert level boundary to get vaccinated is not acceptable as there are numerous vaccination sites across the region.
1:06pm - Nineteen of yesterday's cases were contacts of other cases, with 15 household contacts now isolating.
Five of Wednesday's cases were infectious while in the community, Dr Bloomfield said, with 17 associated exposure events - more than half relate to essential workplaces.
Thirty-seven people are in hospitals across Auckland, six of whom are in intensive care with four requiring ventilation.
More than 13,000 swabs were taken nationwide on Tuesday, 8566 of which were in Auckland - a "welcome pick-up" in testing.
1:04pm - There are 15 new community cases to report today, all are in the Auckland region.
There are 855 cases now in the outbreak - of those, 218 have recovered. One case has been reclassified as a border infection.
There are now 25 unlinked cases, however only two of today's cases have yet to be linked. An investigation continues and that number is expected to fall.
1:03pm - A significant milestone has been reached - more than four million doses of the vaccine have been administered nationwide, says Hipkins.
More than 2.6 million Kiwis have had their first dose - 366,000 of which received it over the last week.
There are now 1,379,579 fully vaccinated New Zealanders.
12:50pm - How many cases will we have today? Chris Hipkins and Dr Bloomfield will reveal the latest updates on the outbreak at 1pm.
You can watch the press conference live on Three or via our livestream. It is also available to watch above these updates.
12:40pm - Auckland University disease modeller Shaun Hendy told Parliament’s Health Select Committee on Wednesday that had we not gone into alert level 4 lockdown, the health system's capacity would have been reached this week.
"We would've hit it this week," Professor Hendy said.
12:30pm - The Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility is ready to receive returnees from Thursday.
The MIQ Technical Advisory Group (TAG) has recommended the Crowne Plaza can receive its next cohort of returnees on September 9, as planned.
Joint Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Brigadier Rose King, says this follows a thorough source investigation by public health experts, an additional Infection Prevention and Control assessment, and a review of the public walkways next to the facility.
"The TAG's findings, and the additional assurance review, confirm that the procedures and ventilation at the facility meet the relevant IPC standards, and that the risk to members of the public passing by is so low, it is negligible," she says.
"From a public health perspective, we believe the Crowne Plaza is safe to recommence accommodating returnees," says Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health.
"An Auckland Regional Public Health Service investigation into the source of the current community outbreak has concluded that transmission to a member of the public walking through the public atrium at the Crowne Plaza is highly unlikely."
Brigadier King says modelling by engineers at the University of Canterbury suggests the risk of transmission to members of the public if an infectious case were standing in the facility lobby is very low.
"The TAG has also concluded that the risk to members of the public walking through the public atrium is 'negligible' and there was no rationale or justification for shutting the public atrium," Brigadier King says.
"While the source investigation was underway, a number of precautionary measures were taken, including extending the height of the perspex barrier between the lobby and the adjacent public atrium to the ceiling where it has been sealed.
"The TAG's review also considered the walkway by the returnee fresh air area, which the public uses to access the Huawei Centre. It found that the risk of exposure to members of the public walking past returnees as they arrived at the facility or while they were getting fresh air was 'very low', and that there was limited public health or IPC rationale in closing this area.
"Although the risk has been deemed very low, out of an abundance of caution we are taking the step of raising the wall of the walkway and placing a roof on top. The roof and wall of the structure will be covered with a plastic coating."
Minor recommendations for improvement included extra signage to remind returnees to sanitise their hands, increased signage for Red or Green staff only zones, and for all of these transition zones to have PPE stations. These will be actioned before the facility welcomes returnees on King says.
Separately, the vaccination centre in the atrium is moving to a larger location at 35 Graham Street, with a capacity to vaccinate 1000 people a day - about 400 more than the current site.
12pm - The COVID-19 Response Minister and Director-General of Health will provide the latest updates on the outbreak at the 1pm press conference.
A livestream of the stand-up will be available to watch on Newshub.co.nz.
