As it happened: Two new Waikato cases, Jacinda Ardern holds sudden press conference

The Prime Minister has announced parts of Waikato - including Raglan and Hamilton city - are moving into alert level 3 for at least five days.

It comes after a case was found in Raglan and another in Hamilton East. They're contacts of each other, but not yet linked to the Auckland outbreak. Neither were vaccinated against COVID-19. The Raglan case will be moved to a quarantine facility, while the Hamilton East case is in hospital being treated for symptoms.  

Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted a press conference on Sunday, something that wasn't meant to happen until the Waikato cases changed plans.

At the 1pm press conference, Dr Bloomfield revealed there are 33 new community cases, with 15 unlinked to the wider outbreak.

It comes ahead of Cabinet's decision on Monday on whether to move Auckland to alert level 2. Most experts agree that is unlikely to happen with double-digit cases still being detected and a handful each day being initially unlinked to the wider outbreak.

On Saturday night, it also emerged that an Auckland truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North for work had tested positive. That's led to a number of truck stops and fast-food joints across the North Island becoming locations of interest. The case is now isolating in Palmerston North.

What you need to know:

  • Two new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Waikato - one in Raglan and one in Hamilton East
  • Parts of Waikato - including Raglan and Hamilton city - will move to alert level 3 from Sunday night for at least five days
  • There were 33 new cases on Sunday, taking the outbreak's total to 1328. Fifteen of these new cases are unlinked
  • An Auckland truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North for work purposes has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Testing stations are available in Raglan, Hamilton and Palmerston North and people with symptoms are urged to come forward for testing
  • The parent of a baby in Auckland City Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit has tested positive for COVID-19
  • The Government has announced non-citizens entering New Zealand from November must be fully vaccinated. From early next year, Air New Zealand will only allow fully vaccinated people on international routes.

These live updates have finished.

7:45pm - A parent of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) baby at Auckland City Hospital tested positive for COVID-19 today, the Ministry of Health says.

Movements in and out of NICU have been restricted and the DHB is testing all staff, whānau and babies in the unit as a precaution, they say.

"All of the babies in the unit and those who have recently been discharged are being monitored closely as part of their on-going care and treatment. The DHB's initial investigations suggest the risk to babies in the unit is low," the Ministry of Health says in a statement.

"Auckland DHB and Auckland Regional Public Health Service are working at pace to identify patients and staff who are considered to be contacts.

"The DHB has plans in place to manage staff levels until it is safe for everyone to return to work."

Some expectant mothers may be transferred to other maternity units if their baby is likely to need NICU care. This will be provided from neighbouring facilities.

"Auckland DHB has acknowledged this is a time of much uncertainty for the families involved. They are providing support to any parents, patients and staff members who need it. This includes supporting the COVID-19 positive parent and their family," the ministry says.

"The thoughts of the DHB, and the ministry, are with this family as they manage the stress of a positive test result, as well as having a newborn baby in intensive care."

7:15pm - Two of New Zealand's most senior intensive care specialists have spoken out about their fears that the country's health system will be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases as soon as Delta spreads further.

Tania Mitchell, chairperson of the College of Critical Care Nurses, and Dr Alex Psirides, from Australia and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, both say unvaccinated people taking up hospital beds could cause the unnecessary deaths of others.

They're also both afraid of what will happen to New Zealand's ICUs once Delta breaks free.

Read and watch the full story from Newshub's Patrick Gower here.

6:25pm - There are several new locations of interest. They are:

  • Pak'nSave Albany, September 20 from 8pm to 10pm
  • Farro Mt Eden, September 25 from 12pm to 12:30pm
  • Beach Haven Bakery, September 28 from 6:20am to 6:25pm
  • Pak'nSave Manukau, September 28 from 1pm to 3pm
  • Tasty Bites Lunch Bar East Tamaki, September 29 from 9:45am to 9:55am
  • Coronation Superette Hillcrest, September 30 from 12:45pm to 1:15pm 
  • Pak'nSave Albany, September 30 from 8pm to 10pm
  • Dominos Beach Haven, September 30 from 9pm to 10pm
  • Z Petrol Station Papatoetoe, September 30 from 7:50pm to 7:55pm
  • GAS Albany Heights, October 2 from 12:15pm to 12:45pm.

