Prime Minister’s Press Conference [and commentary from Finance Minister Grant Robertson at the end]
It has been 53 hours since we moved Auckland into Covid Alert Level 3 and the rest of New Zealand to Level 2.
This afternoon Cabinet met to receive the latest information and advice from the Ministry of Health, and to discuss next steps in our resurgence response plan – a plan with the primary purpose of restoring our Level 1 freedoms as quickly as possible.
We have made a good start on that plan.
This is what we know about the new infection in New Zealand.
We have identified 29 cases. At this stage all remain linked to one cluster centred in Auckland. 1 other case that is likely linked to the cluster is still being investigated.
We have undertaken more than 30,000 tests in the last 48 hours.
38 people linked to the cluster are now in Government-managed quarantine as a precautionary measure.
There are signs we have found this outbreak relatively early in its life.
While the first case we identified tested positive this Tuesday, extensive testing and contact tracing has since determined that the earliest case we have found to date, was a worker at the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington who became sick on approximately the 31st of July.
This may not yet be the origin of the outbreak, but on the information we have to date, it’s the earliest sign of the re-emergence of the virus.
In terms of the ongoing investigation to identify where the virus originated from, there is still no clear connection at this point.
Contact tracing and genomic testing has not found a link to the border or managed isolation and quarantine facilities at this stage.
The sequence of the virus from the current outbreak is not the same as the sequences from community cases in our original outbreak in NZ. This suggests this is not a case of the virus being dormant or of a burning ember in our community. It appears to be new to New Zealand.
In terms of wider surveillance, since I made the announcement to move alert levels on Tuesday, we have tested more people than at any other time we have had Covid in New Zealand,
We have stock for a further 303,000 tests currently in New Zealand.
The Level 3 restrictions, and the speed in which they were implemented, will have made a material difference in containing the spread of this outbreak. So will everyone’s compliance with those restrictions.
Auckland travel data yesterday – the first full day of Level 3 – shows a 60 per cent reduction in travel compared with the last three Thursdays – which is even less travel than at Level 3 last time. Which demonstrates the incredible job Aucklanders are currently doing.
This is also what we know.
We know the incubation period for Covid-19, and our experience of previous clusters, some of which reached more than 80 cases, means we can expect to see more cases as part of this cluster. It will grow before it slows. And it may continue to be linked to schools, churches and social gatherings as it has done to date.
We also know, based on overseas experience and our own, that it is possible to contain a cluster or outbreak without ever being able to identify its origin. What is important, is making sure that we establish the perimeter of the cluster, and stop it from growing. To do this, we do need to take into account that all-important incubation period.
And so, in keeping with our precautionary approach and NZ’s philosophy of going hard and going early, today Cabinet has agreed:
To maintain our current settings for an additional 12 days – bringing us to a full two weeks in total.
Our current expectation is that by this time, the perimeter of the cluster will be identified, will be isolated, and we can move to Level 2 in Auckland with confidence.
That means Auckland will remain at Level 3 and New Zealand will remain at Level 2, until 11.59pm on Wednesday August 26.
We will, however, review these settings on the August 21, we want to give about a week’s time to assess how we are travelling before reviewing again.
I would characterise our approach as a ‘short but precautionary hold’ in an ongoing investigation that will stamp out the virus.
There is nothing to suggest we need to move to a Level 4 lockdown at this stage as we do not have a number of clusters or unrelated cases.
There is nothing to suggest we need to move to a Level 4 lockdown.
Cabinet also does not want Auckland to be in Level 3 any longer than is needed to ensure the outbreak is managed.
Our intention is that Auckland and New Zealand will quickly move back down through alert levels if we continue on this track, but it is wise to take a bit of extra time. That extra bit of time is our best way of getting out quickly.
As always, the best economic response is a strong health response, and short and sharp is best. Lifting restrictions now and seeing a potential explosion in cases is the worst thing we could do for Auckland and New Zealand economy.
At the same time, Level 3 does allow us to continue with more activity than a full level 4 lockdown. And I do think that’s important to remember.
Estimates are that the economy operates at roughly about 80 per cent at Level 3 – compared to 60 per cent at Level 4.
I’m mindful of the extraordinary disruption to business and the anxiety that this outbreak will be causing. As before, we will use what tools we have to protect jobs, incomes, and businesses – as well as people’s health.
To provide certainty to businesses and workers, I can confirm today that Cabinet has made an in-principle decision to extend the wage subsidy scheme to support businesses and protect jobs as we undertake the public health measures required to fight this virus.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson will be working through the final details with officials and Minister Sepuloni over the weekend, but I can say that the extension to the wage subsidy will be nation-wide and will be cover for the period of time that the current Level 3 restrictions remain in place.
