As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, October 7

The Government has announced it will pilot rapid antigen tests in New Zealand's workplaces following a call from a coalition of businesses to urgently approve the importation of the tests to protect critical worksites. 

The tests are less reliable than PCR, but offer other benefits such as efficiency and convenience. While PCR swabs can take several days to process, rapid tests provide a result in around 15 minutes.

However, the delay in introducing the tests, which have been widely used overseas, has drawn criticism from the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 Testing Technical Advisory Board. Speaking at Thursday's press conference, Professor David Murdoch said the Government had been too slow to trial new testing methods and was under-prepared to introduce new approaches such as saliva testing and rapid antigen testing.

Rapid antigen testing, which has now been introduced at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital, will start to be used within the next few days at Auckland City and North Shore hospitals. They will also be used as a point-of-arrival test in the self-isolation pilots in Auckland and Christchurch, which begin at the end of October. 

Meanwhile, 29 new community cases of COVID-19 have been reported on Thursday, 24 of which are in Auckland. The remaining five are in Waikato. Nine cases were reported in the region yesterday, including two cases detected in Kawhia and Karapiro.

As a result, the Government has decided to extend the alert level 3 boundary in Waikato to include the Waitomo, Waipa and Otorohanga districts. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the extension is out of "an abundance of caution". Health officials are now focusing on ramping up testing and vaccination rates in the region.

What you need to know:

  • Auckland moved into phase one of the Government's 'roadmap to recovery' on Wednesday. The super city is still at alert level 3, with the rest of the country - aside from parts of Waikato - at level 2
  • Aucklanders can now connect with one other household outdoors with no more than 10 people. Early childhood education has also returned and people can move around the city for recreation
  • Twenty-nine new cases were reported on Thursday, 24 in Auckland and five in Waikato 
  • The Govt will be piloting rapid antigen testing in workplaces after a coalition of businesses called for urgent approval for 370,000 rapid tests to be imported into NZ
  • The alert level 3 boundary in Waikato will be extended to include the Waitomo, Waipa and Otorohanga Districts after cases were detected outside of the former boundary in Kāwhia and Karāpiro on Wednesday
  • On Wednesday it was reported that a person had returned a weak positive result after getting tested in Whangārei
  • Click here for all locations of interest.

These live updates have finished.

7:40pm - Data compiled by Newshub shows the trajectory of hospitalisations is going up - and we could see up to 200 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the next two months. 

Experts say we could follow Melbourne's path, or worse, as our vaccination rates are lower and we have fewer ICU beds.  

And the head of the Intensive Care Society has a message - get vaccinated or more people will die.

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

7:10pm -  The Northland District Health Board says COVID-19 Vaccination clinics are available throughout throughout the region, at general practice, at pharmacy, māori health providers and DHB clinics.

"If you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, call:

  • Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453
  • your doctor or nurse, or
  • your iwi health provider.

"A health professional will let you know the next steps and if you should get a test."

7:05pm - A case under investigation after returning a weak positive result from a test in Whangarei earlier this week has now tested positive for COVID-19 in Auckland.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health confirmed the result on Thursday. 

"The Ministry's current assessment is that the earlier weak result combined with the positive result today indicate that the original test was taken in the early stage of the individual's infection."

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said this would help limit any potential spread of infection from the case. 

Public health interviews with the case are now underway to confirm the cases movements and more locations of interest are expected to be announced in Auckland and Northland from Friday. 

Northland DHB is stepping up its screening at Northland hospitals for visitors and patients and arranging additional testing.  

"Anyone with symptoms should get tested and people in Auckland and Northland should check tomorrow for new locations of interest," the Ministry spokesperson said.

 The DHB is also encouraging vaccination at general practice, pharmacy, Māori health providers and DHB clinics.

6:55pm - The National Party's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says Health Minister Andrew Little didn't add a single resourced ICU bed to Auckland's three district health boards in the almost 18 months since the end of the first lockdown last year.

"Ministerial answers show Auckland ICU, the biggest in the country, was at 120 percent capacity the day the current outbreak was announced. This shows ICUs were under huge pressure even before COVID, and the minister didn't even receive any reports until a few weeks ago. What did he do during that 18 months and how did he instead squander this time?" Reti says.

He says it is "becoming clear" that Little "doesn't really know what an ICU does" and the questions he should be asking.

Reti says Little: 

  • only received a report on ICUs a few weeks ago, well into the current outbreak
  • he rejected a request to build negative pressure rooms earlier this year, then built them in the middle of the current outbreak
  • he has not added a single new ICU bed in the last 15 months
  • he failed to lobby for critical ICU nurses, while the May 5 pay freeze caused a significant number of ICU nurses to leave the sector.

"It is also hard to believe Minister Little when he writes there are 10 ICU nurses at Counties Manukau. Middlemore has 25 resourced ICU beds and either the minister is wrong, again, or this is a further indictment of his failure to staff ICU beds. Neither answer is good from a struggling minister," Reti says.

"Andrew Little needs to make a commitment now to a target number of new ICU beds and new ICU nurses. Don't bother with another useless health indicator, Mr Little - New Zealanders want a real target with real beds and nurses, not a mere wishlist."

6:35pm - The Ministry of Health has updated the alert level boundary map to include parts of the Waikato after new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the region.

Chris Hipkins announced there were 29 new community cases on Thursday - 24 of which are in Auckland and the remaining five are in Waikato.

"This morning ministers have considered the public health advice and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to extend the boundary further south," he said at the 1pm press conference. 

"That means the boundary will follow the coast south to Mokau, and then east along the northern Pureora Forest Park, then north to include Te Awamutu, Karapiro and Cambridge, where it will meet the existing boundary." 

Read the full story here.

6:10pm - There are several new locations of interest. They are:

  • ASB Kelston Shopping Centre ATM Kelston, September 29 11pm to 11:15pm
  • ATM - Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) Waitakere, September 29 from 11pm to 11:15pm
  • Z Manurewa, September 30 from 11:38am to 12:45pm
  • Lincoln Road Countdown Henderson, October 1 from 2pm to 3:30pm
  • Super Liquor Mt Wellington, October 2 from 1:15pm to 2:20pm
  • Countdown Manuka, October 4 from 9am to 4pm
  • Countdown Victoria Street West, October 5 from 9:45am to 11am
  • Super Liquor Mount Wellington, October 6 from 12:15pm to 1:20pm.