5:55pm - The Ministry of Health says all initial tests from household members of cases in Hamilton East and Palmerston North have returned negative results.

Results were received for two household members of the Auckland-based truck driver who is isolating in Palmerston North, and eight household members from the case in Hamilton East.

The results of three household members of the Raglan case, who have now all been moved to an Auckland quarantine facility, are expected back later tonight and will be announced tomorrow.

5:15pm - The Waikato District Council says once parts of the region go into level 3 tonight, many of its services will be disrupted or unavailable this week.

"The Government's boundary map is not available yet, but we have decided to operate under level 3 conditions for at least this coming week," the council said in a Facebook post.

The following services are disrupted:

  • All libraries and offices are closed to the public this week
  • Playgrounds are closed
  • Community halls are closed
  • Huntly pool is closed.

4:45pm - Dr Dion O'Neale, principal investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini and lecturer in the University of Auckland's Physics Department, says level 3 in the Waikato is serving a different purpose than level 3 in Auckland.

He says the use of small areas at level 3 within the broader Waikato region seem more geared towards the behaviour change aspects of level 3 than on limiting inter-regional movement and reducing wider transmission risk. 

"The density of interconnecting links within Auckland make it necessary to include all of the supercity, and some of the surrounding areas, within the alert level boundary. Within the wider Waikato region there is a similar pattern of interconnecting links, but in the case of Waikato these links are spread over an area that is much larger than just Hamilton City," O'Neale says.

"Hamilton City itself is relatively geographically small, with large numbers of people moving in and out of the area each day. This makes it infeasible to define only a small area around Hamilton (and nearby areas such as Huntly and Ngāruawahia). Part of the reason for this is the large number of road connections through the Waikato, but another factor is making sure that people can still access essential services such as shops, food and healthcare and can get to work, where appropriate."

He says an important factor in preventing spread of the virus is that when people are moving between regions, they need to take their alert level with them. They also need to act as if they are at the highest alert level for any area they have visited in the past two weeks.

"People who have been in any of the Waikato alert level 3 areas in the previous week will need to be acting like they are at alert level 3, wherever they happen to be now. This includes people who might have travelled recently, with the start of school holidays, where we typically see a surge of people travelling from Hamilton and surrounds, to other locations," O'Neale says.

4:15pm - There are seven new locations of interest. They are: 

  • Cascade Superette, September 28 from 2:45pm to 3:50pm
  • Cash Converters Otara, September 29 from 10am to 10:30am
  • Dollar Dealers Otara, September 29 from 10:32am to 11am
  • Chicking Manukau, September 29 from 4:35pm to 5:35pm and 5:50pm to 6:05pm
  • The Warehouse Manukau, September 30 from 12:35pm to 1:05pm
  • Toby's Seafood Manurewa, September 30 from 1:15pm to 1:25pm
  • Orly Avenue Superette, September 30 from 11:05pm to 11:10pm.

3:45pm - Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, an immunologist, Associate Dean (Pacific), head of University of Otago in Wellington's Pacific office, and senior lecturer in pathology & molecular medicine and the University of Otago in Wellington, says although vaccination rates have improved, focus and momentum must continue and barriers need to be reduced for those who are yet to be vaccinated.

"The recently-identified positive COVID-19 cases prompting the shift of Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Ngaruawahia, Hamilton city and Huntly into level 3 restrictions indicates how easily the Delta variant can still spread across regional borders and into other areas at this time, and that without higher vaccination rates, the risk of further outbreaks remains," she says.

"As it stands, unlinked mystery cases of unknown origin have continued to appear throughout the current alert level restrictions, which is also of further concern and highlights the need for all to remain vigilant, get vaccinated, get tested, follow the alert level rules and importantly, to reach out and help and support others do the same."