11:45am - Ministry of Health figures on Monday show 3.95 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 62 percent of the eligible population receiving a first dose and 32 percent a second dose.
But as vaccination is a choice, employees who remain undecided - or have chosen not to get the jab - may be wondering whether they need to inform their employer. Some may also be worried that their decision will put their job at risk.
Jennifer Mills, the director at Jennifer Mills and Associates, told Newshub that under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, all workers are responsible for ensuring their decisions ('acts' or 'omissions') don't affect the health and safety of others.
Employees don't have to be vaccinated to meet this duty, she said. But health and safety measures are important.
11:30am - "Better late than never", says medical expert Des Gorman, in response to the Government's deal to procure additional supply of the Pfizer vaccine.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister revealed that officials had been undertaking complex negotiating with other nations to secure further supply, with the contracts now being finalised. The surge in demand, driven by the ongoing outbreak of the Delta variant, meant additional doses were required to keep up with the current pace of vaccination. The deal will ensure there is enough supply for the month of September, says Jacinda Ardern, with another large shipment expected to arrive in October.
Gorman says while the deal is "better late than never", it is another example of the Government's "lack of preparation" regarding its vaccine rollout, which has faced a barrage of criticism throughout the year for its sluggish pace.
"It's taken a widespread outbreak to bring everyone to the realisation that we've been undercooked, we haven't been ready, and part of that lack of preparation has been vaccination," Gorman told Newshub.
"While it's always easy to be clever in hindsight, it was entirely predictable we'd end up in a situation where we needed to be able to vaccinate the country quickly."
He says the Government also needs to make a decision on whether to inoculate children, as the unvaccinated demographic leaves a significant gap in New Zealand's protection against COVID-19.
"It would be nice to have it done before Christmas while kids are still at school," he suggested.
11:15am - Booster shots should have been ordered yesterday, says University of Auckland honorary academic Professor Des Gorman.
New research has found the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine wanes after a year or so, indicating that booster jabs will be necessary to keep people protected against the virus, says Professor Gorman.
"We will need them. If you look at studies published in the British Medical Journal in the last day or so, it shows the antibody immunity wanes quite quickly, probably after a year it may have reduced from 80-odd percent to 50-odd percent," he told Newshub. "I think there's a compelling argument for boosters and we should have ordered them yesterday."
Gorman says booster shots should be provided at the very least to essential workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, such as border staff, as well as the vulnerable with underlying health conditions or other illnesses. He says there is also an argument for jabbing young people, who are more active than other demographics.
"It's been quite clear for some time that we'll need booster shots as well, so frankly, we have been very slow off the mark and under-ordered [vaccines] throughout."
Earlier on Wednesday, Stuff reported that the Government was planning to use Novavax for its pending booster programme, subject to Medsafe approval.
10:55pm - Across the Tasman, Victoria has recorded 221 new cases of COVID-19, bringing its number of active infections to 1920.
The state officially ditched its elimination strategy last week after back-to-back lockdowns, with health authorities shifting their focus to rapid vaccination drives and a new attitude of learning to live with the virus.
10:45am - There is hope on the horizon for Auckland, with one COVID-19 modeller predicting cases could fall to "single digits" next week.
Whether that means Auckland will shift down to alert level 3 will depend on a few factors, such as the number of new cases cropping up and where those cases have been.
"The number [of new cases] is expected to continue to fall," Dr Bloomfield said on Tuesday, echoing Auckland University disease modeller Shaun Hendy, who wrote in The Conversation: "On the current trend, case numbers could be into single digits next week."
There's no doubt it's looking positive for Auckland, with the number of 'mystery' cases - those not yet linked to the outbreak - falling from 33 to 24 on Tuesday.
"Analysis of yesterday's 20 cases shows 17 or 85 percent were contacts of known cases and 16 or 80 percent were household contacts who were already isolating," Dr Bloomfield told the 1pm press conference.
