19 Aug 2020

Covid-19: What happened in New Zealand on 19 August

8:34 pm on 19 August 2020

The High Court ruled some of the government's early lockdown measures were unlawful, security at quarantine facilities is being boosted, a different type of Covid-19 test is being used to investigate the latest cluster, and businesses report big reductions in trade in Auckland and outside it.

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.

No caption

Photo: RNZ

Six more cases of Covid-19 were announced today by the Ministry of Health; one is an imported case in a woman who arrived from Qatar via Sydney, and five are connected to the Auckland cluster.

The country's total cases now sits at 1299, and 23,038 tests were processed yesterday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the containment of the Auckland cluster was encouraging, and "the perimeter of the virus is not expanding exponentially."

High Court rules some early lockdown orders made "unlawful"

A high court decision was released today ruling that from 26 March to 3 April, the requirement for people to stay at home and in their bubbles was justified, but unlawful.

A new order was introduced by the government on 3 April which corrected that.

No caption

Attorney-General David Parker Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

The judgment is the result of a legal challenge by lawyer Andrew Borrowdale, who argued the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield went beyond his powers when he put the country into lockdown.

In a conference late this afternoon, Attorney-General David Parker said there was no decision yet on a possible appeal to the high court ruling.

He said there weren't likely to be any consequences from the ruling, and that the current lockdown orders made under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 were not affected by the judgment.

Meanwhile, Minister of Health Chris Hipkins ruled out Auckland going into alert level 4 because the current restrictions in the city were working and helping to get on top of the known cluster.

The prime minister later reiterated that in the afternoon briefing, saying she had no intention of scaling up the alert levels.

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

Serology testing to help trace cases

This morning experts urged the government to increase their use of serology antibody testing - a test that can tell if someone has had the virus in the past - to help connect how the disease has been spreading.

They said it could provide more clues as to how a maintenance worker at the Auckland Rydges quarantine hotel contracted the same strain of the virus as a woman recently returned from the US, or how the Auckland cluster is connected to the border.

No caption

A serology blood testing kit. Photo: acc.af.mil

All close contacts of the maintenance worker have been tested, and his workers have been retested, said Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield later confirmed serology tests will be used to retest everyone who worked with the maintenance worker.

Later it was reported nursing staff carrying out tests could have been the link between the hotel worker and the woman who returned from the US, and more information and serology tests will be collected to investigate.

Reinforcing security and testing teams

A team is being put together to help support testing, which Ardern said had not kept up with the scale and speed required at the border.

Extra Defence Force personnel will also be provided for quarantine facilities to reduce the use of private security firms. And the government is looking into directly employing and training security guards through the Ministry of Business and Business Innovation and Employment.

It comes after the revelation yesterday that a First Security guard at an Auckland hotel had been suspended after releasing the personal information of 27 returnees and five staff members on a private Snapchat group over the weekend.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said he wanted the whole border quarantine operation shifted into existing military facilities, and a new Border Protection Force created. He said the events of the past week prompted questions over whether the current arrangements are the best way to fight outbreaks.

National Party leader Judith Collins also called out Ardern, saying she should take responsibility for a "massive failure" in border worker testing, "first for letting David Clark stay on as health minister for three months, and then appointing Chris Hipkins, who already holds several portfolios, as the new minister".

And Air New Zealand today has spoken about its safety measures with Minister of Health Chris Hipkins, who said he would be reviewing the testing regime for international air crew.

Auckland restrictions hit businesses hard, and more people turned away at checkpoints

Some travellers have said processing at Auckland's border checkpoints has improved, but others reported it was still a shambles.

Authorities are monitoring checkpoints in and out of Auckland.

Papers being checked at an Auckland checkpoint. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

Police said there had been a big increase in the number of people trying to come through, more people have their paperwork ready, and queues had decreased to about 30 minutes at the southern checkpoints, and five minutes in at the northern side.

More than 86,000 vehicles were processed and 4800 have been turned back.

Meanwhile businesses are speaking out about their struggles under the current restrictions, with less reported trade.

Auckland Council's chief economist also warned about 250 jobs are being lost a day under level 3 restrictions, with about a quarter of the city's workforce unable to work at all.

Today it also became mandatory for all businesses to display the government's Covid Tracer QR code at their entrances.

Covid-positive visitors

Two central Auckland supermarket stores are closed after visitors tested positive for Covid-19, and Hobbiton in Matamata confirmed a visitor to their site tested positive for Covid-19 after going overseas.

Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, New Zealand.

Hobbiton in Matamata. Photo: 123RF

The Auckland City Countdown on Quay Street and the St Lukes Countdown in the Westfield St Lukes Mall are closed for deep cleaning, after each was visited last week by a person who later tested positive.

All three facilities have been told the risk to visitors is very low.

Northland District Health Board has also notified the public that a visitor to the area tested positive after arrival to their home country recently.

According to the DHB, the person was at Kiwi North in Maunu, Whangarei on 28 July between 1pm and 4pm.

  • 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

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs