COVID-19 update, 23 August 4pm

News article

23 August 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will update the media today at a post-cabinet press conference at 4pm.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Cabinet met this afternoon to confirm our plan to stamp out the Delta outbreak we are currently experiencing.

As you might have already heard, there are 35 new cases reported today, 33 in Auckland and two in Wellington, bringing the outbreak to 107 cases in total. Six days into the outbreak, we are building a picture of Delta's spread.

 We have identified the source of the outbreak, a returnee from NSW, who was briefly at the youn plaza on the 7th - the Crowne Plaza on 7 and 8 before testing positive and being transferred to quarantine at the jet park. In recent days, we have re- tested all staff at both the Crowne Plaza and jet park. To date this has given us no further clues. We'll continue, though, with that source investigation, and update you as we go.

We have processed 154,439 tests across New Zealand in the past six days, a record amount of testing for a six-day period by quite some way. Equating to about 3% of the population.

While we're seeing high case numbers at the moment and will continue to for the coming days, the number of tests does provide some reassurance that we're finding cases because we are looking broadly. In Auckland, that is even greater. 108,000 tests taken.

A good representative sample of the population of Auckland. To everyone who has turned out to be tested - thank you. I know for many, you waited many hours in queues, so your person veerns is greatly appreciated by the entire team.

The additional stations that we've set up are making a difference now too, and wait times are starting to come down. We've also undertaken extensive waste-water testing which to date has returned positive results for sites in Auckland and Wellington only.

So while we're starting to build a picture of Delta's spread, there remain a number of unanswered questions. And with Delta, more certainty is needed. In its recent report to the government, Professor Sir David Skegg said the Delta variant will be more difficult to control by testing and contract tracing alone and we're already seeing that that's why our move into our immediate lockdown was so important. Delta had a head start on us and we needed to catch up as quickly as we could. You can see that head start in our transmission rate or the number of people that on average each case is wassing COVID-19 onto.

Early estimates suggest that number may be six or higher. You may recall from previous outbreaks this number needs to be less than one in order for the virus to be stamped out. So we have some way to go yet.

 As a result of the head start Delta had and the fact that it does move rapidly and effectively, we have more than 320 locations of interest.

Our more cautious approach to these locations means we also have over 13,000 contacts recorded - far more than we've had in other outbreaks, but deliberately so. That does mean that our data collection for each of those sites is different too.

 In the past if we had a large events like an awards evening we would assess all the people a case likely had contact with and treat those as our most at-risk individuals.

 Now, Delta and our more cautious approach means we're approaching all of those with caution and asking them to be tested. We won't always have the same certainty that we've reached or that we need to. Level 4 does help us overcome this issue.

There are some additional reasons why this alert level remains important.

Firstly, with the head start Dal a had, it did manage to create contacts all over the country. This meet hap shows the location of our known contact, and as you can see, they are certainly not isolated to one part of New Zealand. As I said, these are also our known contacts. For some of the very, very large locations of interest, reaching everyone will not always be a perfect process. Caution is required.

Secondly, after going into Level 4, we allowed people a window to get home, as we've always done. During that grace period, almost 8,000 people flew out of Auckland to get home. That was the right thing to do to allow people to isolate safely. But that means we have in essence had only 72 hours with the exception of some of the movement out of Queenstown and interislander, where everyone across the country has stayed put.

And the third reason Level 4 is important for all of us is because we don't yet believe we've reached the peak of this outbreak, or necessarily the edges of it.

You will recall that we pointed to early modelling suggesting we needed 8 to 10 days before we would hit a peak.

We're on roughly day 7, so - day 6, so cases may continue to get worse before they get better, and I know we're all prepared for that. That does mean, though, that the safest option for all of us right now is to hold the course for longer.

On that basis, Cabinet has decided that all of New Zealand will remain at Level 4 for an additional four days until 11.59pm, Friday, 27 August.

This will allow us to have additional data and assurances as to whether the virus has spread from our existing sites and now contained it's likely to be. These settings will be reviewed this Friday and we'll give you an update in the afternoon form. Give you a sense of what we'll be looking for in order to decide whether parts of New Zealand to ready to move down alert levels, we'll be looking to see if any new cases emerge outside of Auckland, where the waste-water results stay negative and if cases do emerge in other parts of the country, whether or not they are cases that were already in isolation.

For those in Auckland, I have different news. You'll see this continues to be the primary location of cases. Here we believe we know enough to say that your time in Level 4 needs to be at least that full 14-day cycle that we've used in the past, so Cabinet has decided to give the city that certainty, and to tell you what we already know, Auckland will remain in alert Level 4 until 11.59pm on Tuesday, 31 August, and we will review those settings on Monday.

 In both our cases and the decisions that we've made today, you can see we are still very much in the thick of this outbreak, but I can also tell you that Cabinet and the health team remain confident. Delta has changed the rules of the game, but we've changed our approach too. We've hardened our alert level, widened our contact tracing, required more mask-wearing, and we are testing more people. It is absolutely possible to get on top of this. We just need to keep it up, and ensure that we're not in restrictions any longer than we need to be.

