Decision due today on Covid alert levels

Cabinet is due to announce today whether the Covid alert levels will be reduced or not. Auckland is currently on level 2.5 with the rest of the country on 2.

It had been looking promising for a lowering of levels, with several days of no new community cases – until yesterday when the Ministry of Health announced: 4 new cases of COVID-19

There are four new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today; two community cases and two cases in managed isolation.

The two community cases are household contacts of the case reported yesterday, which is not connected to the Auckland cluster. The case reported yesterday is a recent returnee who arrived in New Zealand from India on August 27 and completed managed isolation, returning two negative tests at the facility in Christchurch before returning home to Auckland on September 11. 

The case reported yesterday was tested after developing symptoms on September 16, and returned a positive result. He and his household contacts self-isolated when he developed symptoms. They were all moved into the Auckland quarantine facility on September 18, when the first case returned a positive result. 

All identified close contacts have been isolated and tested. 

The source of the case’s infection is still under investigation, but genome sequencing is consistent with two confirmed cases from the same flight from India to New Zealand that landed on August 27.  

It is possible that this case was infected during that flight and has had an extremely long incubation period – there is evidence that in rare instances the incubation period can be up to 24 days. This person developed symptoms 21 days after he arrived in New Zealand.  If this is the case, it sits well outside the standard incubation period of the virus. 

The vast majority of people who are infected with COVID-19 will become unwell within 14 days. Having returnees stay in managed isolation for 14 days remains the gold standard, and this is also the approach adopted by other countries. Our own modelling confirms that 14 days spent in managed isolation with two tests leaves a very low risk that someone will leave managed isolation with COVID-19.

Another possible scenario is that the case may have been infected during the flight from Christchurch to Auckland – other passengers from that flight are currently being contacted and assessed as a precautionary measure in order to exclude them as the source of infection.

This sort of uncertainty must weigh on the Cabinet decision, but Government advisers and allies are downplaying the implications.

Newshub: Fresh COVID-19 community cases lead to call for border restrictions review

It’s prompted the question – do we need to keep returnees in isolation for longer?

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield…

…says there are two most likely ways the man could have become infectious.

“Could be the person was actually infected before they left India, on the flight from India, during the period of managed isolation or subsequently even on that flight from Christchurch to Auckland.”

But he says there’s no risk to the public

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy:

“There’s a low likelihood that the new cases have led to unknown cases so I don’t think this will affect their decision tomorrow,”

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker…

…says the chances of incubating the virus for longer than two weeks is low.

“It’s between 1 and 2 percent,” he says.

But Prof Baker says border restrictions need to be reviewed.

“If we find that some countries have such intense transmission that we’re seeing a lot of imported cases from there I think we’d want to think hard about that and how to manage that risk,” he says.

He wants returnees to isolate at their homes for a week after leaving quarantine facilities.

So perhaps we will lower levels but with another tweak to the rules.

While Jacinda Ardern says that decisions will be based on expert advice and science she received increasing criticism last week over the alert level being maintained outside Auckland. Cabinet Minister and deputy PM Winston Peters broke ranks with her.

I expect she will have one eye on expert advice and one eye on the election when making the decision today.

Covid rumours packaged and spread

There has been a lot of talk about how Covid rumours and conspiracies have been perpetuated over the last couple of weeks, including by politicians (particularly Gerry Brownlee and Winston Peters).

Dylan Reeve tracked down who packaged rumours that seems to have led to a viral spread of racist bull. The aim was to understand how it happened rather than to out the Reddit poster and wreck his life (he seems to be suffering a lot as it is).

Post by David Farrier.

Webworm talks to the man who started the COVID-19 outbreak rumour in New Zealand

Today is a long newsletter, and it involves a conversation with the man who started a rumour / conspiracy theory that spun out of control over the weekend here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

My colleague Dylan Reeve tracked him down, and called him. The man had been half expecting a call:

I have been in this fight-or-flight mode for the last 48 hours. I just realised how bad it was on Saturday, which is when I went in and tried to clean up as much as I could, but by then it’s got a life of its own.

It’s my hope that in talking with Patient Zero of a conspiracy theory, we can understand a little more how they spread, and the victims they leave in their wake.

An interesting interview with ‘James’ followed, which includes:

So we got into lockdown on Tuesday night, and then there was a bunch of chat on the 12th, everyone was all over the place and a couple of mates had a discussion.

There was some talk from a friend from Auckland Uni, and some other people had mentioned to me as well, related around somebody sneaking into a managed isolation. 

So it was basically – I made a poor decision to put that in writing on Reddit. 

I realised a couple of hours later and removed it as much as I could, and by that stage it had been used in screen shots.

But that was too late. It had been picked up, repackaged with some fairly racist overtones, and it went viral.

Most of what spreads on the Internet stays on the Internet, but this prompted a respnse from the Minister of Health and the Director-General of Health: Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield slam spreading of ‘vile’ rumours about latest Covid-19 cluster

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has urged New Zealanders to stop spreading unverified rumours, after one particular rumour “spread like wildfire” on social media.

Hipkins said the rumour contained a number of “vile slurs”.

“Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong,” Hipkins said.

“Please think twice before sharing unverified information”

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield also weighed in, saying that people in the Māori and Pacific communities had done more than their share for the community by coming forward to get tested at higher rates than other groups in New Zealand during the first outbreak, despite having lower rates of infection.

“There should be nothing in the description of this outbreak that suggests that there is anything about this community that is a problem,” Bloomfield said.

“They have been incredibly co-operative and incredibly supportive and we should all be thanking and supporting them.”

The particular rumour involved the claim that a woman in the current cluster contracted the virus by sneaking into a managed isolation facility, Hipkins said.

“It was fully investigated and that investigation concluded that it was completely false,” Hipkins said.

He said the rumour may have been orchestrated.

“There have always been and will always be rumours, but this one smacked of orchestration [and] of being a deliberate act of misinformation”.

Hipkins said his warning applied to everyone, including his Cabinet colleagues. This could be awkward for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who this week shared an unverified rumour about the latest cluster coming through a border breach.

“I think all ministers, all MPs, and all leaders in the community should lead by example and be cautious about the information that they choose to share,” Hipkins said.

Peters claimed that a ‘reliable journalist’ was his source.


Related to this from Newsroom: ‘Infodemic’ evolves as Covid-19 returns to NZ

Last Tuesday night, as Jacinda Ardern revealed that four people in Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19 and the city would be going into Level 3 lockdown, social media appeared to erupt with conspiracy theories.

These ranged from false claims about the Government’s response to outlandish theories about the origins or seriousness of the virus. They were spread on all levels, from concerned grandparents posting to their Facebook friends lists to Instagram influencers sharing to tens of thousands of followers.

Politicians got in on the game as well – independent MP Jami-Lee Ross and former guitarist Billy Te Kahika Jr. recorded a livestream heavy on conspiracy theory that garnered more than 100,000 views and critics accused National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee of dog-whistling to the same conspiracists during a press conference the next day. Brownlee later said he had got himself into a “bad spot” with his misjudged comments.

But a leading conspiracy theory researcher says the prevalence of misinformation about the pandemic online has not changed in the past week. The tone, however, may have. What threat might this misinformation pose? And what can – or should – New Zealand be doing about it?

.

Questions on Covid announcement and lockdowns

So we are back in Covid-19 level 3 lockdown in Auckland and level 2 everywhere else.

I get that the Government and Ministry of Health are committed to try to stop any community spread of Covid and are erring on the side of caution, but there are questions I think we deserve answers to.

Jacinda Ardern said we must take a “precautionary” approach as no origin had been found, or link to isolation facilities or people who work at the border.

But how much caution is appropriate, given the substantial disruption the alert level increases impose?

An ‘urgent’ media conference was called last night at 9:15 pm, but when was the positive Covid test first known about? One person was tested twice, and then their family was tested. the first test result at least must have been known by yesterday’s daily report at 1 pm.

The first case was a person is in their 50s who lives in South Auckland. They have returned two positive results. They have no history of international travel.

Six family members who reside in the same household have been tested. Three returned positive results, three negative.

Ardern says she was first notified at 4pm yesterday. The first positive test result at least must have been known well before then. So why was she only notified then (if she is being honest with us)?

It looks like the public testing of Ashley Bloomfield at 1 pm may have been priming the population for an increase in testing. I suspect he must have known at that stage that there were new cases, or at least one new case.

if urgent action was justified why was the urgent announcement not until 9:15 (actually about 9:25) last night?

if urgent action was justified why have the lockdowns been delayed until midday today? The horse could have already bolted by then.

Auckland going to level 3 for two and a half days may be fair enough. But why does the rest of the country have to be affected? I wonder if this is being used as a sort of a drill.

Pretty much no one wants Covcid spreading here again, so drastic action may be justified to try to contain it, but I think the Government may find it harder to get public support and compliance if the announcements look to be too PR staged.

Overreactions and claiming urgency when news has been delayed to suit packaged announcements run the risk of annoying people.

I don’t want Covid to spread here, but I don’t want to be played by the authorities.

And Ardern will have to be very careful with how she manages this through the election campaign. her first priority is to keep the country as safe as reasonably possible but also as unrestricted as possible.

It would suit Labour if Ardern keeps in the media spotlight with Covid announcements while other parties are restricted from campaigning. She isn’t the only one involved in decision making, the non-political Ministry of Health are presumably making recommendations at least.

It will be challenging for Ardern to manage perceptions. If she oversteps there could be a public and voter backlashes.

But there are also challenges for her political opponents.

There have been a range of reactions to that. During what has been labelled ‘the Covid campaign’ this is also very political.

Why is the Auckland lockdown only for two and a half days? A 14 day minimum has been standard until now to make sure that Covid has been detected.

Newshub Nation – Clark, polls, NZ First-Green relationship

The homeless man in the hotel story

Last week National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed that a homeless man had tagged on to a line of people checking in to  Covid isolation facility (hotel) and got two weeks of food and lodging. Woodhouse cited ‘a very reliable source’ but provided no evidence.

Because isolation was a shambles this was seen as plausible. People on Twitter said it was a good thing that a homeless man was housed and ‘he’ was congratulated (even though the Government had been providing accommodation for homeless people through and since the lockdown).

The story has also been backed up by journalist Barry Soper who has also claimed to have ‘a very reliable source’. So it seems likely someone has told the story separately to an MP and a journalist.

Another undisputed story last week added a bit more weight to the possibility. The Ministry of Health reported that a man arriving at Auckland airport got in the wrong queue and successfully checked inn to the wrong hotel. This seems to have only been discovered when the man tested positive for Covid several days later.

So the story seems feasible, despite media citing some people in isolation saying it would have been difficult to pull off, saying they were cordoned off (all the time?) and had to provide a credit card when checking in.

This story had faded away, until Ashley Bloomfield raised it at a media conference on Tuesday, saying that the Ministry had investigated, including scrutinising surveillance footage (I”m not sure how that would discover someone unless they were obviously dressed like a homeless man). Bloomfield said it may be just an urban myth, and this was given a bit of media attention.

Again the story may have faded away, but for some reason yesterday a letter from Minister of Whatever Megan Woods to Woodhouse demanding details and evidence was leaked – I doubt Woodhouse would have gone public with it.

This created a bit of a media and social media diversion. Woodhouse and National leader Todd Muller said they stood by the story, but thee media should understand Woodhouse can’t reveal a confidential source.

This was raised at The Standard yesterday, perhaps coincidentally – National is relentlessly negative about the country’s Covid response – but The Standard has been relentlessly negative about National while ignoring the major Government and Ministry of Health issues over the last few weeks. They have been in diversion overdrive.

It is very unlikely both Woodhouse and Soper would dream up the same story, so it must have been provided to them. By whom and why?

I guess it’s questionable whether Woodhouse should have gone public with the claim without producing evidence. However opposition MPs don’t have the ability to investigate things like this so it’s common for them to put this responsibility on the Government, who then decide whether to ignore it or act on it.

In the whole scheme of things this is a bit of a sideshow. Later yesterday David Clark dragged the focus back to the wider shambles as well as the shambles of his political career, but that’s another story.

RNZ: Story of homeless man sneaking into 5-star isolation hotel remains a mystery

 

 

Claytons responsibility Clark, Bloomfield, bus

Newshub: Health Minister David Clark brutally throws Dr Ashley Bloomfield under the bus while standing right next to him

Health Minister David Clark has brutally thrown Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield under the bus while standing right next to him, after the Government’s quarantine testing botch-up.

Dr Clark pointed blame at the Director-General as they stood next to each other in Wellington on Wednesday.

Newshub’s footage captured Dr Bloomfield’s face after Dr Clark told reporters, “The Director-General has accepted that the protocol wasn’t being followed. He has accepted responsibility for that.”