6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm for the latest on COVID-19 in New Zealand. Watch online here or tune in on Three.

5:35pm - National MP Christopher Luxon is questioning a law change giving the Government power to delay local elections through to 2023, given its "stated commitment to ending lockdowns". 

The COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill, which is currently before Parliament, includes an amendment to the Local Electoral Act to provide flexibility to delay local elections by up to six weeks under emergency circumstances.  

Luxon and National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop issued a statement on September 29 saying the Government needed to "urgently explain why it wants to give itself the power to delay next year's local body elections limitless times through to 2023".

"Local body elections are conducted by postal ballot, not by in-person voting. The Government has ample time to prepare for the 2022 local elections and the existing ability to adjourn them if required due to an alert level change."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins didn't mention it during his speech on the legislation, only describing the law changes as "common sense" to "effectively manage the immediate impacts of the disruptions caused by COVID-19 lockdowns".

It prompted suspicion from National.

Read the full story here.

5:15pm - On a lighter note, National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop has revealed he has a new face mask - with his dog Ladyhawke on it.

4:50pm - The owner of a well-known New Zealand natural health store chain is apologetic after stating on Facebook that "99 percent" of its staff are unvaccinated in a now-deleted post.

Diana Burgess, a naturopath who has owned the Hardy's Health Stores brand alongside her businessman husband Vince since 2017, wrote on Facebook that its staff are "supported to make the right informed choice for them" and claimed "at this stage 99 percent are choosing not to get jabbed". 

The post, which included the Hardy's Health Stores logo, has been circulating online with some social media users saying they will boycott the store for not having vaccinated staff.

It has since been deleted and, in an email to Newshub, Vince said it was not an "officially sanctioned Hardy's post". 

Read the full story here.

4:25pm - There are four new locations of interest. They are:

  • Alfriston Road Superette Manurewa, September 30 from 11:44am to 1pm
  • Southgate Superette, October 1 from 6:05pm to 7:10pm
  • New World Kumeu, October 4 from 5:15pm to 6:30pm
  • Four Square Parakai, October 4 from 6:15pm 8pm.

4:10pm - The Ministry of Health has released a map showing vaccination rates by suburb across New Zealand.

Click here for a high-definition version of the map. There is also a list here of maps for each region.

As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, October 7
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

4pm - The Auckland leg of Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival 2021 has been cancelled since the city continues to be in a form of alert level 3.

New Zealand Film Festival Trust chairperson Catherine Fitzgerald says the board and management have worked tirelessly to assess all possible options, and it's with "very heavy hearts" they make the announcement.

She says the festival needs uncapped indoor capacities.

"With Auckland in a form of level 3 for some weeks to come, and uncertainty around when capacity limits will be lifted, it is no longer possible for us to go ahead with the Auckland edition of this year's festival," Fitzgerald says.

"The team, led by director/kaiwhakatere Marten Rabarts and general manager Sally Woodfield, has worked under extraordinary circumstances to do everything possible to present this year's festival in all 13 towns and cities, and our programme confirmed for 2021, featuring an outstanding line-up of award-winning films from around the globe, is one that we are extremely proud of."

Fitzgerald adds they are working towards presenting the festival in the rest of the country with level 2 restrictions and are working with venues to ensure people's safety.

NZIFF 2021 is now opening in Christchurch on October 29, Wellington opening on November 4, and Dunedin on November 5, followed by the nine regional centres.

3:30pm - Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles says restricting the importation of rapid tests was necessary, since many of them were "extremely unreliable", but there has since been a lot of innovation and their reliability has improved.

"Using rapid antigen tests to complement our PCR testing will be important as we transition from elimination to high suppression as our COVID-19 strategy. What everyone must remember though is that these tests are not a panacea," she says.

"While they give a result very quickly and so can be deployed in a range of scenarios, a recent review shows that depending on the test, they can still miss two to three out of every 10 COVID-19 cases in people with symptoms, and three to six out of every 10 cases when the person has no symptoms."

Wiles adds she's relieved the Government will work with industry representatives to look at where the use of rapid tests will add value to keep people safe from COVID-19.

"This should be extended to other sectors where these tests can play an important role, such as in ECE and school settings."

Siouxsie Wiles.
Siouxsie Wiles. Photo credit: Supplied

3pm - University of Canterbury Professor Michael Plank is welcoming the introduction of rapid antigen tests, but acknowledges some cases will be missed due to their lower sensitivity.

"Hopefully these tests will soon become more widely available and regularly used. They aren't as sensitive as the 'gold standard' PCR tests which means they will miss some cases, especially those with low viral load or people who are tested early or late in their infectious period. However, they have some key advantages over PCR in specific applications," he said on Thursday.

"For people who need to be tested regularly, some combination of rapid antigen tests and saliva PCR tests can be done more frequently than the traditional nasal swab. This will catch more cases earlier than a weekly PCR test.  A weekly PCR test is not much use if someone is tested on a Monday and gets infected on a Tuesday because it's too long until their next test.

"Rapid antigen tests can also be used to provide an on-the-spot result for people before they enter workplaces, large gatherings, flights, or high-risk settings such as hospitals. They shouldn't be relied on to catch every case, but they can significantly reduce risk especially if combined with other measures such as vaccine certificates and masks."

He stresses that rapid tests should never replace PCR, but they will serve as a useful addition to our testing system.

"As community transmission of COVID-19 becomes more widespread, we need to get more used to regular testing as an ongoing measure to manage the spread of the virus."

2:50pm - Waikato DHB ED staff returning to work following testing

Waikato DHB provided rapid testing for 102 staff yesterday following confirmation that an individual who visited the Waikato Hospital Emergency Department on Friday night had later tested positive for COVID-19.

They were screened on entry, but as they were not symptomatic and the visit was prior to any cases or locations of interest being identified in the Waikato region, this person was streamed to the children’s ED area. They were at the ED area for around three hours from late Friday night (1 October) to early Saturday morning (2 October).

More than 90 percent of tests have now been resulted and all are negative. The remaining few results are expected today and relate to staff who visited the ED during the course of their shift and are considered casual contacts.

Those requiring a test included 50 staff who were working at the ED during the case visit. All returned negative results by yesterday afternoon, with many able to be cleared to resume work for the afternoon and evening shifts.