So here's a reminder of the things we all need to keep doing while we we remain at alert level No. 4. No. 1, stay at home. If you're not an essential worker you should only be leaving your house for the essentials and some fresh air. If you leave home, please, wear a mask, and do remember, there are some people in our disabled community who are not able to wear face coverings and have exemptions from doing so. Please remember to be kind.

2, if you are a contact, isolate. Contacts are the people most likely to have the virus and pass it on. Please stay at home. Get others to do your groceries. Only leave to get a test. If you need support, please do ask for it.

3, wash your hands often with soap, and dry them and of course, cough into your elbow.

And 4, get vaccinated. Now is the time to drive up our vaccination numbers. Over 74% of people aged 40-plus are already booked or vaccinated, but in reality, we need that number to be as close to 100% as possible. Do it now. If you're not booked in yet, please go to and do your part for the team to help prevent the need for lockdowns in the future.

These rules will be so important.

To leave Level 4 we need to follow them closely. In line with our own recommendation, as we did last time at New Zealand was at Level 4, we had temporarily suspended the sitting of Parliament for one week on the advice of the Director-General of Health. While of course we want to ensure that representatives across the House have the ability to scrutinise the government at this time, physically bringing MPs from across the country to Parliament does pose risk.

That's why for this week we've asked all ministers to make themselves available to appear before Parliament's select (e) cans which of course have a range of opposition MPs and spokespeople on them. As these committees will continue to meet virtually. That will allow us to balance safety and scrutiny. We'll use the next week to see if there are other enhancements we can make. I would add that these types of alternative arrangements are commonplace around the world. There's other Parliaments manage outbreaks in their countries also.

So, to recap, we're currently in Level 4. We will all be here until Friday, when we review the settings for the country. Other than Auckland, who will stay at Level 4 until next Tuesday, with a review the day prior. This gives us the chance to consider as often as we can whether we are safe to move, depending on where in the country you are. Our plan has worked before, and together we can make it work again, so please, stay strong, stay home and be kind, and let's finish what we started.

Before I open up for questions, I have a quick update on Afghanistan. The first group of New Zealand citizens and their families alongside some other visa holders have been successfully evacuated from Afghanistan and will arrive in Auckland this afternoon.

Due to a range of security and privacy considerations, we will not be providing any further comment on the number of evacuees as the deployment is ongoing. Of course, at the conclusion of deployment, we will be looking to provide numbers. But I can say that the group were evacuated from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates, where arrangements were made for their travel to New Zealand, with the help of Australia's Defence Force. They've been transferred to an Air New Zealand commercial flight that is part of our freight scheme.

The group will undergo 14 days within a managed isolation facility, just like anyone else entering New Zealand at this time.

 I know when the time presents itself that New Zealanders will go out of their way to make those who have returned home today feel at home. I do want to thank our partners, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and the US, who worked on securing the airport for their continued support in what remains a very difficult situation on the ground. I also want to pass on my thanks to the multiple agencies and personnel working around the clock to ensure the return of our citizens. The window to evacuate people out of Afghanistan is, unfortunately, very limited, and despite our ongoing efforts, we cannot guarantee we can assist all those who are seeking to evacuate. We are monitoring the situation and continue to work urgently with our international partners for the safe return of New Zealanders and those who have supported New Zealand. Now happy to take your questions. Jessica.

>>Prime Minister, what buffer is it giving you for the extra four days till Friday for the places outside of Auckland? 

>>Well, if gives us that longer period of time where we know that everyone has been at their homes, once we had everyone relocate for that period. It gives us additional data. It gives us additional testing across the known contacts who have been at those locations of interest and who are spread throughout the country and that gives us a level of reassurance. We'll also be looking at waste- water results which are dotted throughout all parts of the country, and of course, looking to see if we have any new cases, have they been in isolation for their entirety of their infectious period? So that's what we'll be looking for.

>>On current modelling, is there any way that Auckland could come out before the 31st, and also, I know that we're still two weeks out, but what should Auckland anticipate? Is there every possibility that they will be able to go down after the 31st?

>>Yeah, I'll give Dr Bloomfield a chance on this one as well but I think what we're trying to balance at the moment for Auckland is just giving a sense of really what we can see from the outbreak at the moment and realistically, when we might expect to see cases peak. But also, allowing ourselves to keep checking in, to see whether or not there are any alterations we can make. Auckland as I think we'll see this data and we'll know that that two weeks at this point is a given and so we've said, yes, we absolutely believe we are going to need to go through till next Tuesday, but let's check in again, see how we're looking, see what the outbreak is doing and see whether we've reached that peak of the outbreak or not

>>Just one thing to add. So Tuesday will be two weeks then in Level 4 in Auckland where most of the potential exposure happened before the alert level change came in. We think about compare that with the rest of the country, particularly the South Island, the big exposure events we're concerned about were two Saturdays ago. So this Friday will be 14 days since those exposure events that we're particularly concerned about. 

>>This isn't really a short, sharp lockdown any more. Are you worried about lockdown fatigue?

>>Well, actually, I would say relative to what we've seen from other countries, this absolutely IS a go hard, go early approach. Many other places around the world, you've seen more of a light and long. That's never been New Zealand's take on the way to challenge COVID and get on top of it. So we are still absolutely keeping with that strategy. You'll remember that our go hard, go early strategy, when COVID first entered our shores, looked like this as well. Of course, over that period of time, relative to the rest of the world, it was very much short and sharp.

>>Did Dr Black field recommend for the lockdown to be extended, Level 4 to be extended through to midnight Sunday?

>>We followed his advice. Keep in mind, Dr Bloomfield often iteratively shares with us advice and then comes onto a Cabinet call and based on the data we get at 9am that morning, then gives us his latest reflections but I'll let him speak to his own advice 

>>Yes, certainly. My advice was and based on consultation advice from my team was for the whole country, through to Friday, and indeed, extending Auckland out that longer period. 

>>Are you effectively saying that it's quite likely that all regions outside Auckland will move to Level 3 if are there no unconnected cases from now until then, or is it more of a case we need more visibility on where those contacts are?

>>Yes, look at it - the way that I would describe it, we do need more information. We need more certainty. We don't want to take any risks with Delta. If the world has taught us anything, it is to be cautious with this variant of COVID-19. Having said that, we do believe that that is an appropriate checking point, because we do want to look at whether or not we've seen any of those locations of interest present then as challenges in other part of the country like the South Island, whether or not we've seen cases there, whether we've seen waste-water results there so that felt like an appropriate check-in. It also gives us a decent amount of time once everyone's stayed put after we've had that relocation period.

>>Can you clarify whether there's been any of today's cases have been from the location you identified yesterday as (inaudible), for instance, on Sunday. Can you also clarify, you also mentioned (inaudible) Auckland University students. Auckland University has been in touch with us to say that (inaudible). 

>>So on the first point - yes, most of our emergent cases now, it is quite clear, at first glance, that there is a link to existing cases. And a number of the new ones are associated today with the AOG church service two Sundays ago. Likewise, I don't have the - I don't have the number off the top of my head. Likewise, in Wellington, all the newly emerging cases in Wellington are connected with and are close contacts of known cases and all but one were in isolation for the period of infectivity. The picture in Wellington is en encouraging at the moment. On the university of Auckland, this relates to the student who travelled from Auckland to Wellington. There is one another university of Auckland student who has tested positive. I'm not sure if it's related to that original one and the same exposure event but that's the information I have. 

>>Coming from the the (inaudible).

>>Could be. The student who travelled here to Wellington was in a hall of residence in Auckland, and that hall of residence about 500 students who have now dispersed around the country, and so that's a very important group that we're following up.

>>One final, if I may just make an observation before I come to you, Jane. One of the things we're seeing in the reports from when we're breached by the public health unit is that they are being very clear that whilst they may not have established a person-to-person link with the cases that have come through in any one tranche and when they reported in the morning, they are very quickly identifying location links. Now, that's actually a bit of a difference than perhaps what we've seen in previous outbreaks. We always were driving for those person-to- person links but in a Delta environment, simply being in the same place is building that connection to these clusters and that demonstrates, I guess, really, the way that Delta's behaving. Jane

>>What more can you tell us about the investigation into the walkway at the Crowne Plaza? Are there more than one walkways and also, do you think you're zeroing in on the potential exposure point?

>>Dr Bloomfield knows that I'm particularly obsess ed with source investigations which is not a new thing for me. You will have heard some discussion yesterday around, for the Crowne Plaza, there's been some debate from some people around the exercise area of the Crowne Plaza. The individual in question as we've already traversed did not access the exercise area because they did not clear a positive test and so weren't able to. That then leaves in play the question of the atrium, which is separated from the public and the public area as public health keep reminding us are well ventilated. They have, however, sought to identify from the footage that they have some members of the public, a small number, that were in the vicinity of the atrium at the time. They have located the majority of those, and they have been tested. They're just looking for, I recall, two more. So nothing further required from the general public on that source investigation at present. 

>>Is that the most likely or pretty much narrowing down to the only potential contact? 

>>We're keeping open the lines of investigation at this point of time, so we continue to do all the work that you would expect us to do, continuing to look at all foot and, all movements, all staff, whilst investigating other that other pocket.

>>No, open mind on all options, as the Prime Minister said. Staff movements. We know we had all the staff have tested negative, at least once. I think bar one, who was being followed up. So keeping open minded is really important at this point in time.

>>Three have already tested negative from those outside the lobby, one in the process of getting a test and who still yet to be identified hand that's what the police is a assisting us with 

>>On contact tracing, how are you gearing up? How many extra people do you have? Is the system able to deal with this massive number of contacts and locations of interest?

