Covid-19: What happened in New Zealand on 4 September

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As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We’ll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they’re responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

New Zealand has its first death in months and five new cases of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces restriction settings will stay the same for now, and her Australian counterpart hints at a travel bubble.

Middlemore Hospital

Middlemore Hospital. Photo: LDR / Steve Forbes

New Zealand’s first Covid-19 death in months

A man in his 50s linked to the Auckland cluster has died at Middlemore Hospital today, the Health Ministry has confirmed, bringing New Zealand’s Covid-19 death toll to 23.

The man was a confirmed case, and was being cared for in intensive care.

It is the first death from the virus New Zealand has recorded in over three months. The last death from Covid-19 in New Zealand was on Sunday 24 May, and was added to New Zealand’s official deaths tally the following Friday 29 May.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the news “reinforces the importance of our shared vigilance against Covid-19, the very serious consequences the virus can carry with it, and the measures we all need to take to stop the spread, break any chain of transmission and prevent deaths”.

At today’s official Covid-19 briefing, Dr Bloomfield reported another five cases, with three of those in the community.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre

No change to alert levels

Auckland will remain at alert level 2.5 for at least another week, prime minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed today.

The settings had been due to expire overnight on Sunday, but after Cabinet’s deliberations today any change was delayed until 11.59pm on Wednesday 16 September, with the decision to be made Monday, 14 September.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

At alert level 2.5, Aucklanders can travel outside the region, but social gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people, with 50 allowed for authorised funerals and tangihanga. The rest of the country is at level 2, which allows for gatherings up to 100 people – but people travelling from Auckland to other regions are expected to maintain their 2.5 restrictions.

Ardern said that because the source of the Auckland cluster was still not identified, the government had cause to be cautious.

There was still a risk of spread to other parts of the country, such as happened in Tokoroa, which was a good reason to maintain the rest of the country on alert level 2.

“If that does happen, level 2 settings lessen the impact of any spread and avoids any further fallout.”

Australia’s PM hints at travel bubble measures

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hinted at trans-Tasman flights between Covid-free areas of Australia and New Zealand in a media conference today.

He said he had told Ardern today that Australia was hoping to apply its “hotspot” approach being taken to reduce the need for hard borders between states with New Zealand as well.

“When we’re in a position to do so, and when the acting chief medical officer has come to a set of arrangements with New Zealand, then we would be able to have New Zealanders come to Australia.

“That doesn’t mean Australians can go to New Zealand, that’s a matter for Prime Minister Ardern, but if there’s no Covid in Christchurch, and there’s no Covid in Queensland, then there’s no reason both of them can’t come to Sydney.

“That will mean, I think, an important boost for our tourist economy, whether it’s in New South Wales or anywhere else.”

He spoke about allowing visiting New Zealanders to enter without having to go into isolation or quarantine.

“The idea that New Zealanders would not have to go into quarantine because they’re coming from Covid-free areas would also free up places in quarantine. Equally, if states aren’t requiring Australians coming from areas where there is no Covid cases, like the ACT, and that they don’t have to go into hotel quarantine in places, well, that obviously frees up more capacity as well.”

Rampant virus in Counties Manukau would kill 1300 Māori, Pacific people – researcher

A researcher modelling Covid-19 death rates says [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/425253/covid-19-herd-immunity-approach-would-led-to-thousands-of-avoidable-deaths 1300 Māori and Pasifika would die in the Counties Manukau district alone if community transmission was allowed to run rampant, reinforcing the importance of an elimination approach to the virus.

Ōtara Covid-19 Testing Station 13 August

A Covid-19 testing station in Ōtara, South Auckland. Photo: RNZ

The report was a continuation of study findings first published in April, which estimated the rate with which Māori would die was double that of non-Māori.

Report co-author Andrew Sporle said they also found Māori and Pacific were more likely to be hospitalised for the virus due to underlying health conditions.

Covid-19 visa extensions allow visitors, migrants more time

Visitors and temporary migrants stuck in New Zealand due to Covid-19 will have their visas extended to give them more time to organise flights home.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has announced those already in the country with vistor visas due to expire before the end of October will have their visa automatically extended for five months.

Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Kris Faafoi speaks during a media conference at Parliament on 23 April 2020 in Wellington.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Temporary migrants unable to leave due to international travel restrictions will receive a new two-month Covid-19 short-term visa, which will kick in when their current visa expires, he says.

There are roughly 19,000 people in New Zealand who hold visitor visas that will be eligible for the automatic five-month extension.

Faafoi said about 268,000 foreign nationals had departed New Zealand since March 2020.

Victoria report 81 new cases, 59 new deaths

Australia’s coronavirus hotspot Victoria state says its death toll from the virus has risen by 59 and there were 81 new cases.

The death tally includes 50 people in aged-care facilities who died in July and August, the state health department said in a tweet.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, reported 15 deaths and 113 cases a day earlier.

The state capital, Melbourne, is nearing the end of a six-week lockdown put in place to slow the spread of the virus but authorities said restrictions may continue beyond the planned end date after daily cases rose yesterday.

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