Newshub asked the Health Minister why he won’t take some of the responsibility.

“The Director-General has already acknowledged that the system didn’t deliver here.”

Dr Clark shouldn’t be so quick to lay blame.

If Dr Bloomfield hadn’t been forced to step up as a de facto Health Minister during the COVID-19 response because Dr Clark was AWOL, perhaps Dr Bloomfield would’ve been able to focus on his actual job – running the operational side of things.

National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse suggested there has been a breakdown in the relationship between Dr Clark and Dr Bloomfield.

“We’ve seen from the body language over the last couple of weeks that the relationship between the Minister of Health and the Director-General has deteriorated.”

But Dr Bloomfield has denied that’s the case.

From Checkpoint on RNZ:

Image

Image

 

Clark is not smart enough to distance himself as much as possible from this as his Prime Minister seems to have done. Seems to be pass the parcel from the top down.


This just in:

 

Military dealing with Ministry of Health failures

Air Commodore Webb along with a bunch of military personnel have been appointed to manage the Covid-19 quarantining after failures by the Ministry of Health.

While The Standard has mostly been busy avoiding the issues and trying to divert to criticism of the Opposition, in a post praising Director General of the Ministry of Health Ashley Bloomfield (and again piling in to the Opposition) there is an interesting comment from Wayne Mapp.

Actually both the DG and the Minister are both responsible for the failure of the staff of MOH. It is part of the role of the DG as CE to be responsible. That is why he gets such a high salary.

Now that is not to say that the DG would have direct knowledge of the failures. But he is responsible for fixing the failures. I personally think the DG has been quick to get on top of this. No human system is perfect, but the DG has done as well as anyone could have possibly done.

In this case Air Commodore Webb has been appointed to do the actual fix, no doubt with the agreement  of the DG, perhaps he was even proposed by the DG.

In fact the DG has been in the military as an RMO. A very good one at that. He was the RMO in my old unit of 3 Auck North. So the DG would have a very good sense of the capability of the military.

I suspect that DG concluded that the senior MH staff were not up to managing quarantine. Which is not surprising. I can’t imagine MH staff would have the skill set to manage something like mandatory quarantine. That is more likely within the domain of those used to disciplined organisation.

Maybe things will run better now military expertise is in charge.

Another Covid isolation shambles – shared use apartment building

More shambles – Hotel residents concerned over reports of quarantined travellers arriving

News that 12 busloads of people are going into quarantine at Stamford Plaza Hotel in central Auckland today has residents who live atop the building worried, but authorities say no decision has been made on using the hotel.

The apartments on top of the eight floor hotel are home to about 300 people, many of whom are older and at higher risk of severe complications or death if they catch the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Speaking at a media conference this afternoon, where he revealed that the country had two new cases of Covid-19, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said: “The point I will make is that over the two months to the beginning of June when we’ve been using managed isolation facilities, we have not seen any new infections as a result. So our procedures are good.”

He said that included no new infections for staff, who have been tested, especially during alert levels three and four.

“We’re now in a position where we will have caught up with (tested) everybody who will have come in from June the 9th.”

They should never have been is a situation where a catch up was required.

He said the issue with shared facilities was ensuring that people were separated. He has visited one and the extent that processes were in place was “quite remarkable”.

“It’s an ongoing work but I will point to the fact that we have not had any cases coming out of our managed isolation facilities in over 19,000 Kiwis that have come through in the past couple of months.”

Share facilities is nuts.

MEDIA STATEMENT: From Air Commodore Darryn Webb On Two New Cases (+ Statement On Stamford Hotel)

I would like to clarify a statement was made earlier today regarding the use of the Stamford Hotel.

I can confirm that the Stamford Hotel has not been used as a managed isolation facility. I can also confirm that, as part of our normal process to assess the suitability of a hotel as a facility, the Stamford is being assessed as a facility. However, no final decisions have been made.

Using an apartment building with 300 permanent residents for Covid quarantine is nuts. Who is thinking of doing this?

Quarantine debacle escalates as Woodhouse allegations confirmed

Widespread anger was expressed after it was revealed that tow women who were granted a compassionate exemption from quarantine travelled from Auckland to Wellington on Saturday before testing positive for Covid-19, breaking a 24 day run of no new cases in New Zealand.