>>It's certainly a stretch on the system, and the reason being that we've taken this very broad approach to considering virtually everybody as a close contact. And so we have brought all the extra surge capacity on board from our public health units, and in addition to that, today, we have brought on additional call - we are bringing on additional call centre capacity. The key reason here being that close contacts all require daily follow-up and we're also moving, as I said yesterday, to do electronic daily follow-up, to free up our people across the country to be able to do those first calls and make sure people know what's expected of them.

>>The specific extensions?

>>We will come back to you on that. 

>>Yeah. So we're bringing on extra capacity across government departments at the moment. So we've got additional capacity coming out of IMBI today. We're also looking out of the Ministry of Justice to bring in extra capacity. At the same time, our public health units are doing a sterling job and amongst those 13,000 contacts, triaging those that are the most critical for us, because there will be some that are on the peripheries but we're just being really cautious and some that we need to prioritise and they're undertaking that work as well 

>>On the Crowne Plaza investigation - are you aware of any other public thoroughfares walkways and any other MIQ facilitys? There is a vaccination centre that's about 20m away from this area that seems to be the problem. Is that sensible still in the circumstances? Why don't you get the Mead to find those people who are still outstanding? IMBI contacted the government two months ago to highlight the walkway as an issue.

>>The public walkway still has barriers between and ventilation and has been assessed by those who undertake our infection controls and the ventilation on that building had been assessed too. Having said that we've got to explore everything. We can't be close minded when we're looking at the source investigation. So as yet, we ruled nothing in or out right now. On the individual finding the two other individuals, that's a decision between the Public Health Unit and police as to whether or not they need to do anything more broadly there. They have successfully found some members of the public, so we leave those decisions up to them. Did you want to comment son many of those other ways?

>>You raise a question of a vaccination centre that's nearby. I will look into that.

>>We'll look that. I believe that already has been raised for us just to ensure that all of the measures that you would expect, but again, nothing has been led to suggest that that is the source of our problem here.

>>The other question was whether you are aware of any other public thoroughfares and any other MIQ venues. Yesterday when you said it was a public walkway at fault, were you unaware?

>>I didn't realise it was the atrium issue per se. On the other, rest assured that every time we get an issue arise in a single isolation facility, that's looked across all the facilities. That's why when we first identified ventilation as a potential problem in the Pullman Hotel, we did investigations into all the other ventilation systems. Our MIQ can come back to you on other walk away s

>>To be fair, the walkways and the atrium gets conflated. They work very closely with the isolation team for all their investigations. I'm incredibly impressed, to the level of detail they go, to down to the minute of the movement of an individual to try to isolate what may have happened. Newshub with a question on the Crowne Plaza too.

>>Why is the Crowne Plaza still open then, when you have shut down other MIQ hotels while you're completing those investigations?

>>Well, actually, I will let Dr Bloomfield speak to future use and some of the decisions being made there but we have not yet established what precisely the issue is, but of course, all of the protocols that you would expect, mask use, social distancing within the buildings, limited movement around buildings, all reinforce, but we are looking at some extra precautions at the Crowne Plaza while we undertake this investigation

>>So it's still open because there are still people there. However, they have stopped any new intakes while they assess and really get confident around this issue. 

>>You held up that meet hap before, Prime Minister


>>Do we know the number of close contacts that are isolating in the South Island? 

>>So contacts, over 100, and so those will be from a range of locations of interest, but as I said, that is of those known individuals. For some of those really large, large site, like, for instance, university campuses, we have certainly the halls of residence is one way that we can establish where people may have had contact, but when err you're working with Delta we have been taking a cautious approach so we have been put a ring around what our large locations are. So those are known contacts and it's over 100

>>Knowing what we know about Delta, should we have ever opened the bubble with Australia and will we ever get it back?

>>Keep in mind the bubble was closed at the time that this occurred and so this just demonstrates how difficult Delta is, and with vaccination protocols and testing protocols and all of the constant reviewing of infection protection controls and cohorting, it just shows that ultimately this is still a very hard virus. So, look, I stand by all of the decisions at the time we made them. They were made with the best information possible. But as this virus has changed, we have too, and that's been the right thing to do.

>>On Wellington, at this point, are you saying that all the infections within a household or from people who are from Auckland (inaudible) and does that mean at this point, there is no known, I guess, infections (inaudible) and Wellington?

>>There is one person whos not from a household but that was from an interaction in a health facility. That was identified very quick limit. Otherwise, yes, they are within households. No cases from any of the locations of interest that those cases here might have visited. And the other thing to point out too is we've not had any positive cases in Coromandel, where we know initially there were a number of locations of interest. So that's promising and I guess these next three to four days will really give us an indication of in Wellington and Coromandel in particular whether there is any ongoing transmission, or whether our ongoing transmission is really confined to Auckland.

>>In Auckland, are you looking at not just the hall but also some of the large lectures?