Minister Robertson is here and will give a more detailed explanation shortly.
I want to touch on the activity that continues in Auckland under Level 3 – with the appropriate health and safety protocols in place.
Auckland Transport has 44 construction sites operating under Alert Level 3.
Construction continues across five sites on our largest infrastructure project – the City Rail Link – with around 1200 workers.
The Employers and Manufacturers Association has said many food service businesses that closed during Level 3 last time are this time adapting and trading on a click and collect basis or delivery.
And houses continue to be built in Auckland. Kāinga Ora alone has over 150 projects with over 3000 units under construction.
All of this is happening because of the protocols on operating safely at level three, which includes social distancing at work sites.
As we have said from the start, our overall Covid-19 strategy remains elimination. That requires the ongoing stamping out of the virus any time it comes back.
Together, we have got rid of Covid before.
We have kept it out for 102 days, longer than any other country.
We have been world leading in our Covid response – with the result that many lives were saved and our economy was getting going faster than almost anywhere else again.
And we can do all of that again.
1.5 million New Zealanders in our biggest city are carrying a heavy load for our team of 5 million right now.
But together, we will overcome an obstacle that we knew had the potential to come our way.
Which is why we have a plan, why we are rolling out that plan, and why we, once again, can pull together to eliminate Covid.
So here’s what I ask today
In you’re in Auckland, please stay at home in your bubble.
Wear a face covering whenever you leave your home.
And for the rest of New Zealand, use a face covering in places where you’re close to others like on public transport.
Download and use the app and make sure you can quickly access all your movements for the last 14 days in case you are contacted by the contact tracers.
Businesses please put up your Covid tracer QR code posters.
And everyone, wash your hands and if you’re sick – stay home and get a test.
We’ll be checking in again soon, but till then stay safe, kind, and well everyone.
FINANCE MINISTER GRANT ROBERTSON’S MEDIA STATEMENT
Govt to protect jobs and businesses with extra support
· In-principle decision to extend wage subsidy to support businesses and protect jobs
· Support will be nationwide in recognition of Auckland’s position in NZ economy and the impact of Level 2
· Mortgage deferral scheme to be extended to support households
The Government is taking action to support businesses and protect jobs following today’s decision to extend the existing public health measures across the country to stamp out Covid-19.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said Cabinet has made an in-principle decision to extend the wage subsidy, and modify the Covid-19 Sick Leave Scheme to make it more accessible. Details will be finalised over the weekend and announced on Monday.
An extension to the mortgage deferral scheme has also been agreed in-principle as part of the plan to support households after the existing scheme expires on 27 September. Details, including the length of the extension, are being finalised and will be announced next week.
“The latest Covid-19 outbreak is obviously disappointing, especially for businesses that have just got up and running again. But we have a plan in place to deal with it. We have always said that the best economic response is a strong health response. We have moved quickly to identify cases and contact-trace as part of the resurgence plan announced by the Prime Minister in July,” Grant Robertson said.
“An important part of our plan is our decision in July to ring-fence the remaining $14 billion in the Covid Fund in case there were further outbreaks. This was so we could ramp up the health response quickly, and support affected businesses and protect jobs as we undertook the necessary public health measures to stamp out the virus. There is also money remaining in the existing wage subsidy allocation that will help meet the costs of this further extension.”
Robertson said the Government has decided that the extended wage subsidy will apply nationwide, particularly given the significance of Auckland’s economy to the wider country, and due to the impact Alert Level 2 would have on sectors like hospitality and retail.
“These public health measures are affecting businesses around the country. This includes tourism operators who are expecting visitors from Auckland, companies that supply Auckland businesses, and the hospitality and retail sectors in other parts of the country now operating under Level 2.”
The criteria and eligibility requirements for the extension to the wage subsidy will be similar to previous criteria. Given the different nature of the latest outbreak, the Government is taking the weekend to finalise the details. The extension will be available to businesses that have already finished receiving the subsidy, as long as they meet the criteria, and it will cover the period that the current Level 3 restrictions stay in place.
Advice from MSD is that the extension to the scheme will be able to be operational within five days of the decision.
“This is also a reminder that the existing extension to the wage subsidy remains open to applications until September 1. Businesses that haven’t yet accessed that scheme should reassess if they now meet the criteria, following the recent increase in Alert Levels,” Robertson said.
“Cabinet also agreed in-principle to look at modifying the Covid Sick Leave Scheme. We are very aware that those who are required to self-isolate may be concerned if they do not have any sick leave entitlements left or the business they work for is not eligible for the scheme under current settings.
“We want everyone to feel confident that if they return a positive test that they will be looked after. Final details of these modifications will also be decided on Monday,” Robertson said.