Dr Sika-Paotonu says an alert level shift for Auckland will require careful scrutiny since a high degree of risk still remains, especially for vulnerable people.

"Moving forward, the adverse health outcomes in Aotearoa NZ already seen with COVID-19 and that are impacting our most vulnerable groups in particular, will require ongoing careful consideration and appropriate responses, so as to prevent any further exacerbation of these inequities," she says.

"Pacific-targeted and tailored vaccination events and activities recently held that have been Pacific-led and community driven, together with Pacific health providers, have helped improve vaccine accessibility, and vaccination rates and are examples of Pacific-led solutions for Pacific peoples and communities."

3:15pm - A truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North from Auckland before testing positive for COVID-19 wasn't enough to move the city into alert level 3 with Waikato, officials say.

The truck driver returned a positive COVID-19 result on Saturday following routine surveillance testing and is now isolating in Palmerston North.

That case came before two mystery COVID-19 cases were found in Waikato, plunging parts of the region into alert level 3 with Auckland.

Both the Waikato cases are linked to each other but have yet to be linked to the original Auckland outbreak.

Ardern says the Palmerston North and Waikato cases both present a different set of circumstances.

"Having come from Auckland, we know the source [of the Palmerston North case] so that's really key. We know... this is a person in Auckland so it's easy to connect it to our Auckland outbreak," Ardern told reporters.

She said unlike the Waikato infections, officials knew all of the Palmerston North case's movements.

Read the full story here.

3pm - Since alert level 3 came into place, police say eight people have been charged with a total of eight offences in Auckland and Upper Hauraki, as at 5pm Saturday.

Of these, five 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, 15 people were formally warned.

Police have received a total of 1833 online breach notifications relating to businesses, mass gatherings or people in Auckland and Upper Hauraki.

2:45pm - Professor Michael Plank, a modeller at Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, says today's cases in Waikato and yesterday's case that visited Palmerston North is a reminder of why the rest of New Zealand is at alert level 2.

"More frequent testing of essential workers crossing the alert level boundary, for example with rapid antigen tests, would help reduce risk. However, the Auckland boundary will never be watertight and while there is community transmission in Auckland, there is a risk a case could pop up anywhere in the country," he says.

"The fact that the Waikato cases don't have a clear link to the Auckland outbreak and have been infectious in the community for several days is concerning. It suggests there could be additional undetected community cases. Moving this area to level 3 for five days buys some time for testing and contact tracing to establish how widespread transmission in Waikato is."

Plank adds that these cases show that, even with a small number of cases in Auckland, keeping the virus contained to one city "is difficult".

"If the Auckland outbreak grows much larger, it will become even harder to prevent COVID spreading to other parts of New Zealand. The message is clear: COVID is here and it's a matter of time before it spreads across the country. The very best way to protect yourself against this virus is to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

2:30pm - ACT Party leader David Seymour says the Government has "lost control" of COVID-19 and is in "dangerous denial".

"The Prime Minister stands at the podium looking shell shocked as the Government's response crashes down around her, complaining that New Zealand's vaccine roll out is too slow. You have to hand it to her, that's brave," he says.

"It wasn't so long ago the Government used words like 'hard and early' and 'short and sharp'. There's been nothing short and sharp about the past eight week for Aucklanders."

Seymour says the Hamilton border strategy is "a joke" and if the Government can't enforce it, it shouldn't do it.

"The Government needs to accept it's failed and plot a new way forward. We need daily wastewater tests and reporting – this needs to be consistent for the whole country, rapid antigen tests for anyone leaving Auckland not just weekly tests and we need to roll out saliva testing everywhere so it's easy to get a test," he says.

"ACT's sympathies are with businesses in the Waikato who have had to yo-yo in and out of strict conditions – all because the Government doesn't know what it's doing."