>>The places of interest include lecture theatres at the final the student was there, yes 

>>When will you be confident, I guess, whether some of those high-risk places were superspreader events. (Inaudible) like this church, but we haven't seen an explosion of cases yet. Are you confident there's no superspreading

>>We're all wanting to wait it out.

>>We're looking hard. The single event with the most number of cases is the ka Assembly of God church event but that was actually for quite a few showers on a Sunday. So people were together a long time, and if you think about the sorts of activities that happen at church events with singing and probably a lot of interaction between people, it's not surprising.

>>If you do end up having part of the country in Level 4 and part of the country out of Level 4, will you relook at how essential workers can travel between those locations based on Delta, maybe making vaccination requirements for truckers, for example. 

>>Cabinet had a really good discussion around some of these hypothetical questions that will need to be worked through if we are to have a situation where we have different alert levels for different parts of the country. Too early to say right now, but what we'll be considering over the coming days is how do ensure we do this as efficiently and effectively as possible? In the past we've tended to two three and two boundaries. We need to consider the range. What if you had a 4 and a 3, for instance,? What will that mean for movement? How do we ensure we don't have parts of the country cut off from other parts of the country if we need that essential movement and how do we ensure that those who are part of our logistical supply chains don't pose risk to themselves and others. Those are all things over the course of this week we're continuing to do planning for. Our Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, our team there have been working on this already so already we've got a range of boundary options to help us with those future decisions.

>>The heat map and the 13,000-odd cop tacts across the country, do we know how many are still to be contacted or still to be found?

>>Yes, so actually the number is now over 14,000 as at 1.30 this afternoon. Of those, just over half have been contacted and are in the system, and the vast majority of the ones that haven't yet are ones that have come through just yesterday and today.

>>Could you clarify just how many is it now?

>>Just over 14,000, and the vast majority are considered chose contacts, actually, there's just over 300 that are very close contacts, but the vast majority are close contacts.

>>Those are ones for those very large events where we've just said we consider you all to be at risk.

>>How concern ed are you about the two members of the public that haven't been found yet. (Inaudible)

>>I will leave the second question to Dr Bloomfield. When we're breached in the morning, they are still undertaking source investigation and interviewing which can take many hours so we won't always have that level of detail for every new case. The information we get is to we believe they're linked? When we get mystery cases, that's where we have extra concerns. On whether we're concerned on whether there are two members of the public that are outside the atrium walled area of the Crowne Plaza - it's a line of inquiry. It would be really good to be able to finally answer that question, so we're in Level 4, we've locked everyone down, we've got everyone at home bar essential workers, so we want to find them to answer those questions, but we also are looking inside the MIF as well to see.

>>Just on the other question - I'm not specifically aware of someone from Green Bay High but I what would say is cases will be being reported to the Public Health Unit during the day from the labs and as soon as they get on the phone to those people and find locations of interest, particularly like a school, they will act on that information promptly, without waiting of course for it to become part of our numbers for the next day.

>>Dr Bloomfield, can I ask the two sets of data you probably have in the numbers. First of all, how many of the infected people require hospital-level care?


>>And also, how many of the people that have tested positive so far have been vaccinated?

>>Ah. I'll grab the vaccinated question and if Dr Bloomfield grabs the hospitalisations. My recollection, because I was doing a rough count it this morning, and forgive me that it will be rough, it will be off the top of my head, but I believe it was somewhere in the order of 11 or so. Keeping in mind, I don't have whether or not they were first dose or fully. But keeping in mind there's a large number this in this particular outbreak who won't necessarily have become eligible. What I will be interesting in keeping an eye on is whether or not the Delta hits that person and then stops. You will recall that for our fully vaccinated person who was the wife of our original case, negative tests. And that demonstrates that our vaccine does have the ability to stop a possible chain of transmission 

>>Thanks, Prime Minister. So as at 9 this morning, there were 7 people from the outbreak who were in hospital. None in ICU. That's across the three Auckland hospitals there is one person in ICU who has COVID and that's the person who came from Fiji a couple of weeks ago. 

>>On a different subject - COVID zero is getting a bad rap. Australia seems to have walked away from the idea, based on the NSW outbreak. Now focusing on hospitalisations rather than raw case numbers. What would it mean, to you, for New Zealand to be able to achieve it again, after doing so spectacularly last year?

>>Well, look, what you're speaking to is an elimination strategy and I certainly can't speak but only observe what different states in Australia are doing, and so, you know, you have Western Australia and Queensland, with their approaches and then obviously the devastating circumstances of NSW. We can only look at what's best for us. And we know an elimination strategy has worked for New Zealand before. That's the way that we have managed to have a larger number of days where we have been without restrictions than countries like the UK or like the United States, and not had our people gravely ill and hospitalised and unfortunately losing their lives. So for now, the elimination strategy is the right thing for New Zealand. It means getting those cases back down to a point where we can remove our restrictions again, and, importantly, continue with our vaccination program, because that will be the thing that, in the future, lessens the need for this, which is so important for everyone. Yes? 