Six staff have been identified as close contacts and although all have returned negative tests, they will continue to isolate for the full 14 days from the time of contact, and undertake a further test on day 12.

Executive Director of Hospital and Community Services, Chris Lowry, said staff and visitors to the ED at the time had all followed infection prevention and control protocols appropriate to Alert Level 2, but the extra precaution for those six staff was required in response to the Delta variant.

Ms Lowry said the response yesterday from staff across the hospital had been outstanding.

"People came forward immediately to be tested and our laboratory staff were able to return the majority of results by early yesterday afternoon, enabling many staff to return to shifts on the same day. We had also asked for people to help cover shifts while affected staff were stood down and the willingness of staff to put their hands up to help was greatly appreciated."

The case was in the ED reception area only briefly, and this has now been confirmed as a location of interest, due to its openness to the public. Public Health staff confirmed one patient present at the ED was considered a close contact and they are now isolating.

2:45pm - Call for mandatory vaccination of children's workforce

The Children's Commissioner and Assistant Māori Commissioner are calling to mandate vaccination for teachers and the entire children's workforce in New Zealand.

"Children under 12 do not have access to the vaccine, so we need to protect them from the virus and stop them bringing it home to their families," Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said on Thursday.

"We are calling on the Government to outline a timeframe by which the entire frontline children's workforce must be vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption. This includes all teachers and staff in early childhood, primary and secondary schools, frontline healthcare professionals, social workers and staff who work in Oranga Tamariki homes and residences.

"States in Australia have already issued vaccine mandates for schools and requiring adults and students in secondary schools to wear masks at all times.

"With COVID-19 now spreading further into our communities, we have an opportunity to plan ahead to protect children and those who can't be vaccinated from the virus."

Assistant Māori Commissioner Glenis Philip-Barbara added that lower levels of vaccine uptake in Māori communities made the need for mandates even more important.

"The experience overseas is that adults are much more likely to pass on the virus to children in schools, than the other way around. Until the vaccine roll out starts working more effectively in Māori communities, it will be vital that mokopuna are protected while at school.

"It's also important that mokopuna detained in Oranga Tamariki residences or in mental health units, are protected. They are completely vulnerable to the illnesses brought in from the outside so adults who work with them must do all they can to keep them safe.

"There should be a plan that ensures all workers, including our own staff, who visit these places will be vaccinated.

"So many communities, in particular whanāu Pasifika in Auckland, have pulled out all stops to protect one another through vaccination, the rest of us must step up and do our bit too," she said.

2:40pm - Here's a checkpoint compliance update from the police:

Since alert level 3 came into effect, 13 people have been charged with a total of 14 offences in Tāmaki Makaurau and parts of the Waikato as of 5pm yesterday.

Of these, 10 were for Failing to Comply with Order (COVID-19), two were for Failure to Comply with Direction/Prohibition/Restriction, and one was a Health Act Breach.

In the same time period, 19 people were formally warned.

Police have received a total of 2589 online breach notifications relating to businesses, mass gatherings or people in Tāmaki Makaurau and parts of the Waikato.

Checkpoint figures

As of 11:59pm on October 6, a total of 509,825 vehicles have been stopped at the checkpoints along Auckland's northern and southern boundaries - 7447 vehicles have been turned around.

On Wednesday, 24,226 vehicles were processed at the checkpoints, 193 of which were turned around.

A total of 35 out of 4921 vehicles were turned away at the northern border yesterday, while 158 vehicles out of 19,305 were turned around at the southern end.

As of 11:59pm last night, 25,026 heavy vehicles have been stopped, 877 of which have been turned around after attempting to leave Tāmaki Makaurau - 53 of those were turned around yesterday.

2:35pm - Across the Tasman, New South Wales has recorded 587 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night (local time).

No new cases were acquired overseas. The total number of cases in New South Wales since the beginning of the pandemic now stands at 66,835.

Eight more people who contracted the virus have died - five men and three women.

One person was in their 20s, one person was in their 50s, two people were in their 60s, two people were in their 70s, and two people were in their 80s.

2:30pm - COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop has been quick to respond to the COVID-19 Testing Technical Advisory Group's criticism of the Government's slow response to trialling and introducing new testing technology. 

During Thursday's press conference, Professor David Murdoch said the Government could have acted more swiftly to implement both saliva testing and rapid antigen testing alongside PCR swabs.

"In September last year the Simpson/Roche report called on the Government to roll out saliva testing as a priority, but now, more than a year later, it is only just getting going, and Rako Science's efforts to partner with the Government for surge capacity surveillance testing have been rebuffed," Bishop said on Thursday.

"The Government's inaction on using different testing techniques has been disgraceful and this has been confirmed by the Government's independent technical advisory group on testing."

During the press conference, Professor Murdoch said the Government "could have been better prepared" for new testing approaches. Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall argued that under the elimination strategy, the Government did not want to risk implementing a different method that was less reliable than PCR testing, as rapid antigen tests are markedly less sensitive and can fail to detect positive cases.

Bishop says saliva testing should be rolled out daily for border workers, those staying in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and as a surge capacity resource. 

"Saliva testing is being used at private hospitals in Auckland right now and we should be doing the same in public hospitals," he said. 

"We had the capacity to do thousands of saliva tests during this most recent outbreak and yet the Government said no. All this at a time when people lined up for 10-12 hours at a time and many people gave up altogether.

"Rapid antigen testing should be being used for all essential workers including healthcare workers, aged-care support staff, supply chain (transportation, ports and airports), emergency first responders, and high-risk customer-facing roles such as in supermarkets, schools and universities."

2:17pm - There are five new locations of interest as of 2pm, including a Pak'nSave supermarket in the Hamilton suburb of Whitiora.

As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, October 7

2:15pm - The Ministry of Health's full press release for Thursday:

29 community cases of COVID-19; more than 70,000 vaccines doses administered yesterday


Number of new community cases*


Number of new cases identified at the border


Location of new community cases

Auckland (24); Waikato (5)

Location of community cases (total)

Auckland (including six cases in Upper Hauraki) 1,409 (1,068 recovered); Waikato 22 (all active); Wellington 17 (all recovered)

Number of community cases (total)

1,448 (in the current community outbreak)

Cases infectious in the community

28 of yesterday's 39 cases have exposure events  

Cases in isolation throughout the period they were infectious

11 of yesterday's 39 cases

Cases epidemiologically linked

22 of today's 29 cases are linked  

Cases to be epidemiologically linked

Seven of today's 29 cases. Investigations are continuing to determine a link.

Cases epidemiologically linked (total)

1403 (in the current cluster) (23 unlinked from the past fortnight).

Number of sub-clusters

15 epidemiologically linked subclusters. Of these, five are active, two are contained and eight are dormant. There are 14 epidemiologically unlinked subclusters. Of these, five are active, one is contained and eight are dormant.

Cases in hospital

23 (total): Middlemore (11); Auckland (11); Waikato (1)

Cases in ICU or HDU


Confirmed cases (total)

4122 since pandemic began.

Historical cases, since 1 Jan 2021 (total)

166 out of 2,306 since 1 Jan 2021



Number of open contacts being managed (total):


Percentage who have received an 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)

181 (as at 10am 5 October)



Number of tests (total)


Number of tests processed (total last 24 hours)


Number of tests taken in Auckland (last 24 hours)


Tests rolling average (last 7 days)


Testing centres in Auckland




Wastewater detections**

No unexpected detections in the past 24 hours

COVID-19 vaccine update


Vaccines administered to date (total)

5,538,151; 1st doses: 3,380,704 2nd doses: 2,157,447  

Vaccines administered yesterday (total)

70,198; 1st doses: 18,847; 2nd doses: 51,351


1st doses: 332,741 2nd doses: 191,873

Pacific Peoples

1st doses: 213,613; 2nd doses: 133,715

Vaccines administered to Auckland residents to date (total)

2,017,859 1st doses: 1,222,281 (85pct); 2nd doses: 795,578 (56pct)

Vaccines administered to Auckland residents yesterday (total)

23,816; 1st doses: 5,532 2nd doses: 18,284

NZ COVID-19 tracer


Registered users (total)


Poster scans (total)


Manual diary entries (total)


Poster scans in 24 hours to midday yesterday


*Today's cases

One previously confirmed Auckland case has now been reclassified as under investigation and removed from the overall outbreak tally. The recently reported Upper Hauraki case was initially reported as a Waikato case was intended to be included in yesterday's figures for Auckland as the case is within the Counties Manukau DHB - it will now be included today.

**Wastewater testing

There have been positive COVID-19 detections in wastewater collected from areas where there are known positive cases.

As expected, COVID-19 was detected in samples collected from Raglan on October 4 and 5 and further testing is underway. There was also a positive detection in wastewater samples collected from Palmerston North, where a previously reported case who tested positive for COVID-19 is isolating. Additional testing is underway with results expected tomorrow.

The virus continues to be detected from several sampling sites in Auckland.

Negative results were returned from samples taken in other areas of the Waikato. These were from Hamilton, Huntly, Maramarua, Matangi, Meremere, Ngaruawahia, Putaruru, Taupo, Tauwhare, Te Kauwhata, Te Kowhai and Tokoroa. Samples from Hunterville (in the Rangatikei region) and Feilding (in the Manawatu region) were also negative. Further testing is in progress.

Auckland City Mission

Today the Auckland City Mission has been named as a location of interest after a person who receives services from their city centre site tested positive for COVID-19.

The person visited the centre on the morning of October 4. The risk to the public is thought to be low. The person was outside in a tent for testing and also queued in the open air for a meal pack. Everyone who visits the Mission is required to wear a mask and stay two metres apart.  

Many visitors to the Mission are vulnerable and have complex needs and staff are working with Auckland Regional Public Health Service to ensure the safety and well-being of its clients and visitors. The Mission team is contacting as many people who receive services at the site as they can to encourage the uptake of testing and to check on their health status. Staff at the Mission also undertake regular surveillance testing.

Waikato testing and vaccination

Yesterday in Waikato, 6480 COVID-19 swabs were taken throughout the region, and 7976 vaccinations were given. To date, 72.3 percent of the eligible Waikato population have had their first dose and 45.5 percent are fully vaccinated.

Pop-up testing and vaccinations begin today in the Kawhia area. There is testing from today until Saturday at Maketu Marae and mobile vaccinations at Taharoa and Marokopa on Friday.

In Karapiro, pop-up testing continues today at the Mighty River Domain.

Waikato Hospital  

Following the exposure event at the Emergency Department at Waikato Hospital that was reported yesterday, all 50 ED staff have returned negative COVID-19 tests, with most cleared to return to work. Of the staff who visited ED at the same time as the case, 30 have returned negative tests and a further 22 tests are still to be processed, with results expected this afternoon.  

Auckland suburbs of interest

People with or without symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to get tested if they live in any of the eight suburbs of interest.

The current suburbs of interest are:  

  • Clover Park
  • Mângere  
  • Favona  
  • Manurewa
  • Mount Wellington/Sylvia Park
  • Henderson
  • Papakura
  • Red Beach.

In the eight suburbs yesterday there were 2893 swabs taken. More than 1200 people have been tested in Red Beach in the past two days.

1:55pm - Professor David Murdoch of the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Testing Technical Advisory Group emphasised the Government could have been better prepared for rapid antigen testing.

"We could have been better prepared, yes," he said.

Verrall says the Government was slow to adopt rapid antigen testing as under the elimination strategy, it was crucial no positive cases were missed.

1:50pm - University of Otago Professor David Murdoch says a review of testing has found health officials could have been "faster and more agile" in trialling and implementing new testing technology and innovations.

He says officials were too slow to adopt saliva testing and too slow at preparing for rapid antigen testing. 

The ongoing assessment of new testing approaches is important, he says, as well as piloting new testing methods to see how well they work in the context of New Zealand.

1:45pm - Verrall says despite the relative unreliability of rapid antigen tests compared to the more sensitive PCR swabs, they offer other benefits including accessibility and convenience, "so we can detect more cases overall".

Shifting into an environment with a highly vaccinated population provides more options, she says.

Officials have been working with the private sector to bring the tests into the country, Verrall says. She has met with business leaders who are eager to use the technology to protect their workforce.

She reiterated that rapid tests tend to be less sensitive at detecting cases in asymptomatic people or those who are early on or far into their infectious period.

We need a system in place so we don't miss any cases, she says, and to ensure any positive cases are linked with healthcare.

1:40pm - Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall has taken the podium to discuss the new pilot for rapid antigen testing.

The tests, which provide results in about 15 minutes, will be trialled in workplaces.

1:31pm - Regarding the weak positive result detected in Whangarei, Dr McElnay says the person is an Auckland resident and the case is still under investigation after being reported on Wednesday.

She says health officials have had difficulty getting in touch with the person but further updates are expected later today.

The CT value of the result could indicate a historical case or false positive, she says.

1:27pm - Government to pilot rapid antigen testing with private sector

A statement from Associate Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall:

The Government and businesses are working together to pilot the use of rapid antigen testing in workplaces, Associate Minister of Health and Research, Science and Innovation Ayesha Verrall announced today.

This follows the introduction of rapid antigen testing at Middlemore Hospital. It will start within the next few days at Auckland City and North Shore hospitals, and be used as a point-of-arrival test in the self-isolation pilots in Auckland and Christchurch from October 30 to Wednesday, December 8, 2021, with final travellers exiting self-isolation on December 22, 2021.

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have used a range of methods to contain and control the virus - to protect New Zealanders and their livelihoods," Verrall said.

"As more people gain protection through vaccinations, our tool box is changing. Testing is critical in identifying cases quickly and responding effectively to any outbreaks, and we want to harness testing innovation amongst the business community to boost our public health response."

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is working closely with the business community and the Ministry of Health, to support and accelerate additional levels of testing for New Zealand workers.

"I've been in talks with business leaders, and will meet with them tomorrow to discuss the next steps for safely incorporating rapid antigen testing into our COVID-19 response.

"While this technology provides a result quickly, rapid antigen testing tends to be less sensitive at detecting cases - especially in asymptomatic people, or those who are either very early in or towards the end of their infectious period.

"That's why we must ensure a robust system is in place so we don't miss cases. Any people who test positive will be verified with further testing, and managed appropriately - including being linked with healthcare," Verrall said.

Today the Government is also releasing a review into its COVID-19 testing, carried out by the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Testing Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

"We want to ensure our COVID-19 testing has adapted and evolved to support New Zealand's pandemic response and reconnection plan.

"We asked Professor David Murdoch and his team to review the coordination of COVID-19 testing, and the processes by which tests and testing innovations are assessed and adopted. We also asked them to identify opportunities to ensure ongoing sustainable and fit-for-purpose COVID-19 testing within New Zealand.

"One of the key themes in their report is how we adopt and use testing innovations," Verrall said.

Recommendations from the rapid review include a future-focused COVID-19 testing strategy to assist planning, and the creation of a dedicated testing approach to facilitate innovation and the implementation of new tests and testing strategies in a timely way.

"Work is already underway within the Ministry of Health to consider how rapid antigen testing can best be used to identify new infections, support outbreak investigations through screening, and monitor disease trends," Verrall said.

Rapid antigen testing is in use in four approved health programmes, to assess their suitability in the context of New Zealand's COVID-19 prevalence.

Auckland hospitals in areas deemed as 'high-risk' settings are using this technology to:

  • detect cases early in patients presenting symptoms of COVID-19
  • manage hospital capacity
  • ensure the safety of visitors
  • inform clinical decision making.

"Our priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. We are committed to engaging and working constructively with businesses and communities as part of our ongoing COVID-19 response," Verrall said.

Read more here.

1:25pm - Dr McElnay says she doesn't have further details about the COVID-positive person who visited Auckland City Mission, but said the person is being supported by Auckland Regional Public Health.

Information on vaccination rates across suburbs of interest will be released this afternoon.

1:22pm - Regarding the transmission from Auckland to Waikato, Hipkins says it's thought the virus was spread via an individual who travelled into Auckland and returned to the Waikato. 

He acknowledged there is evidence to suggest there has been spread among "gang networks" due to breaches of alert level restrictions.

1:18pm - Hipkins has reiterated that gang members are "certainly" involved in the outbreak, but the cases aren't exclusively among gangs. He doesn't have specific figures.

He noted the affected individuals aren't necessarily all gang members, but may be associates or linked to gangs in some way.

He has emphasised that officials aren't treating gangsters any differently.

1:16pm - Dr McElnay says so far, only two cases have been detected outside of the alert level 3 boundary - the cases reported in Kawhia and Karapiro on Wednesday.

She says to her knowledge, today's new cases in Waikato would be from Raglan and Hamilton.

When asked why the boundary wasn't extended yesterday, Hipkins said there wasn't enough time to assess the risk. Evidence shows the cases are still "relatively contained".

1:14pm - People are asked to comply with the travel restrictions, Hipkins says, and should have evidence of why they need to be travelling.

Vaccination is the best tool to ensure everyone has an individual armour, he says.

There is a view that COVID-19 won't reach into rural communities due to their relative isolation, but that is wrong, Hipkins says - COVID-19 will still affect rural communities just as much as urban communities.

1:11pm - Out of an abundance of caution, the alert level 3 boundary in the Waikato area will be extended to cover the Waitomo District, Waipa and Otorohanga District. It will include Karapiro and Cambridge.

There will be restrictions on air travel due to the inclusion of Hamilton Airport.

A map of the revised boundary will be released soon.

The restrictions will apply until at least 11:59pm on Monday.

"We need people in the area to go out and get tested and vaccinated," Hipkins says. 

1:08pm - There has been an excellent response in the latest suburb of interest, Red Beach, Dr McElnay says, with 1200 people getting tested over the past two days. 

Of the 24 cases in Auckland, seven are unlinked. All Waikato cases are epidemiologically linked.

Of the 39 cases on Wednesday, only one Auckland case remains unlinked.

Of the emergency department staff potentially exposed to a confirmed case at Waikato Hospital, all 50 have returned negative results and most have been cleared to return to work. Six are close contacts and will self-isolate for 14 days due to level of contact.

Auckland City Mission has been listed as a location of interest after a visitor tested positive. The risk to the public is considered low, she says.

1:05pm - There has been a significant drop in hospitalisations, with 23 now in hospital compared to 32 yesterday. Four are in the ICU.

We're continuing to see high testing rates, Dr McElnay says. 

1:04pm - There are 29 new community cases to report today - 24 in Auckland and five in Waikato. There are now 22 in the Waikato.

One case has been reclassified as under investigation. There are now 1448 cases in the outbreak.

12:40pm - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay will be giving the 1pm briefing. You can watch that above or on Three.

12:30pm - The Children's Commissioner and assistant Māori Commissioner are calling for a plan for the mandatory vaccination of teachers and the "entire children's workforce" in New Zealand. 

"Children under 12 do not have access to the vaccine, so we need to protect them from the virus and stop them bringing it home to their families," Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft says.

"We are calling on the Government to outline a timeframe by which the entire frontline children’s workforce must be vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption. This includes all teachers and staff in early childhood, primary and secondary schools, frontline healthcare professionals, social workers and staff who work in Oranga Tamariki homes and residences.

"States in Australia have already issued vaccine mandates for schools and requiring adults and students in secondary schools to wear masks at all times.

"With Covid-19 now spreading further into our communities, we have an opportunity to plan ahead to protect children and those who can’t be vaccinated from the virus."

Assistant Māori Commissioner Glenis Philip-Barbara added that lower levels of vaccine protection in Māori communities made the need for workforce mandates even more important.

"The experience overseas is that adults are much more likely to pass on the virus to children in schools, than the other way around. Until the vaccine roll out starts working more effectively in Māori communities, it will be vital that mokopuna are protected while at school.

"It’s also important that mokopuna detained in Oranga Tamariki residences or in mental health units, are protected. They are completely vulnerable to the illnesses brought in from the outside so adults who work with them must do all they can to keep them safe.

"There should be a plan that ensures all workers, including our own staff, who visit these places will be vaccinated.

"So many communities, in particular whanāu Pasifika in Auckland, have pulled out all stops to protect one another through vaccination, the rest of us must step up and do our bit too."

12:15pm  - There are three new locations of interest:

  • Wainui Foodmarket in Raglan - Saturday, October 2 between 5:20pm and 5:55pm
  • Auckland City Mission in Auckland Central - Monday, October 4 between 9am and 12pm
  • BP Connect Glendene - Sunday, October 3 between 4:26pm and 4:31pm

Full advice can be found here.

12:05pm - NZ Post says it's swamped with packages amid lockdown's online shopping surge - and in the lead-up to Christmas, they're looking for extra hands. 

"We're currently delivering about 2 million parcels every week – that's four parcels per second – and we know this is going to increase over the coming months as Kiwis buy online over the busy shopping season," says NZ Post chief operating officer, Brendon Main.   

Parcel volumes are up by around 50 percent in Auckland and 25 percent in the rest of the country, Main says, particularly as Aucklanders continue to remain largely at home.

"We need more people to help us process and deliver the millions of parcels that are going to come through our network over the next few months," he says.

"We're looking for people to help as we respond to the increased parcel volumes due to more people shopping from home during the alert levels, combined with the usual Christmas rush. We're on the lookout for a mix of temp and fixed term people to help us process and deliver a record number of parcels across the country.

"As an essential service, working with us over the busy holiday season means that you'll be an essential worker – something that NZ Post is very proud of. Our role connecting Kiwis across the country throughout the different alert levels is one we take very seriously."

NZ Post is working hard to deliver parcels on time despite the staff shortage - but delays should be expected.  

"With the move to alert level 3 in Auckland, NZ Post saw an increase in the number of parcels in the region. While the rest of country is slowly returning to pre-COVID levels, volumes are still up on what we'd normally see at this time of year. This means there are delays of up to five days in Auckland – please check our website for the latest delivery timeframes.

"To meet the increase in parcels and to reduce the impact of any delays we've re-designed our Auckland network since last lockdown to ease potential areas of congestion, brought on as many extra people as we can, set up temporary processing sites and operating extended processing hours.

"We are grateful that Kiwis are being so kind and patient – your item is on its way it just may take a little longer than usual." 

11:55am - The Government should "move heaven and earth" to make sure schools reopen in Auckland on October 18, National's Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said on Thursday.

"Auckland students have endured seven weeks out of the classroom, they need to get back to school after the holidays," he said in a statement.

Goldsmith is concerned the lack of structured schooling throughout lockdown will deepen inequities in the education system.

"In the meantime, as exams approach for senior students, attending face-to-face classes is vital," he continued.

"We accept that some teachers and students are anxious about the safety of a return, given the current outbreak."

Goldsmith is echoing calls to increase vaccination among both teachers and students, urging the Government to establish vaccination centres at schools on certain days throughout the holidays. He is also calling for the introduction of rapid antigen tests for teachers to ensure they can test themselves regularly.

"By October 18, every teacher and student over the age of 12 will have had six weeks to get vaccinated," he said. 

"If we can find a way for it to be safe for kids and teachers to go to the supermarket, surely we can find a way for it be safe for them to attend school.

"We cannot allow fear to keep our children away from their education any longer, attending school is far too important."

During Wednesday's press conference, COVID-19 Response Minister and Education Minister Chris Hipkins implied a vaccination mandate for teachers could be in the pipeline.

11:50am - Two new locations of interest have been added shortly after 11am.

They are the Royal Bakehouse Onehunga and BP Connect Glendene in Henderson. 

Here are the potential exposure events added so far this morning:

As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, October 7

11:40am - The snap alert level 3 lockdown in parts of Waikato may extend to other areas of the region after new community cases were confirmed in Kāwhia and Karapiro on Wednesday.

After COVID-19 was detected in Raglan and Hamilton East over the weekend, a boundary was quickly established to secure at-risk areas - including Hamilton City, Te Kauwhata, Huntly and Ngāruawāhia. These communities will remain under alert level 3 restrictions until Saturday, at the least.

Following the detection of cases outside of the alert level boundary on Wednesday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said health officials would keep an eye on the situation, but an extension of the border was not immediately required.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told the New Zealand Herald at the Mood of the Boardroom summit that officials would monitor the situation over the next 24 hours or so.

"We will look closely at the situation, particularly for Kāwhia, to make sure that we feel that we've got that under control," Robertson told the Herald.

"And if we did need to move, we would. But at this stage, we're feeling comfortable for that."

11:35am - In case you missed it, a clinical microbiologist is urging caution in regards to rapid antigen testing, tests that can return a positive or negative result for COVID-19 in about 15 minutes - as opposed to PCR tests, which can take several days.

James Ussher told The AM Show this morning that rapid antigen tests can be unreliable as they are markedly less sensitive than PCR swabs, which have been used widely in New Zealand since the beginning of the pandemic.

He says the rapid tests can often produce a false positive, meaning a PCR test should always be used as a follow-up to determine whether the result is accurate.

Due to their unreliability, rapid tests also run the risk of missing infections.

It comes as a coalition of 25 major New Zealand businesses seeks urgent approval from the Government to import rapid antigen tests into the country to protect critical worksites.

On Wednesday, it was announced that 25 of New Zealand's largest businesses had formed a coalition to jointly import 370,000 rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 into the country. The coalition is calling on the Government to issue emergency approval for the delivery, which would allow the tests to be distributed to worksites across a range of sectors - including manufacturing, energy, food production, telecommunications, freight, aviation and aged-care.

Read more here.

11:30am - One of the leading architects of New Zealand's elimination strategy against COVID-19 has backed health officials' move to enlist gang leaders in the vaccine rollout.

Michael Baker is also calling for drug possession and use to be decriminalised, or for police to at least exercise more discretion in who they prosecute.

The outbreak of the Delta variant, once confined to Auckland, has started spreading south into Waikato. Reports have placed the blame on gang members flouting alert level restrictions. 

The Ministry of Health has confirmed at least 18 known community cases of COVID-19 are gang members. Prominent Mongrel Mob leaders Sonny Fatupaito and Harry Tam have been given essential worker exemptions to enter Auckland to push the vaccine message "under strict COVID-19 protocols, enforced by health officials and the police", but they are exceptions. Any others travelling across boundaries are probably breaking the law. 

"That's why I think the control measures in Auckland - which succeeded in stopping widespread transmission - at a certain point didn't work anymore," Dr Baker told RNZ on Thursday, saying transmission of the virus was now "entrenched… in marginalised groups who were not engaged with the response".

Read more here.

11:15am - Unite Against COVID-19 has released a reminder of the "golden rules" under step one of the Government's three-stage plan to ease alert level 3 restrictions in Auckland.

Many complained the Prime Minister's outline of the rules on Monday was unclear and confusing, with people taking to social media in their droves with questions about the new restrictions. The main point of confusion was whether people are allowed to use the bathroom at a friend's home - a topic that was further muddled when ministers contradicted each other with their answers. 

11:05am - COVID-stricken New South Wales will be implementing a raft of significant changes to its "road to reopening", with up to 10 visitors permitted at the home and up to 30 outdoors. Funerals and weddings can increase to 100 attendees, and indoor pools are also set to reopen. 

10:45am - The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners is partnering with a wellbeing hub for Pasifika families to launch a Pacific approach to wellbeing, designed to support our Pasifika GPs.

Over the past 18 months, Pasifika GPs have been paramount in the drive to address health inequities associated with COVID-19 in their communities, the College of GPs said on Thursday.

On top of their already heavy workloads, Pasifika GPs have been swabbing and vaccinating at pop-up sites nationwide. The College's Pasifika Chapter has also been actively engaging with the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) medical team to help support the families in MIQ who have been affected by the Delta outbreak.

"Supporting the health and wellbeing of our patients and their families is our priority as GPs, but it is all too common for those of us on the frontline to put ourselves at the back of the queue, and not focus on how we're feeling, especially during these challenging times," College president Dr Samantha Murton said on Thursday.

The College is now partnering with Le Va - a wellbeing hub for Pasifika families - to bring 'Fatu o le Ola', a Pacific approach to wellbeing, to Pasifika GPs.

Le Va brings a unique offering of evidence-based and co-designed resources, tools and knowledge with culturally robust content to best serve Pasifika communities, Murton explained.

"We are very privileged to partner with the College to serve those who serve us. By providing an avenue for our GPs to talanoa about their own mental wellbeing, we are collaborating towards a healthier outcome for all," says Denise Kingi-U'lu'ave, Le Va's chief executive.

"We know we'll feel refreshed after we've stopped to take a break, and we tell our patients to do it all the time too. Let's take our own advice," Dr Murton added.

10:30am - Opposition leader Judith Collins has reiterated the National Party's commitment to taking part in the 'Super Saturday' vaccination drive on October 16.

In a statement on Thursday, Collins said she and Dr Shane Reti, the deputy leader and Health spokesperson, have agreed he will remain up north and focus on boosting the vaccination rates of Northland communities over the next couple of weeks. 

"Dr Reti will be working alongside Māori Health Provider Ki A Ora Ngātiwai on their vaccination drive," Collins said.

She also took a swipe at the Government for failing to "pull out all the stops" to address the barriers to vaccination among Māori. According to the latest data, 329,208 Māori have had their first dose, while 186,632 have received their second jab and are therefore fully vaccinated - the lowest rate of uptake.

"I am yet to see the Government pull out all the stops to address the barriers to Māori vaccination and simply talking about it is not enough. Scapegoating Māori is not acceptable either. It is because of the Government's incompetence and complacency that we are where we are," Collins said.

She says one way to boost Māori vaccination rates is to give Whānau Ora providers the funding and authority to play the role they are "more than capable of playing in this crucial public health drive".

"Whānau Ora have the connections and framework to go out to communities at place and engage with vaccine-hesitant Māori as well. Enabling the sharing of data between DHBs, primary health organisations, and Whānau Ora would streamline this.

"My message to the Government is to urge them to adopt these measures and, in fact, all the measures we have laid out in 'Opening Up'. They simply need to do what needs to be done."  

10:15am - A statement from joint head of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) Brigadier Rose King, regarding reports of damage at the Jet Park MIQ facility:

The Jet Park Auckland Airport MIQ facility is used to quarantine COVID-19 positive returnees and community cases. There is security onsite, made up of staff from the New Zealand Defence Force, Aviation Security Service, and New Zealand Police, alongside private security.

MIQ security staff work hard to ensure MIQ is safe for those who stay in our facilities, as well as all staff who work in MIQ facilities. We actively encourage staff to speak-up about any concerns they may have, whether they relate to safety or other issues.

Any poor behaviour by people in our facilities is taken very seriously. Staff are encouraged to raise any concerns directly with us.

Current community cases are managed in the same manner as all people who are in quarantine. However, we do acknowledge the additional stress experienced by those in our community who unexpectedly need to enter quarantine facilities.

Border returnees have time to mentally and physically prepare for their stay in MIQ. For community cases their time in MIQ is unplanned, at short notice and, understandably, can be incredibly stressful as they have to rearrange their lives at short notice. 