Seymour says since the eradication strategy is "no longer viable", there needs to be a change of approach. He has released a list of five movements he believes should make up a new approach:

  1. Recognise that eradication no longer stacks up. Instead, there should be moves to reduce transmission, hospitalisation, and death from COVID-19 at the least cost to overall wellbeing.
  2. Move from isolating whole cities to isolating only those who it "makes sense" to isolate. Personal isolation should be restricted to three groups: those who are medically vulnerable and require special protection, those who have recently arrived in New Zealand and are privately isolating, and those who have tested positive as part of widespread surveillance testing.
  3. Move from chronic fear and uncertainty and get on a path to restoring freedom. This would settle when the vaccine rollout is considered complete and there should be an aim to get Kiwis home for Christmas.
  4. Move from a 'government knows best' approach to an approach of openness, and host all in 'sprints'. In each sprint, the business community and all of society are invited to help reach clearly identified goals of lower transmission rates, hospitalisations and deaths, in time for reopening.
  5. The entire tone of New Zealand's COVID response should shift from fear and a singular focus on public health to a focus on maximising overall wellbeing.
David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub.

2:20pm - National Party leader Judith Collins says the spread of COVID-19 into Waikato and unlinked cases is proof that level 3 in Auckland isn't containing the virus in line with the Government's elimination strategy and a new approach is "urgently required".

"The five-day level 3 lockdown of much of the Waikato following confirmation of cases in Raglan and Hamilton shows level 3 is not containing the virus and the Government has lost control of the situation in Auckland," she says.

"The Prime Minister is now at a crossroads. What is her Government's strategy? New Zealand is yet to be given a clear pathway out of lockdowns beyond the Prime Minister's repeated claim that elimination remains the goal.

"Level 3 in Auckland and level 2 is the rest of New Zealand is costing more than $1 billion a week. But restrictions are clearly not consistent with an elimination strategy. If the Government's strategy has changed, it needs to tell us."

Collins says the situation has changed and elimination seems no longer feasible. She believes New Zealanders need to know what the lockdowns are aiming to achieve and when they will end.

"If not elimination, are we buying time while the Government catches up on its slow vaccine rollout? What is the threshold where restrictions will be lifted?" Collins says.

"These are questions that demand immediate answers. The Government has no exit strategy."

2:05pm - There is a new location of interest. It is:

  • Fruit World New Lynn, September 29 from 3pm to 4pm.

2pm - Dr Dougal Sutherland, a clinical psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Wellbeing, says the level 3 move for parts of Waikato brings the country into "uncharted waters".

"This is the first major bounce upwards from level 2 to level 3 during our COVID journey. The timing couldn't be worse as it is the first weekend of the school holidays. Therefore, this increase in alert levels will bring disappointment and changes in plans for many, leading to frustration and anxiety for some," he says.

"Up until now New Zealanders have shown a willingness to trust in the science that lies behind the government's handling of the COVID response. Maintaining this trust will be a crucial component in going forwards and may help temper the frustration those who are affected may experience."

1:45pm - Ardern says 83.9 percent of eligible Aucklanders have received their first vaccine dose.

Despite the uptake during lockdown, she urges that "we need to keep going" with vaccinations across the country.

1:35pm - The Prime Minister says she has no regrets about moving Auckland from alert level 4 to alert level 3 nearly two weeks ago. She also says Auckland won't move to level 4 this week.

1:30pm - Dr Bloomfield says he got his second vaccination on Sunday.

Ardern says the Government is considering whether those crossing the boundary for work reasons should have to be vaccinated. Those currently crossing have to be tested.

She says the Brian Tamaki-led protests on Saturday were "morally wrong" as well as illegal. It was a "slap in the face" to Aucklanders, the Prime Minister says. She says the police response is an issue for them.

1:20pm - The Palmerston North case - the truck driver from Auckland - was not vaccinated, neither were the Raglan or Hamilton cases, the Prime Minister says. The household members of the truck driver are vaccinated and so far have not tested positive, she says.

A number of cases recorded on Sunday are linked to the transitional housing sub-cluster, Dr Bloomfield says. 

Ardern is also acknowledging the Government announcement that non-citizens entering New Zealand must be fully vaccinated from November. Air New Zealand has also announced that those travelling on its international network must be vaccinated from early next year.