"Just four people were potentially infectious in the community with eight exposure events between them. None were in essential worker workplaces and none of these exposure events occurred after those people were asked to isolate.
"Clearly, all the numbers are moving in the right direction, which is reassuring."
10:35am - Auckland University has decided to continue with online teaching for the remainder of semester two, regardless of the alert level.
Semester two ends on November 15.
Cabinet will discuss Auckland's alert level settings on Monday, with the region currently remaining under alert level 4. Lockdown will continue until at least 11:59pm on September 14.
10:20am - The Government is boosting support for tertiary students affected by the ongoing outbreak by putting an additional $20 million into the Hardship Fund for Learners, which is expected to help around 15,000 students, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Wednesday.
"We know a strong public health response is the best approach to COVID-19, and we know that in taking swift, decisive action we give our tertiary students the best chance to return to their studies in workshops, classrooms and lecture theatres," Hipkins said. "But the Government also recognises that COVID-19 has made continuing to study difficult.
"In Budget 2020, we established the $20 million Hardship Fund for Learners. We then extended the fund with a further $10 million as part of Budget 2021. We know that this fund is helping people, which is why we are extending it for a third time.
"We are also ensuring that the Ministry of Social Development will have the discretion to continue paying out both student loans and allowances to learners who are unable to resume their study until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted."
The additional money will be paid to tertiary providers, as it has previously, who disburse it to their learners. It can be used to help students who are facing any kind of hardship that is interfering with their ability to progress with their study. For example, it can address financial challenges, or be used for technology-related costs due to restrictions removing options for face-to-face study.
"Because students' needs are diverse, this funding is flexible. Tertiary providers understand the needs of their students and will distribute it in the way that is most suitable. Learners may receive either cash grants, or goods/services purchased on their behalf," Hipkins said.
"If you are a tertiary student and need support to keep studying, please talk to your provider."
The Tertiary Education Commission will be working directly with providers to manage this additional funding.
10:05am - An Aucklander who potentially received an incorrect dose of the vaccine in July still hasn't been contacted by the Ministry of Health - and the designated helpline had no idea what he was talking about.
Last month, news emerged that five Aucklanders had possibly received an incorrect dose of the vaccine - or even a shot of saline solution - at the Highbrook Vaccination Centre on July 12. More than 700 people were vaccinated at the clinic that day.
Six weeks later, when RNZ broke the story, health officials - who were aware of the possible botch-up - had yet to contact any of those involved.
Once the incident was made public, the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said those affected would be contacted within 24 hours via an email or letter.
Paul* said he decided to contact Healthline after not receiving a letter for almost a week, and was referred to the Vaccine Healthline - a helpline the ministry said had been briefed on the situation.
However, when Paul rang the Vaccine Healthline the following afternoon, the call-taker had difficulty finding him in their records and tried to refer him back to Healthline. When he refused to call Healthline again, he said the advice he received was "extraordinary".
"They literally said on the call, that I was fine because my vaccine card said Pfizer, it didn't say saline," he said.
9:50am - In case you missed it, health officials are confused as to why Auckland's private hospitals were advised by DHBs to defer planned surgical procedures in a "mystery" directive last week.
DHBs sent the directive to the city's private health providers asking them to "hold off" on surgeries - out of fear that their resources might be required to handle overflow from the public system if Auckland's outbreak spiralled out of control.
Neither the Ministry of Health nor the Cancer Control Agency were involved in the directive, which was retracted a day later - after some patients' procedures had already been rescheduled or cancelled.
There are currently 39 people in hospital with COVID-19. The country has 326 ICU beds under normal circumstances, Little told The AM Show on Wednesday, but can "surge" to 550 if required.
Health Minister Andrew Little said while there was "a reason" for the directive, it wasn't necessary - and why it was sent out remains "a mystery".
9:35am - Novavax is expected to be the first booster vaccine against COVID-19 in New Zealand, Stuff reports, with a large shipment on the cards for early next year.