MIQ remains a dynamic environment and our on-going response is geared to respond quickly to change.  MIQ staff work hard to ensure the safety and comfort of all members of our community currently staying at our facilities.

We thank them for their hard work and dedication.

The Jet Park has reported some damage to five rooms. 

Of the five rooms, one room had significant damage including a double glazed window broken, hole punched in the door, curtain rail pulled down, broken chair, broken TV remote, phone and alarm clock.

The remaining rooms had minor damage, for example ripped/damaged curtains, stained carpets and drawing on walls (from small children) and a broken chair (which was not broken intentionally).

10am - A lifetime Black Power member believes gangs are mostly pro-vaccine.

The Ministry of Health has confirmed at least 18 community cases of COVID-19 are gang members, while prominent Mongrel Mob leaders Sonny Fatupaito and Harry Tam given were essential worker exemptions to enter Auckland to push the vaccine message.

Black Power representative Denis O'Reilly is certain the majority of gang members want the COVID-19 jab. 

"Most see themselves as being part of a broader community with elders that they love and respect and they don't want to infect," he told Newshub.

9:47am - A Cook Islands repatriation flight will leave from Christchurch on Thursday taking up to 90 passengers back to Rarotonga.

Each traveller must present a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding and undergo a pre-departure medical check.

Once landed, the passengers will enter seven days of managed isolation.

9:37am - An Auckland City councillor is pleading with gangs to push the importance of COVID-19 vaccines.

It comes after the Government confirmed several cases in the current outbreak are gang members, while prominent Mongrel Mob leaders Sonny Fatupaito and Harry Tam given were essential worker exemptions to enter Auckland to push the vaccine message.

Manurewa-Papakura Ward councillor Daniel Newman says it's vital for chapter leaders to take note.

"It's not just patched members of a gang, it's everybody in that whānau," he told Newshub. "Everybody needs the protection of vaccines and we've got to get that message out there and to support... those who are most marginalised."

9:30am - The Associate Health Minister wants Auckland's border to remain in place until Māori COVID-19 vaccination rates are higher across the country. 

Māori vaccination rates are lagging behind the rest of the population. Only 57.6 percent have had their first dose compared to 74 percent for Pasifika, 81 percent for European and 96 percent for Asian people. 

Watch Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare's full interview on The AM Show here.

9:14am - Raglan's Four Square supermarket is among five new COVID-19 locations of interest added on Thursday morning.

As it happened: Latest on COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, October 7
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

8:51am - Speaking to The AM Show on Thursday, Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare confirmed a police investigation was underway after rooms at the Jet Park quarantine facility were damaged.

Henare confirmed a gang member had been moved after they trashed their room.

"I can confirm there has been a challenge there and troubles there," he said. "There has been a bit of vandalism - the extent of that I'm not completely sure.

"This is obviously a disruption in our quarantine facility space and I know that the police have been engaged so that we can continue to keep the community safe while also stopping this kind of behaviour.

"It's just not acceptable."

Henare said he expected the person who trashed their room should be charged.

"Hopefully that is exactly what happens and it's certainly something I will be advocating for."

8:40am - Politicians are flying around New Zealand in a desperate bid to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Officials are struggling to reach some regions - with some barely reaching 30 percent fully vaccinated.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare says it's not good enough.

"Later on today, the Prime Minister's joining me here in Rotorua to drive up our Māori vaccination rates - not just in our bigger centres like Rotorua but in our more rural areas," he told The AM Show. "We know some of our small towns have really low vaccination numbers." 

8:29am -  New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Government inaction is being blamed for New Zealand's poor COVID-19 vaccination rate.

The former Deputy Prime Minister is asking why it took officials six weeks to respond to Pfizer's request to meet about vaccines last year.

Peters says it's appalling.

"We'd already given, months before that, $50 million to roll out when the response was ready... from Foreign Affairs New Zealand," said Peters, who was Foreign Affairs Minister under the previous Labour-NZ First Government.

8:15am - Auckland City councillor Daniel Newman is pleading with the unvaccinated to take advantage of a national day of action.

The October 16 initiative aims to quickly increase COVID-19 vaccination numbers.

Newman says the situation is critical.

"We're in a race against COVID and, frankly, we're losing the race," he told Newshub. "We've got one shot here because if COVID feeds in our community, we won't be able to easily suppress it." 

7:45am - New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is laying the blame squarely on the Government for the country's low COVID-19 vaccination rates.

The former Deputy Prime Minister has launched a scathing attack, asking why it took officials six weeks to respond to a letter from Pfizer requesting to meet about vaccines.

7:30am - Politicians are conceding COVID-19 case numbers are likely to spike among Māori and Pasifika.

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare told The AM Show it's a major worry.

"I made it clear when Cabinet makes the decisions that, as we look toward loosening some of those restrictions, that it would have an impact on our communities and that's one of the strong debates we have as a Cabinet," he said. "I'm not the only one who feels that way."

7:20am - A microbiologist is urging caution over moves to import a variety of COVID-19 testing methods.

Twenty-five big businesses across several sectors are working to bring 370,000 rapid antigen tests into New Zealand.

But microbiologist James Ussher says they should proceed with care.

"Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than the PCR tests that are generally being used in New Zealand," he told The AM Show.

7am - An immunologist is issuing a desperate plea to Aucklanders to play it safe under eased alert level 3 rules after the latest COVID-19 death.

It's been revealed Wednesday's reported death was a 50-year-old man and a prominent member of a south Auckland church.

Immunologist Diane Sika-Paotonu says the Delta variant can spread much easier.

"We can't make any missteps here," Dr Sika-Paotonu told Newshub. "The consequences for our vulnerable communities, in particular, will be severe." 

6:50am - Doctors are doubting hospitals across New Zealand will cope if COVID-19 runs rampant in the regions.

It comes after positive cases were detected in Kāwhia and Karāpiro - outside of the Waikato alert level 3 boundary.

Northland-based physician Nitasha Rimar says we must do everything possible to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"It would be, essentially, an overwhelmed state for our hospital system - especially for our intensive care units," Dr Rimar told Newshub. 

6:40am - Tricky managed isolation guests in Auckland's Jet Park quarantine (MIQ) facility have been intimidating workers - with multiple rooms being ruined since the Delta outbreak, according to a Stuff report.

Some of the intimidation has involved COVID-19 cases who are gang-affiliates, the report said.