The Government can't put conditions on citizens coming back to the country, she says. However, New Zealand shouldn't have to shoulder the potential cost of unvaccinated tourists, Ardern tells reporters. 

1:15pm - The Prime Minister says Sunday's move reflects what will happen in the future if COVID-19 is found in areas with vaccination levels below 90 percent.

She says 79 percent of the eligible population have had their first dose. Ardern says there are 1500 vaccine appointments available on Sunday in Waikato, with walk-ins also found in the region. A pop-up vaccination centre will also be located in Raglan from Sunday afternoon.

Ardern says there will be a number of locations of interest linked to the Hamilton case. They have moved "locally" in recent days, she says. She isn't aware of any movement outside of the region and at this stage they haven't identified anyone from Auckland who have had contact with the Waikato cases.

Officials will be dealing with Waikato separately to how it deals with Auckland, she says. She refers to the cases in Waikato as a "new outbreak".

1:10pm - There are 26 people in hospital, including the Hamilton East case. Three people are in ICU, Dr Bloomfield says.

Ardern says ministers have agreed to move parts of Waikato - including Hamilton city and Raglan - to alert level 3 alongside Auckland from Sunday night. The exact locations will soon be published online. There will be spot checks around these locations, but not a hard boundary due to practical reasons.

It is likely these places will be in lockdown for the next five days, allowing for widespread testing and contact tracing.

People living in these areas are asked to work from home and get tested if they have symptoms.

Ardern is also urging people to get vaccinated. Most of our current cases are unvaccinated, she says. The virus is "literally finding the unvaccinated", the Prime Minister says. If the Waikato areas were above 90 percent vaccinated, it's "highly unlikely" they would be going into lockdown, she says.

1:05pm - Ardern is now speaking, noting two cases have been found in Waikato. One is in Raglan and the other in Hamilton. They are linked, but not connected to the Auckland outbreak.

Dr Bloomfield says a number of the new unlinked cases have possible links to the outbreak. Interviews are currently underway. 

The Director-General says interviews with the Waikato cases and genome sequencing may find a link to the Auckland outbreak. Those procedures are underway currently.

He notes there is extra capacity for testing in Hamilton as well as a station in Raglan. More information can be found here.

Regarding the truck driver case, Dr Bloomfield says he was picked up through routine surveillance after returning a negative test on September 24. Their infectious period is from September 28. The driver is now at a Palmerston North facility. 

1pm - There are 33 new cases of COVID-19 in the community. The Ministry of Health says 32 of these are in Auckland, one is in Waikato. Fifteen of the 33 cases are unlinked. Fourteen of Saturday's 27 cases were infectious in the community.

An additional Waikato case - that found in Hamilton East - will be included in Monday's total.

12:40pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide an update at 1pm. The pair weren't meant to be speaking on Sunday, but plans have changed in light of the Waikato cases.

You'll be able to watch the press conference above and on Three.

12:30pm - In light of the news about the truck driver case, there's been a large increase in locations of interest overnight and on Sunday morning. Here's those reported since 9pm on Saturday:

As it happened: Two new Waikato cases, Jacinda Ardern holds sudden press conference
As it happened: Two new Waikato cases, Jacinda Ardern holds sudden press conference
As it happened: Two new Waikato cases, Jacinda Ardern holds sudden press conference

12:20pm - In case you missed it, the Ministry of Health announced on Saturday night that an Auckland truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North for work has tested positive for COVID-19.

"The case was detected in a routine surveillance test which was done in Auckland yesterday, and which returned a positive result earlier today," a statement said on Saturday.

"The person has been tested regularly, as required for essential workers travelling out of Auckland, and had previously returned a negative test result on September 24. The person’s infectious period is determined to be from September 28.

"As per surveillance testing protocol, essential workers who are permitted to cross Auckland’s boundaries are not required to self-isolate until they return a negative test result, as they undergo regular tests."

They're now isolating in a Palmerston North facility and whole genome sequencing is underway. Two household contacts are isolating.

The ministry says the hours worked by the driver means their contact with others is limited.

12:10pm - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has just announced non-citizens will have to be fully vaccinated to enter New Zealand from November.

Here's the full announcement just in: 

Full vaccination will become a requirement for non-New Zealand citizens arriving into the country from 1 November, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says. 

"Getting vaccinated is the most effective measure against the transmission of COVID-19, and the risk of serious illness or death," Chris Hipkins said.  

"To further reduce the possibility of the virus getting through our border, we are introducing the requirement for air travellers aged 17 and over, who are not New Zealand citizens, to be fully vaccinated to enter New Zealand.

"This is an important step in our Reconnecting New Zealand strategy."

Travellers will be required to declare their vaccination status when registering with the Managed Isolation Allocation System, as well as presenting proof of vaccination or a relevant exemption to their airline and to Customs officers once they land.  

The COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group has recommended that a full course of any of the 22 COVID-19 vaccines approved by a government or approval authority, with the last dose being at least 14 days before arrival, will be acceptable at this stage. Guidance will be prepared on what will qualify as evidence of a vaccination or an exemption.   

"Most people coming to New Zealand tell us they are already vaccinated. This requirement makes it formal and will provide an extra layer of protection at the border. It will work well alongside the announcement today that everyone on board an Air New Zealand aircraft travelling internationally will need to be fully vaccinated from February 2022."

Everybody arriving will still be required to complete 14 days in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, and all travellers except those from exempt locations will still need to have evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result from an accredited laboratory within 72 hours of their first scheduled international flight. 

"Even a single case presents a risk. However, high and wide-spread vaccination rates will mean more freedoms, fewer restrictions, and the day-to-day confidence that protection from the virus brings.   

"This requirement will be an interim measure while development continues on the traveller health declaration system, which will introduce the ability to digitally verify the vaccination status of people arriving into New Zealand.   

The requirement will be brought in with an amendment to the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order (No 2) 2020 (Air Border Order).  

Those subject to the requirement who fail to present proof of vaccination may be subject to an infringement notice under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Act 2020, which under a Bill currently before the House would see infringements carrying a maximum fine of $4000.

The requirement will not apply to New Zealand citizens, children under the age of 17, and those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons.  

RSE workers coming to NZ as part of the one-way QFT arrangement with Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu will also be exempt due to existing vaccination requirements, as will refugees. There will also be a process to seek exemptions from the Director General of Health on humanitarian grounds, or where people travelling with New Zealand citizens have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated within the timeframes. 

12pm - Two people in Waikato have tested positive for COVID-19 in the community.

One case from Hamilton east is in Waikato Hospital and the other from Raglan is self-isolating. The Ministry of Health says several household contacts have been identified and are also self-isolating.

A ministry spokeswoman says the Raglan case was tested on October 1 after becoming unwell.

"Their infectious period is determined to be from September 27," the ministry said on Sunday.

"This person has three household contacts who are also isolating.

"A pop-up testing centre will be operating at the Raglan Rugby Grounds car park on Cross St from midday and anyone in Raglan with symptoms is urged to please get a test.

"The second case is a known contact of the Raglan case and was tested after becoming unwell. This person, who lives in Hamilton, was transferred safely to Waikato Hospital where they are being treated for COVID-19-related symptoms."

COVID-19 testing centres will be open at the Founders Theare car park in Hamilton's CBD on Sunday, as well as at the Claudelands Event Centre, the ministry said.

"Anyone in Hamilton who has COVID-19 symptoms is asked to please get tested and isolate until you receive your result.

"There are also walk-in vaccinations available in Hamilton today at the super-site at Te Awa - The Base, as well as other sites around the city. Potential links with both cases to the Auckland outbreak are being worked through.

"A number of exposure events for both cases are in the process of being worked through by public health staff. Any that are locations of interest will be listed on the Ministry of Health website."

More information on the cases will be provided at 1pm, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield front a COVID-19 press conference at Parliament.