Stuff understands that Novavax, subject to Medsafe approval, is the top contender for the Government's booster shot programme in 2022.
New research conducted in Israel has suggested the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine reduces significantly over time.
"We're expecting to receive the bulk of the 5.36 million vaccine courses we purchased from Novavax in the first quarter of next year," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed to Stuff.
The Novavax vaccine is yet to be approved by medicines regulator Medsafe, however an application for the vaccine has been received. Medsafe says it has "some data under evaluation", with further data "to be provided by sponsor".
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced that the Government had procured additional supply of the Pfizer vaccine from other countries - which she did not name - to keep up with the current demand. She did not reveal any information about the quantity, the countries involved, or when the doses might arrive.
9:20am - The Government has reprioritised up to $5 million to provide immediate relief to vulnerable whānau and communities during the current outbreak, Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson has announced.
The COVID-19 2021 Whānau Recovery Fund will support community-driven, local responses working to fill the gaps in access and provision of critical services.
"Funding will initially focus on those areas hardest hit by the higher alert levels; Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Tokerau and Northern Waikato," Jackson said.
The fund would provide small grants to Māori organisations and iwi who were working directly with the community.
"We know there are groups of people who are not connected to existing support networks, but who are still providing for our most vulnerable whānau right now. This funding is about supporting those on 'the edge' of the system, as a matter of last resort, who are going above and beyond to support their communities.
"Examples include support to make sure vulnerable rangatahi are connected to their peers and support networks, and support for kai packaging and delivery as provider staff are focussed on resourcing vaccination clinics.
"The COVID-19 2021 Whānau Recovery Fund is about providing immediate relief to those on the frontline, but also demonstrates the need to invest in the growth and resilience of our commuities."
To apply for funding, Māori and iwi organisations need to contact their local Te Puni Kōkiri office.
Tāmaki Makaurau: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0800 875 285
Te Tai Tokerau: email@example.com, 0800 875 888
Waikato: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0800rectly.
9:10am - While the number of new cases in Auckland's outbreak has been plateauing for several days, there are still two dozen 'mystery cases' causing concern for experts.
As of Tuesday, 24 cases have yet to be epidemiologically linked to the outbreak. Of the 21 new cases announced on Tuesday, one was also a 'mystery case'.
Unlinked cases can pose a challenge as they make it more difficult for experts to accurately assess the virus' spread, which could potentially delay Auckland's transition out of lockdown.
Cabinet will review Auckland's alert level next Monday - but the number of unlinked cases would likely need to decrease to assure officials that alert level 3 is the right move.
Click here to read more on why 24 mystery cases and low testing could see Auckland's lockdown extended.
9am - National Party leader Judith Collins is distancing herself from ACT's David Seymour after he shared a vaccine access code intended to help boost Māori vaccination rates.
"If you're worried about vaccination waiting times, you no longer need to make an appointment," Seymour wrote on Twitter. "All you need to do is use this access code." He then shared screenshots of an email containing the code, which was generated by Whanau Ora services provider Te Whānau o Waipareira.
Seymour's tweet caused outrage - Waipareira chief executive John Tamihere said Seymour was showing "his entitlement, his privilege and his disdain for vulnerable New Zealand communities", National Māori Authority chair Matthew Tukaki told him to "f**k off" and Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said she was "disgusted".
Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien branded Seymour a "cockwomble". When asked if Seymour was a hero, a cockwomble or just irresponsible, Collins said they were "awful choices" to pick from.
"David has to answer for himself. He's an adult. He's the leader of his own party. I'm thankfully neither his mother nor the leader of his party.
"And I just think, he's - the best thing I say to people is get as many people vaccinated as we can. If you're dealing with people who can be a bit hard to reach sometimes with vaccination messages, you do whatever it takes because COVID doesn't discriminate."
8:40am - Twenty-nine healthcare workers have been stood down from Auckland's Middlemore Hospital for 14 days after a patient tested positive for COVID-19 - and a nursing union is concerned the drop in numbers will only exacerbate the stress caused by chronic staffing shortages.
The man, who was symptomatic, remained in a room with four patients while awaiting his test result. There have been reports that no spare rooms were available to separate the patient, however Health Minister Andrew Little says the four others were isolated following the exposure.
It's understood 13 registered nurses are among the 29 to be stood down.
Kerri Nuku, the president and kaiwhakahaere for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), has previously said "chronic understaffing" was to blame for the blunder, adding that the pressure healthcare workers are under is leading to mistakes.
Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Nuku said the absence of 29 staffers is a "significant issue" for the hospital.
"It's absolutely difficult. We've got frustrated nurses, frustrated at the fact that we haven't had a prepared plan that recognises that we've got chronic nursing shortages, so it places huge pressure on the existing [staff]. This significant amount of staff being taken out of any healthcare sector - or any workforce - is going to have significant emotional strain and stress," she said.
"These people are worried about how their colleagues are feeling and how to support them, and also how do we keep ourselves safe… this workforce is quite scared, scared in terms of ensuring there is adequate protection for them, their patients, and they don't take anything home."
Nuku says there needs to be enough staff on-site to ensure the wards can continue to operate.
"Shutting down the wards will have to have a contingency plan around how they intend to respond should [there be] an everyday emergency... this places incredible stress on existing staff to do the work safely."
8:25am - Opposition leader Judith Collins says the Government should have planned ahead for the inevitability of the Delta variant, such as having more concrete plans in place on how to reopen post-outbreak.
Officials have altered alert level 2 to provide some additional protections against the strain, including reduced capacity at both indoor and outdoor venues, mandatory record-keeping and masks being compulsory in most indoor settings.
"Quite clearly we knew that Delta was at our border in April - it was being picked up then in MIQ facilities. It was always going to be a matter of time before it got through. And it looks as though for the last few weeks people have been sitting around saying, 'Well let's just lock down and no plan for how to open up'," Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday.
"Particularly when you look at the South Island… [People] want to do their best, but they do want to know what the rules are so they don't end up like the poor old truckies who are suddenly being told now they have to go and get COVID tests to be able to go and do their essential job. And they're also told if they don't have symptoms they can't go to the big vaccination pop-up centres.
"It looks like one part of Government doesn't know what the other part is planning."
8:15am - As always, you can keep up-to-date with the latest locations of interest via the Ministry of Health's official list, or through Newshub's infographic below. Click the 'Added' column heading to sort by the most recently added.
8:10am - Four new potential exposure sites have been added or updated as of 8am.
- McKinnon Street Superette - Wednesday, August 25, 1pm - 2:15pm: Stay at home, test immediately as well as 5 days after you were exposed at this location of interest. Please continue to stay at home until you receive a negative day 5 test result. Record your visit online or call Healthline so our contact tracers can get in touch
- Unichem Mangere East Pharmacy - Monday, September 6, 3:18pm - 3:23pm: Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after you were exposed at this location of interest. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result AND until 24 hours after symptoms resolve
- GAS Mascot Ave - Sunday, September 5, 7:45pm - 8:50pm: Stay at home, test immediately as well as 5 days after you were exposed at this location of interest. Please continue to stay at home until you receive a negative day 5 test result. Record your visit online or call Healthline so our contact tracers can get in touch
- Orly Avenue Superette - Sunday, September 5, 7:30pm - 8:40pm: Stay at home, test immediately as well as 5 days after you were exposed at this location of interest. Please continue to stay at home until you receive a negative day 5 test result. Record your visit online or call Healthline so our contact tracers can get in touch.
8am - The Restaurant Association is calling on the treasury to come up with targeted financial assistance as the hospitality industry scrambles to save stock, pay wages at normal rates and cover ongoing overheads while revenue remains scarce.
