15 Aug 2020

NZ extends alert levels: What you need to know

2:25 pm on 15 August 2020

Auckland's lockdown will probably continue until at least 26 August, the wage subsidy will be extended and an election date may emerge over the weekend.

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Photo: 123RF / RNZ / AFP / 123RF

At a media briefing at the Beehive yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "Auckland will remain at level 3 and New Zealand will remain at level 2 ... until 11.59pm 26 August."

However, the settings would be reviewed on 21 August and there would be no need for zero cases before Auckland could be moved back to alert level 2, Ardern said.

"Cabinet also does not want Auckland to be in level 3 any longer than is needed to ensure the outbreak is contained.

"The best economic response is a strong health response."

It was not expected that more than 12 days in alert level 3 would be necessary.

Wage subsidy

Ardern announced that the wage subsidy scheme would be extended nationwide for the duration of Auckland's time at its current level.

It was important to remember that level 3 would allow for more economic activity than level 4, Ardern said.

Details will be finalised over the weekend, however, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said it was expected access would be similar to the way the scheme previously operated.

Robertson said government was looking at all the support schemes available to see if they could be tweaked to provide better assistance.

This sort of situation was why money was held back in the Covid-19 recovery fund, he said.

Early indications suggested it would cost about $1 billion.

Ardern said the extension of the wage subsidy had been expected to cost up to $3.9 billion, but only about $2b had been allocated so far, so there was breathing room to extend it further.

The Ministry of Social Development has indicated they would be able to implement the new wage scheme extension within five days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson speak to media during a press conference at Parliament on April 02, 2020.

Both Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson discussed the wage subsidy extension at the briefing. [file pic] Photo: 2020 Getty Images

'Heavy load ' for Auckland

The prime minister acknowledged extending the lockdown would be difficult for Auckland.

She appealed to people who knew Aucklanders to reach out and be kind.

"To summarise... our overall Covid strategy remains elimination ... together we have got rid of Covid before ... We can do all of that again... 1.5 million Aucklanders are carrying a heavy load for our team of five million right now."

She appealed to people in the city to stay home in their bubbles and to wear masks.

Source of cluster

There are 29 cases linked to the cluster in Auckland, and one more case likely linked to it, she said.

"It will grow before it slows," she said and it may be linked to more cases from churches, schools and social gatherings.

The earliest case in the cluster has been identified as a worker at the Americold Coolstore in Mt Wellington who became sick on 31 July.

This person may not be the earliest case, and the source of the chain of transmission has not been discovered.

Ardern said the genome sequencing of the current outbreak is not the same as any other previous transmission, which suggests it is a new strain in New Zealand.

Testing being conducted by health workers at a COVID-19 testing station setup at Eden Park, National Sports Stadium, in Auckland on August 14, 2020.

Testing is expected to identify more cases linked to the Auckland cluster, the prime minister says. Photo: AFP

The election

Ardern said she was briefed by the Electoral Commission yesterday about the general election, due to be held on 19 September.

She said it was not a priority for Cabinet today - they were more intent on handling the re-emergence of community transmission.

She had two full days before Parliament was due to be dissolved to decide on a possible deferral or sticking to the current date.

"I've got another 48 hours, I'm going to use it, and I'll come back on the question of the election."

Ardern has the power to delay the election to November at the latest.

She said it was important to note that the Electoral Commission had been preparing for the election to be held under various alert levels.

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