>>Dr Bloomfield, just on the church, has there been a reach out to church leaders passing on the information to congregations? What's being done by health officials to ensure that the flow of information around tracing and testing is relatively...

>>As we found in the past, the right engagement with particularly the 8 church leaders is absolutely the way to go, and both Health and non-Health community leaders have been engaging very positively with the church. There was a Zoom call last night with many from the church. It was very successful, with Pacific health leaders and others there's very active engagement between community leaders, the public health unit and others and yesterday there was hundreds of tests done of people who'd been at the service two weeks ago. So once again, as we saw last August and indeed even in February this year, very good engagement from the Pacific community, and they've had the highest rates of testing again through this Auckland outbreak. 

>>Will you consider making the $2,000 (inaudible) accessible to all students, not just those who started last year during Level 4?

>>That's not been something that we've considered. I'd be happy to put your question to the minister of education but at this stage, Cabinet has not considered anything beyond, of course, the usual access to government support through Work and Income and also resurgent support and wage subsidy. I will come back to you, Jane.

>>Following on from Ben's question - at what point do you then review that elimination strategy? There has been reference to the need to review it some time in the future. What difference has Delta made to that strategy and at what point do you go "This may not be feasible for the long term"?

>>Only a week ago, we had the forum with Professor Skegg presenting his advice based on what Delta was showing us, about what our strategy might look like in the next - beyond the next six months, so going into 2022. And already, we were adapting what that approach would look like next year. And we've done that all the way through. Whenever we have a new advice or a new experience ourselves, we'll check our settings and whether or not they're fit for furps from our experience with Delta. I think or with COVID-19, I should say. So for now, absolutely elimination is the strategy. Particularly while we vaccinate our people. Going through into next year, we'll continue to get the advice of our public health officials and our external advisers and experts, as we've always done, and say "Look, here was our experience through this outbreak. Does it change our approach going forward?" And I expect we will continue to do that, over the coming months 

>>And when you start those - if the plan goes and the phased border openings, there may potentially be a level of tolerance at that point for COVID in the community?

>>What I would want to do is really bring in our experts on this discussion and debate. For now, everyone is in agreement, elimination is the strategy. There is no discussion or debate amongst any of us about that. Because that is the safest option for us, while we continue to vaccinate our people. Going into next year, let's continue to get their advice but I would say that's always been our approach. Constantly learning, constantly adapting.

>>Dr Bloomfield, - thank you, the system which is the national repository for testing results went down today. What impact did that have on the turnaround for test results?

>>Yes, so I understand it was down for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, and the testing centre has referred it to manual processes and a prior electronic ordering system they had. It will cause us a delay in turnaround times, but the team will work hard to get - to make that time back up again.

>>And how are delays affecting results at the moment? We've been told there can be up to days for people to get their results back? What's the average and what's the longest?

>>Depends on where you were swabbed

>>Depends on where you were swabbed and our delays are really in Auckland, where the largest volume of testing has been done, and particularly for people who've had a swab done by a general practice or urgent Claire clinic in - urgent care Clinton nick in the community, because most places are not using the Eclair system and the e hitch ordering. So there is a bit of a backlog, but just to provide a comparison, in the first three days of this outbreak, there were about 69,000 tests processed. If you compare that with August last year in the outbreak, there was 41,000 tests. So there are a lot more tests that have been able to be processed more quickly during this outbreak.

>>How long can you advise the delay of the return of Parliament and do you think it is appropriate for Auckland MPs say next Tuesday to turn to Wellington?

>>At this stage my advice was suspension for this week, and as the Prime Minister said, still the Select Committees are going to run and then I'm sure I will be asked for further advice over the next weekend or on Monday about whether it should return next week.

>>Do you think f COVID continues to circulate in Auckland, would it be advisable for Auckland MPs to be allowed to return to Parliament?

>>Let's see what the results show this week. I mean, that will be tied up with the decision around what happens to Auckland generally. 

>>Prime Minister, Scott Morrison wrote in the weekend an op-ed about his change in COVID strategy. He's saying they're targeting 70 to 80% vaccination rates rather than a lockdown-based strategy. Can COVID circulating with high rates in Australia compatible with a more porous border in New Zealand?

>>Not for the period in which we're vaccinating our people now. But we've always said we wouldn't have quarantine-free travel with a place in which there was COVID in wide circulation, because it was incompatible with our desire to maintain an elimination strategy, work on high rates of vaccination and have as many freedoms as possible without that I risk of lockdown

>>Do we have ethnicities of the current cases in New Zealand? And do we also know whether or not Maori are being disproportionately affected?

>>We have got some information on ethnicity. I just made that note that we'll start to publish the ethnicity and age breakdown. What I can say is over 50% of the cases are of Pacific ethnicity and when I still - the last report I saw, none of the cases were Maori.

>>Yes. And unfortunately, because of where the outbreak is currently, that continues to be the new cases are looking to be predominantly Pacific cases. 

>>On education - the minister said yesterday that the government is supporting 40,000 households to stay connected to the Internet where they wouldn't otherwise be able to. Can you give an update on connecting kids to online learning at this time?

>>You would forgive me. I would need to go back to him for any more recent data, but what would be useful if I give him the opportunity to give him an update and the podium. My recollection is that we are doing that on Wednesday so he can give you a bit of a take on what we will be looking to do via education to continue to ensure connectivity, learning packs which we've used in the past and so on. So I will get them to give that update then. 

>>Have any of the cases that we've had so far been infected in Level 4 by someone who wasn't in their bubble, in other words, is there any sort of transmission...

>>Yeah, so the question that I've asked on our briefings is: have we seen any issues with compliances and people not being home when they've been contact traceed? I've been assured that actually people have been home, and I haven't been at vised of essential workers, for instance, necessarily being caught up as, you know, being an issue with then passing on during Level 4. So whilst I haven't asked your specific question, we have been looking to see whether or not we've got that issue of people continuing to infect during the lockdown and to date that hasn't been a concern that's been raised with us by Public Health Units. Have I answered your question?

>>Is there a concern or have you seen any signs that Level 4 isn't working?

>>No, and so I asked - that, I do try and get a sense of, from both police but our Public Health Units and they've been happy with compliance at this stage

>>I agree

>>Which is very heartening because when you look at NSW and their reporting which says number of people out infected in the community, those have been reasonable numbers. We don't want that, because if we want to see our locations of interest start to reduce and we're nosting new ones that will be because we're finding people in lockdown and therefore not out and about. At the moment, we're not a long enough into level for that to be the case. When we're finding people where they still have had pre-Level 4 movement, because they were a case that was infected before we went into lockdown.

>>On the broader health sector response - this might be one for you, Dr Black field - do you have any sense of how long the health work force could operate at surge capacity before it burns out? 

>>Well, two things there. First of all, the surge is really into our test ing work force in particular, and specifically in Auckland. Elsewhere in the system, of course, they've scaled back a lot of activity so at the moment, for example, average occupancy across our hospitals is around 73%, ranges from about early 50s up to around 90%, which is lower than it usually is through winter and likewise, our Intensive Care Unit s are only about 50% occupancy at the moment so the surge is very specific around testing and so there's not pressure on the wider health system at the moment in alert Level 4 and in fact some district Health Boards are looking at how, this week, they can start to safely recommence some elective surgical activity, because they have got capacity to do that.

>>In terms of ICU - from what I understand, what's the point in getting more ventilators if we don't have enough ICU beds and nurses to staff them, given every ventilator needs a bed and a nurse 24/7?

>>Yes, so the purpose of the additional ventilators - and this was an approach we initiated last March - was to - whilst ICU beds per se and ICU-trained nurseing and medical staff is, you know, a certain number, you can train other nursing and medical staff to take care of a ventilated person in an area - for example, the post-op area in a theatre block, where they are used - perhaps used to looking after patients who are ventilated or post surgical, and so all the DHBs have been training parts of their work force to be able to, should it be required, look after someone who's being ventilated under supervision.

>>Parliament has been suspended for the rest of the week. The opposition are not happy about it. They're saying it takes away the ability for scrutiny, including the ability for them to question you as opposed to ministers before the Select Committees

>>Oh look, you know, for us, we have to balance safety and scrutiny. We did not, in Level 4 last time, have Parliament convene. We found alternative measures to allow that scrutiny to occur, in a virtual environment. And we're doing that again. In fact, I think one of the enhancements is, rather than just having one Select Committee, using our multiple Select Committees, so that more MPs can access that process, and so that we can have more spokespeople access that process N the coming week we'll look to see whether there are other enhancements we can make should we need them. But relative to other countries, the disruption to our Parliament as possible. We want to keep it as minimal as possible. But I just couldn't justify, when alternatives exist, having MPs travel from across the country to come and convene in a closed environment where other staff members would be required to come in, in order to facilitate the opening of Parliament.

>>Wellington goes Souths and lockdown is ex tended would, you consider up the (inaudible) committee again. 

>>One of the things we considered was by having a range of Select Committees a greater range of MPs, you can have therefore more ministers appear than you would necessarily if you only have one committee, and also, and you also get those that have subject knowledge, who are on those committees, who are able to be part of that scrutiny. We've also advised our MPs who want the bulk of questions going to Opposition members so that they are able to undertake that scrutiny that they're otherwise unable to in the Question Time. In any mind, Question Time is one hour a day. This is multiple Select Committees that are able to meet. Some would argue that might provide even more scrutiny. The last point, it will all be broad cast as well. 

>>Different locations of interest spans from about the 7th of August to the day before yesterday. That man got tested roughly in the middle of that. Based off what we're seeing now with the 100-odd known case, were they largely infectious in the hours before lockdown, or was it more spaced out over that range of locations?