"While our members are committed to doing their part for our nation, there is a need for the Government to acknowledge and compensate those businesses that are bearing the majority of the cost associated with the current response to COVID-19," Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois said in a statement on Wednesday.
"It has become clear that there should be a different level of Government assistance for those businesses prevented by law from earning any income, to those who are able to work from home and keep revenue coming in."
The Restaurant Association is calling on the Government to consider establishing an operations lockout subsidy for employers - targeted support that will pass directly to business owners locked out of trading at alert levels 4, 3 and 2.
"Support for this kind of initiative has already begun gaining momentum, including through recent public petitioning.
"Now more than ever, business owners are in need of targeted support in order to mitigate rising fixed costs. This is felt exponentially across our industry because at alert Level 4 our businesses suffer a 98 percent drop in revenue; at alert level 3 this is between 60 percent - 40 percent, and at level 2 where trading is often heavily restricted by spacing rules and other requirements of trading at this level.
"For context, many of our industry has been barred from earning any income at all for 92 days of the last 459 days (20 percent), and then restricted to earning no more than 50 percent of their income due to seating, safe distancing and single server rules for an additional 76 days, (another 16 percent roughly). It does not add up in the eyes of industry.
"We want to be clear that this is not about profiteering. The cold hard facts of the matter are that we will see a huge number of business closures putting thousands of people out of work if this industry is not offered something to help it get through these enforced closure periods."
7:40am - Little also faced questions over why Auckland's private hospitals had been advised to defer planned surgical procedures by the DHBs.
A directive was sent to private health providers last week asking them to postpone planned procedures. It's understood the aim of the directive was to ensure there were enough resources should the public system be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
However, 39 people are currently hospitalised with COVID-19 across the city.
Little said both the Ministry of Health and Cancer Control Agency, who were not involved in the directive, have been working to understand why the message was sent.
He confirmed the directive was retracted last week and private hospitals in Auckland are now getting back to their scheduled surgical procedures.
He said why those directions had been issued was "a mystery to pretty much everyone I spoke to".
7:35am - Little was also grilled on the reported lack of beds in intensive care units, despite the Government funnelling additional funding into boosting ICU capacity last year.
Intensive care doctor Craig Carr has claimed bed capacity on a day-to-day basis - including trained staff, monitors and ventilators - has not risen in the past 18 months.
Little said he "hasn't heard" those reports and argued that work had been undertaken across all hospitals to lift ICU capacity.
There are 325 beds available nationwide on an everyday basis, he said, which can surge to 550 if demand requires by converting beds from other wards. He said additional funding was provided last year to ensure hospitals were equipped with enough ICU resources, and around 1200 nursing staff have since undergone additional training.
7:30am - The Health Minister said he is "not quite sure what the story is" regarding the reported lack of isolation spaces for symptomatic patients.
He said staff decided not to isolate the man and "that was the judgement they made".
Little told The AM Show he has seen the reports regarding the lack of available isolation rooms, but he is unsure as to whether this is the case.
He noted that after the man returned a positive result, the four other patients he had shared the room with were moved into isolation - which counters reports there were no rooms available.
"I'm not quite sure what the story is with the availability of those rooms."
He is unaware of any further positive results at the hospital.
7:27am - A man who tested positive for COVID-19 at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital was kept in a room with four other patients while awaiting his test result.
Staff reportedly decided to keep the man in the shared space due to no isolation spaces being available.
When asked about this on The AM Show on Wednesday, Health Minister Andrew Little said it was "a good question" as to why there weren't any spaces to isolate a symptomatic patient.
He says there was "some distance" between the man and the other patients and "curtains" between them.
"Advice was sought about the best way to manage him… he was in a room with four others, a room with some distance between the patients - there were curtains between the patients. The staff were all in PPE. The advice that the frontline staff received was 'leave him where he is', pending the test result, which came through a few hours later," Little said.
"I know the Ministry of Health is now inquiring into why that happened and whether that could've been handled differently."