In a show of no confidence in the Ministry of Health handling of quarantines Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed a military leader to review and oversee the quarantining.

A number of people came claiming poor procedures in quarantine.

It turns out that testing of people arriving in the country from overseas were not required to be tested, it was optional.

But it gets worse. It appears that the public have been misled after an allegation made by National spokesperson on health Michael Woodhouse that the exempted women didn’t travel from Auckland to Wellington with no contact with anyone has been confirmed.  Apparently they got lost on the Auckland motorway and met up with friends.

Yesterday Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield did not front up to media, instead emailing a statement (there was no update posted on the Covid website).

From The Spinoff live updates:

On yesterday’s cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in an emailed update, “As director general of health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

“In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

“I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again.

“We have put in place a number of actions to provide the public and government assurance that anyone arriving into New Zealand does not pose any risk from Covid-19.”

“There is one family member isolating with them who is being monitored daily by the local public health unit. The Ministry of Health is managing wider contact tracing from the National Contact Tracing unit.

“We are treating anyone on the flight or in the facility at the same time as the cases as if they are close contacts who have potentially been exposed. We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received.

“At this point, there are 320 identified close contacts. The majority of these will have been contacted by the end of the day. All of these people will be encouraged to get a test.”

The ministry is confident no contact was made with anyone on the women’s journey between Auckland and Wellington, the update said. “The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility. I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy  continues to be respected during this time.”

Ardern did front up to the media:

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has addressed media on why yesterday’s two new cases, both New Zealand citizens, were allowed out of managed isolation before being tested.

She said it was “an unacceptable failure of the system”.

“From the beginning we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach at the border … that is also why we required tests to be undertaken at those facilities – one at day three and one at day 12.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday, it did not and there are no excuses. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”

Blame did not lie with the two New Zealand citizens returning from the UK, she added. “It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job now is to fix that.”

Ardern said she would leave it to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to determine where responsibility landed and if anyone’s job would be threatened.

She said she was not considering sacking the health minister, David Clark. “The minister is in exactly the same position that I am, we both find what has happened here unacceptable, it is counter to what we were told was happening… He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem.”

Ardern was critical of the pressure she said was coming from “a wide range of quarters, not least from some of my colleagues on the other side of the house” to loosen the border. “We have always said that we needed to be cautious. I utterly stand by that.

“This is a growing pandemic, not a slowing one, and we should be extraordinarily careful, and I send that message to the opposition.”

But the Opposition responded with an allegation in Parliament.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Were the two individuals, confirmed with COVID yesterday, accompanied on their drive to Wellington, and, if not, how can he be 100 percent sure that they did not stop during the trip?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: They were not accompanied, and I am assured that they have been the kind of people, and have demonstrated, that they have followed the protocols in place with their self-isolation plan.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen reports that the two individuals went the wrong way on their journey to Wellington and came into close contact with the people who gave them directions?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No, I have seen no evidence of that.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware that the good Samaritans who assisted them were rewarded with a kiss and a cuddle, and would he consider that to be a close contact?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would be deeply concerned if that were the case. I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he been advised of the details and facts behind the allegations in that last question?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have not. I have certainly asked the question about whether there was any contact at all, and I have been assured that there was no contact along the way. So I have certainly not heard that report, and if the member has actually heard that and not passed it on, that would be very deeply concerning.

Last night from Stuff:  Ministry of Health confirms women with Covid got lost and stopped on drive from Auckland to Wellington

The Ministry of Health has confirmed two women diagnosed with Covid-19 after leaving a managed isolation facility in Auckland did not drive non-stop to Wellington.

Health officials had insisted they did, but Stuff revealed the pair got lost, stopped and met someone.

Politicians had questioned the validity of the claims but the Ministry of Health responded to Stuff late on Wednesday to say that the journey between Auckland and Wellington, taken by two New Zealanders with Covid-19 who returned to New Zealand to see their dying parent had been confirmed.

“Upon leaving the Novotel in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway, so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”

In addition, health authorities had been informed of instances where friends have made contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days.

The packages were contactless deliveries and the friends who had delivered the packages had taken all appropriate precautions to maintain physical distance, the statement said.

“As such there is no risk to the community from these interactions.”

A second interview with the sisters was conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and there were subsequent interviews on Wednesday.

The statement says the information was communicated to the Ministry of Health on the afternoon of Wednesday 17 June.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked for a comment on the revelation, she did not address the issue or that officials had been misled.

A spokesperson for the prime minister reiterated to Stuff what she had said earlier – that there had been an unacceptable systemic failure with the case.

“The government is focused on cleaning it up as quickly as possible and fixing the problems that led to it.”

Woodhouse was criticised on social media, I saw the usual ‘attack the messenger’ nonsense on Twitter, and also at The Standard, but there was also anger expressed there, see from here.

It appears that Woodhouse has been vindicated.

Also:

Something is up with this case.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/419252/ministry-confirms-women-with-covid-19-did-stop-on-trip

The Novotel Ellerslie is literally on top of the Southern motorway jammed hard up against the Greenlane interchange. Apparently they got lost between the hotel and the motorway, a drive less than 500m…yeah, right.

Someone is still lying.

There may be more to come out on this.

The Ministry and the Government should have fronted up with the correct information. This has turned out to be a further embarrassment for the Ministry of Health and the Government.

Stuff: Furious PM sends in military to review and oversee border controls after two new cases.

Ardern said the bungle was completely unacceptable and the “rigour” of the military was needed to sort out what was going at the border.

She appointed assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn Webb to review and oversee border management from here on out.

“We need the rigour, we need the confidence, and we need the discipline that the military can provide,” Ardern said.

He would be able to use the military to make sure the border was being properly handled.

“It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job is to fix that.”

“There is no room for error.”

It appears to be a litany of errors and incompetence.

That looks like a major vote of no confidence in Ashley Bloomfield (or throwing under a bus), and in the Ministry of Health.

This isn’t quite hero to zero, but it is a major denting of public confidence in Government and Ministry handling of the pandemic. Minister of Health David Clark has had a poor public relationship, nothing more from him since he expressed ‘frustration’ and ‘disappointment’ over the quarantine debacle before the latest revelations.

I don’t trust the getting lost story. I think it’s more likely a deliberate meeting contrary to specified conditions of exemption.

So this is likely to require Ardern to front up and try to repair the damage.


NZ Herald: Woman who MP claims ‘kissed and cuddled’ Covid travellers attended Auckland gym class days later

An Auckland woman who an MP claims “cuddled and kissed” two Covid-19 infected British travellers attended a “hands-on” training at her local gym yesterday morning.

According to a Facebook post by Felicia Alkin, the owner and founder of Highland Park’s Lioness Gym for Women, the unnamed member was in contact with the two women on Saturday.

She did not know they were positive until yesterday afternoon, Alkin said.

Alkin says she has now cancelled her classes and appointments, and decided to self-isolate with her family, until the gym member – who underwent testing this morning – had tested negative.

Contact tracing will now be a headache for the Ministry.

And the flow on effects of quarantine incompetence and laxness by the women are significant.

Urge for immediate Level 1 based on leaked Cabinet paper

A number of politicians have been pushing for an immediate move to Covid Alert Level 1, notably from party leaders David Seymour, Winston Peters and Todd Muller

Calls increased after large #blacklivesmatter demonstrations on Monday failed to observe number limits or effective social distancing.

A leaked Cabinet paper has added weight to arguments for a faster wind down of restrictions.

ODT:  Leak fires up calls for Level 1

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is being urged to move into Alert Level 1 immediately in light of criteria in a leaked Cabinet paper that includes a 28-day window of no community transmission.

The most recent such case was reported on April 30, 34 days ago, but director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said the last cases of concern were actually from about two months ago.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and National Party leader Todd Muller, who quoted the Cabinet paper during Question Time yesterday, both used the community transmission criteria to push for a hastened move to Level 1.

But Ms Ardern is standing firm on making an announcement on Monday, saying there are other factors in the decision.

Ardern has said that level changes have been based on health and other advice received, but this make sit look like they hav been more cautious than advised.

From Question Time: 2. Question No. 2—Prime Minister

Todd Muller: Why is she so reticent to move to alert level 1, when Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said there is—and I quote—”no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m acting on the advice of director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He is the one giving us the guidance to remain where we are. He has expressed comfort with us making that consideration on 8 June, but that is not an accurate reflection of his views.

Todd Muller: Is it correct that—and I quote—”from a public health perspective alert level 1 means there has been a period of more than 28 days with no new cases of COVID-19 caused by community transmission and there is an extremely low public health risk from the virus”, as is says in the paper I have here in her name titled COVID-19 Alert Level Controls, which I understand was discussed at Cabinet yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member knows that we have made fully and widely available the settings of alert level 1, 2, 3, and 4, and in the criteria for decision making it does say, “trends in the transmission of the virus, with the threshold varying by alert level, including the director-general’s confidence in the data.” So, yes, we’ve included a period where we haven’t had cases—keeping in mind we’re only up to 12 days presently—but also the number of days where we haven’t had a case from community transmission, which was roughly about a month ago now. But that is not the only criteria. The director-general has to be confident in the data. We know there is asymptomatic transmission. We know there is a long tail. I would rather move once, do it right, and not continue to risk our economy.

But this ignores the risk to the economy of limiting the ability businesses to operate at full capacity. The longer the restrictions, the the greater the risk of businesses closing and and jobs being lost.

Todd Muller: When was New Zealand’s last case of community transmission?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just said, it was at the beginning of May. However, that was not the last case that we had, which was, from memory, 12 days ago. I have to say I am alarmed at the suggestion from the member that, even with some of the loosest restrictions in the world, the member would still be willing to act against the advice of the Director-General of Health, open up before he has advised that we do so, and put at risk the huge effort and sacrifice of New Zealanders. I would rather do it once and do it right.

What Ardern is saying appears to be at odds with advice given by Bloomfield in advice given to Cabinet.

Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister: how can you match that answer with the fact that on 20 May you said—and I quote—”the last case of community transmission where the source was unknown was early April.”? That means we’ve had now three full cycles of transmission with no community transmission cases in New Zealand—60 days since—

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We had a case that was linked to overseas travel but the overseas travel was outside the period of infection. So the view was that it could either have been community transmission or overseas travel. Again, the member forgets that that is but one of many criteria that we take into consideration, and we must listen to the advice not only of the scientists and epidemiologists but also the Director-General of Health. If the member thinks he knows more than all of them combined, I congratulate him, but I would rather listen to the advice, get it right, and not risk our economy.

As happened also on Tuesday, Ardern had started answering questions with poise, but she seemed to getting increasingly annoyed with the persistent questioning from Muller.

I think Muller has been holding Ardern to account effectively here. Some seem to think each question should result in the resignation of the Minister or Government, but our system never works like that.

Some assistance popped up for Ardern:

Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Prime Minister been advised that as recently as yesterday Australian states were reporting new cases of community transmission, and will the Government take that into consideration when considering the Opposition’s urging to reopen the border with Australia with urgency?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. We of course are mindful of the impacts of every restriction on our economy, on our businesses, but I equally will not jeopardise the gains and sacrifices made by those businesses by either opening us before we’re ready or moving alert levels before we’re ready. I reflect on the comments made by a small-business owner that they would rather live with the restrictions now than risk going back later on.

Ardern is trying to swim against the public tide here.

Todd Muller: Prime Minister, isn’t it time for a captain’s call on level 1 so that a team of 5 million New Zealanders can get back to rebuilding this country and recovering their jobs?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have proudly made captain’s calls all the way through and it is one of the reasons that, alongside our team of 5 million, we are the envy of the world in terms of our position right now. I stand by every call I’ve made and that’s why we are waiting until 8 June.

Muller has managed to get Ardern to take responsibility for “captain’s calls” on lockdown restrictions and the slow and ultra cautious return to business activity.

Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister, why wait till midnight Wednesday, when the whole country needs us to be in level 1 today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the whole country needs us to not go backwards. The whole country needs us to move once and to do it right, and the whole country wants to move with confidence. The member does a disservice when he explains that the decision-making process is as simplistic as he describes—it is not. We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns. And I stand by every decision we have made to date.

Moving fairly quickly into lockdown in March was supported by a lot of the public, but Ardern is at increasing risk of getting out of step with public sentiment now the risks seem to have moved to negligible.

Ardern kept referring to things like “The director-general has to be confident in the data” and “We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns.”

This makes me wonder if Ardern and Cabinet (excluding Winston Peters who has been calling for level 1 since last week) are putting a lot of weight on statistical analysis of data.

There will always be unknowns, and there will always be a statistical margin of error – statistics doesn’t work with 100% certainty.