>>My memory is that we've basically - from the period that we've identified, the individual at the Crowne Plaza, it's kind of dotted all the way through. We have not yet identified, have we, Dr Bloomfield whether or not there's, you know, one, two or no missing links between that individual on the 7th and our outbreak as yet and that's an indication of the fact they're dotted through. But we are starting, as I understand, to see cases, where as you've described in Wellington, maybe one day in infectious. So it's kind of this a spectrum 

>>That's my understanding. I don't quite from the picture for Auckland. It's more complex. But I think the picture in Wellington will start to be being reflected in Auckland as well and we will see less locations of interest, especially over these next few days.

>>The genome sequencing does give us a on overlay to help identify those different clusters and at the moment they are generally telling us a similar story with what we're being able to built with the epidemiological links as well 

>>Was this Devonport men more at the beginning or more in the middle?

>>Of course we identified him with a a poos tiff result that was reported last Tuesday, and symptom onset was something like a couple of days prior.

>>On the Saturday. 

>>He's slightly in the middle. We do have a few more days in between but we've actually seen cases pop in those days in between as well that we believe - we rely an SIM tonne onset, though, so it's people's recall. 

>>So he was near the beginning although we do have a cases that have reliable recall of symptom onset before he began his symptoms

>>We don't think that he is the connection to our myth person, for instance. 

>>Some locations of interest. Can you please clarify why not entire campuses like locations of interest but entire schools are sort of a shift on a hospital ward was - they were stood down, but not the whole ward. Is it just inconvenience weighing into that decision? 

>>No. Safety.

>>Yes. So our public health team does an assessment of every location and out of the interview get a sense of what the person was doing in that particular place. You can imagine with a school, in the first instance, this was the case in February with Papatotoe high school, we actually considered the classroom and the teacher in the - the classmates and the teacher of those first cases close contacths and everyone else casual but we tested everyone in the school. In this case, we have done the same thing around testing the whole school but we've considered them all, close contacts as part of our Delta response. 

>>When you review whether the rest of the country might come out of Level 4 lockdown, can you give any certainty around whether that would definitely be a step down to Level 3 or whether you are open to going to lower levels?

>>We haven't ruled anything in or out at this stage. We very much will lean on the data and at analysis in front of us. But we'll always be careful. You know, we have seen - and we've experienced it ourselves, if you haven't got that confidence and you move in a direction where you just need a bit of time, in Australia, they moved down then recently had to move back up again, we would rather smooth our exit so that will be part of our thinking, but to be honest, we haven't fully canvassed those options at this stage. So too soon to say. 

>>The number of (inaudible). 


>>Has there been any talk of allowing (inaudible) at Level 4 and also, with lockdown being quite stressful for families, especially for families, some people (inaudible).


>>We've had reports of people being worried about living (inaudible) in that environment 

>>So all our Social Services remain available, because safety for New Zealanders is our absolute priority. And so I would still encourage anyone who is an in an unsafe environment, those services are still there and available for you. We do recognise that it is not always easy to make contact in this particular set of circumstances. There are ways that you can do that safely. On the point of supermarkets - no, we have not revised our decisions on access to other forms of foodstuffs. Of course, whole fooleds are able to be delivered - foods are able to be delivered but we have not said that we will allow further openings because we want continue to want to reduce down as many people as possible who might be out in a workplace, because that risks prolonging our lockdown. At the same time, though, we are staying in daily contacts with our supermarket chains to ensure that we have good availability of supply for all New Zealanders. We are ensuring that we're consistent in our health protocols so that if we do have a supermarket at a location of interest, we're working with the chains to ensure that they are safely taking those staff they need to offsite, but also have the information they need to safely reopen if they can.

>>To follow up on that, if someone else wants another question after me...

>>You're the last one. No pressure!

>>What can the balance, though, in terms of safety on that? If you were dealing with a supermarket, that's one group of people, if you have to shut that down, it's a much bigger amount of people and a range of people then having to travel to other locations. If you had, say, a butcher or a grocer and then that became...

>>It's all a matter of scale. Because if you say suddenly we're going to open up every bakery, every bakery in New Zealand has their of the ability to open or every butchery in New Zealand, then that introduces a whole extra layer of risk and so it's all cumulative. The more people that you have available to attend their place of work, that's more supply chain that then opens up who are having to service more customers who are then accessing more risk. So our goal always with Level 4, reduce it down as much as possible to the essentials that are required, to enable people to stay safely in their home, fed in their homes and able to safely learn in their homes, and beyond that, we really keep it restricted.

>>On lockdown fatigue - for Aucklanders who are now having to sort of - they're looking at longer lockdown, they've done this so many times. What is the message for those people who are just getting a bit fatigued with this lockdown?

>>We're all in this together and that we've done it before and we will do it again. So stay with it. I absolutely believe we can do  this. So... Cheers! 

Please note: In the ethnicity breakdown of today’s cases there is one Maori, 23 Pasifika and 11 other, clarifying the details mentioned in today’s stand up.

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