28 new community cases, MIQ escapee's movements revealed

Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 3 Sep 2021, 12:39PM

28 new community cases, MIQ escapee's movements revealed

Thomas Coughlan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 3 Sep 2021, 12:39PM


There are 28 new community cases of Covid-19 today - 27 in Auckland and one in Wellington, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay has confirmed.

This takes the total number of cases in this outbreak to 764. Unlinked cases have dropped from 65 to 31, McElnay said.

McElnay and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson are addressing media on the latest case numbers and yesterday's MIQ escapee.

According to McElnay, there are 43 Covid patients in hospital, with nine in ICU.

A total of 31,668 - or 84 per cent of contacts - have been followed up by contact tracers, while 89,073 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were delivered yesterday. Just over 64,000 of those were first doses.

There are a number of people walking into vaccination centres casually, but McElnay has urged those people to cancel their booking if they're doing that.

Waitakere detected a positive case in wastewater yesterday but this is not unexpected given there have been cases in that area, McElnay said.

McElnay said there were nearly 31,000 tests processed yesterday. There were a total of 12,796 conducted over the past 24 hours.

McElnay said the drop-off in Auckland's Covid test numbers in recent days is due to a "bulge" from the initial rush of locations of interest at the start of this outbreak, and the rush of close contacts from that. She added that they may have to target their testing in the future to certain areas.

"We do need to keep testing," McElnay urged.

Significant work is going into driving the Māori vaccination push, Robertson said, while health providers are also looking at "flexible" ways of getting the vaccine to these communities to boost their jab rates.

He refuted the assertion that Australia has "nicked" New Zealand's vaccines with their big influx of Pfizer vaccines announced recently. Robertson assured the public that they were getting regular deliveries of Pfizer, but said that in order to "meet the momentum" of the recent surge, the Government continues to look for vaccine supplies.

Escapee's movements revealed

Robertson called today's numbers "encouraging" and thanked all public health units across the country who are tracking down contacts.

He said the Covid-infected man who escaped from the Novotel was tested because they were a close contact of another positive case.

According to Robertson, on the Thursday evening on CCTV, the individual left their room many times. He eventually escaped down a fire well. He left the facility just after 1am. The person then walked home.

There are no locations of interest due to that walk home and no contact with any other person, Robertson said.

Defence force staff noticed the man was not in his room and started their check of the facility. Robertson said he would have had to jump over two fences to escape the facility.

"There was no risk to public safety due to this incident," Robertson said of the escapee - adding it was "regrettable".

He "rejected the assertion" that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put public safety at risk by not releasing information about the Ellerslie escapee at yesterday's 1pm press conference.

Robertson said Ardern knew it was an "evolving situation" and police were undertaking their investigation to find the man.

"This was a fast-evolving situation," Robertson said. "As soon as we were able to talk about it, we did.

"It would be irresponsible [to reveal information] while the active [police] operation was underway."

This is the first time someone has absconded since the defence force took over MIQ in the middle of last year, Robertson said - adding he thought the system was working well. He acknowledged MIQ was "not a prison".

"The system has been working well," Robertson said. "Every facility has high levels of security."

While Robertson could not say at what exact time police arrived at the house to apprehend the man, he did confirm that all the police officers who apprehended him were either fully or partially vaccinated.

Asked for comment on a reported second lockdown breach by top Kiwi athletes, Robertson shared his sympathy with those restricted by the level 4 regulations in Auckland.

"I know it's tough," Robertson said.

Update on business support

Robertson also said $454m has been approved for business support due to the lockdown.

The six-month test to be eligible for business support has now been reduced to one month. There has been a change to the criteria, Robertson said.

An administrative error on the wage support website between 8pm and 10pm last night left it offline. Robertson says any businesses affected should contact his Ministry directly or contact the relevant authorities to reapply.

Employers can apply for the wage subsidy on behalf of casual workers, and Robertson encouraged employers to have that conversation with staff. They are "continuing to look at all the support" provided - for potential expansion to it.

All major banks have waved contactless debit fees and anyone under financial difficulty should contact their bank about mortgage fee deferrals, he said.

Robertson said the Government is taking a look at the residential rental rules under level 4. He reiterated that the enforcement of an eviction under level 4 is not allowed.

Yesterday's case numbers

New Zealand notched up 49 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday.

Experts say the figure shows a clear downward trend from the peak of more than 80 cases a day over the weekend - however there are concerns case numbers are not falling fast enough to guarantee Auckland a timely exit from level 4 restrictions.

Professor Shaun Hendy, a Covid-19 modeller at the University of Auckland, has said he wants to see cases "come down faster though, so we can relax alert level 4 as soon as possible".

National leader Judith Collins is calling on the Government to drop the South Island to alert level 2, noting it had been nearly a year since a positive case was detected in the community there.

"South Island people and businesses are being put under unnecessary stress for no good reason," Collins said.

"If Wellington, which has had a number of positive cases during the current outbreak, can be at level 3, it seems a major overreaction to have the same alert level in the south, where there have been none."

Robertson will also have to answer for two recent snags in the Government's Covid response.

Yesterday, a man with Covid-19 escaped a quarantine facility in Ellerslie in the middle of the night and spend half a day on the run, being arrested in the afternoon.

The Government has faced questions about why it took so long for the Police to be alerted of the escapee, and why Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not disclose the incident at yesterday's 1pm press briefing.

Police were only notified of the escapee at 10.20am yesterday, despite the escapee leaving MIQ 10 hours earlier.

National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop called on the Government to investigate why it took so long for the Police and officials to be notified about the escapee.

Robertson will also face questions about a snag for businesses receiving the wage subsidy. Applications for the first round of the wage subsidy closed unexpectedly early last night, despite Government assurances applications would remain open until 11.59pm.

Instead, the website shut off applications yesterday evening.

National's spokeswoman for social development and employment Louise Upston said MPs began receiving messages from frustrated businesses as early as 8.30pm.

"Last night National MPs were inundated with messages from businesses, some as early as 8.30pm, frustrated to learn applications for the first round had closed early.

"Later in the evening, at about 10.30pm, applications appeared to reopen."

With Auckland set to be in level 4 until at least September 13, the Government has triggered another round of wage subsidies.

Instead of rolling over businesses already receiving the subsidy, businesses will be required to reapply for another two weeks of subsidy.

"Unlike the scheme that operated in March last year, this Wage Subsidy scheme requires businesses to reapply for each fortnightly payment," Robertson said.

Robertson said the criteria for this round of wage subsidy will be the same as before.

Businesses must show they expect a 40 per cent decline in revenue to claim the subsidy.