A day after a man in South Auckland went to visit his GP, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director General of Health moved Auckland to near-lockdown, ending a 102-day streak at level 1. The NZ Herald looked at how that afternoon rolled out for Ardern and the Government.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is getting used to hearing bad news in a van.
Yesterday she was in a van in Whanganui when she was told about the first case of possible community transmission of Covid-19 in 102 days.
Back in March, she was in a van in New Plymouth when she was told there had been shootings in Christchurch.
The news of community transmission landed with her at about 4pm on August 11. She had just wound up a day of campaigning in Whanganui with a Labour Party afternoon tea at The Grand.
Earlier, she had visited a Quality Safety International, a company that makes face masks.
She had refused to model a mask when asked by the media – as had National Party leader Judith Collins when asked to model the one in her handbag.
At that point Ardern was not to know that within hours she would be considering making it mandatory to wear the masks as she put Auckland back into level three of the Covid-19 restrictions and the rest of the country into level 2.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield got the news more than an hour earlier.
At about 2.40 pm on Tuesday, Bloomfield got an urgent text from Margie Apa, the chief executive of Counties Manukau District Health Board to alert him.
He called her five minutes later, and a Zoom meeting followed about seven minutes after that with a wider team of health officials.
At that point, the man who had tested positive after visiting his GP on Monday had not been interviewed.
A second test was being done to ensure it was not a false positive, and six others in the man's household were also being tested. Those tests were being fast tracked.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins was the first to be notified in the Government.
Hipkins was dealing with electorate work, and missed Bloomfield's first call at 3.14pm.
Bloomfield texted Hipkins at 3.27pm and they spoke by phone at 3.43 pm.
Ardern later said her reaction to the news was of "disappointment." It was also the word used by Bloomfield.
At that stage the second test results were not through.
The man's second test came back later on Tuesday afternoon. It was positive, as were those of three other family members. Two had symptoms, and had had symptoms for four to five days before the tests were done.
Ardern returned to Wellington by road – a journey that takes about 2.5 hours.
Ardern rang chief of staff, Raj Nahna, and Health Minister Chris Hipkins as well as Finance Minister Grant Robertson. She also contacted the ministers on the Covid-19 committee to tell them to be on standby for a meeting that night.
Robertson found out by a text from Ardern at 4.20pm, just after his flight landed. They spoke by phone soon after and Robertson headed to Parliament.
While Ardern was travelling back, Robertson called in Treasury Secretary Dr Caralee McLiesh and other senior officials. They met at about 5.30pm.
Robertson was getting advice on the options for economic relief if Auckland was to go into lockdown – such as an Auckland wage subsidy scheme and other financial support.
Ardern had also put in questions she wanted answers to from officials, including whether the source could be identified, and whether there was any connection to border staff or those in managed isolation or quarantine hotels.
"If we couldn't answer those questions then that was an indication we needed to move to a more precautionary approach."
The answers to those questions was no.
At around 7.30 pm, Ardern met with the All of Government team of officials and then the team of Covid-19 ministers: Winston Peters, Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins, Andrew Little and David Parker.
Ardern, Robertson and Hipkins were in her office while the others joined by Zoom.
Chief of Staff Raj Nahna and Bloomfield were also present.
One minister described the mood of that meeting as "sombre".
"It was a mix of disappointment, sadness, bracing ourselves for what was next and uncertainty about what the implications would be."
It was Ardern who proposed the three-day lockdown for Auckland – a solution to put things in a "holding pattern" while the cases were investigated further and to give time to check whether it was more widespread. There was reportedly no quibbling about it.
The decision was made to put Auckland into level 3, and the rest of New Zealand into level 2 for an initial period of three days.
WHO WAS TOLD FIRST:
After the meeting, the ministers and officials set about letting key people and companies know ahead of a public announcement.
Ardern called Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and National Party leader Judith Collins at about 8.30pm. Collins was in Auckland after a day campaigning in Taupo and Waikato.
Collins later said she was unhappy about the late notice she was given, and lack of time for a proper briefing or consultation. Collins said that in the lead-up to an election, it was convention for the Government in caretaker mode to involve the Opposition in major decisions.
Robertson called the Reserve Bank Governor and Air New Zealand.
Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi was charged with informing the supermarket companies.
Business NZ, the Council of Trade Unions and Retail NZ were also alerted and education groups – such as teacher and principal representatives – were told. Schools were notified by the Ministry of Education.
Word had started to get out early. From about 5.30pm the NZ Herald started getting rumours about community transmission in South Auckland.
At about 8.30pm some journalists based at Parliament were advised to get back to work – quickly.
At 8.53pm an advisory was sent out that a press conference would be held at 9.15pm.
No good news was ever delivered from the Beehive at 9.15pm.
Ardern and Bloomfield appeared together for the first time since Parliament wound up for the campaign.
They announced the four cases for which there was no known source of infection - the first cases outside managed isolation in 102 days.
Auckland would go into level 3 restrictions at noon the next day. The rest of New Zealand would go to level 2.
Ardern said it would be an initial three-day period as the health workers tried to track down the original source – and whether it had spread more widely.
The contact tracers were back in swing, testing sites were set up again.
Over the next day, the political party leaders suspended their campaigns. National's Judith Collins cancelled the party's planned campaign launch, which was to be held in South Auckland on Sunday.
The dissolution of Parliament was also delayed from Wednesday just in case Parliament had to be recovened for any reason, or in case the election had to be delayed.
Across New Zealand, the PM's instructions not to panic shop were ignored again.
As Ardern spoke at the press conference, Robertson – who is also Sports Minister – was on the phone to Rugby NZ chief executive Mark Robinson.
Robinson had some decisions to make about the Super Rugby Aotearoa final between the Crusaders and the Blues on Sunday at Eden Park.
Robertson did not give him much optimism about the likelihood it could go ahead with its sell-out crowd.
The halcyon days of level 1 were over, for now.
10 August: A man in his 50s from South Auckland visits his GP and is given a Covid-19 test.
11 August: The test comes back positive. The man is called in for a second test, along with six others in his household.
2.40pm: Counties Manukau DHB chief executive Margie Apa texts Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to alert him to a potential case of Covid-19 outside of managed isolation. A Zoom meeting followed with key officials within 10 minutes.
3.15 pm: Bloomfield calls Health Minister Chris Hipkins but does not get through. He texts Hipkins at 3.27pm and they speak by phone at 3.43 pm.
4pm: PM Jacinda Ardern leaves an afternoon tea for the Labour Party at The Grand in Whanganui. She is told of the case by her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, in the van.
She spends the 2.5-hour drive back to Wellington calling staff and ministers on the Covid-19 team to advise them to be on standby for a meeting that evening.
5.30pm: Finance Minister Grant Robertson meets Treasury secretary Caralee McLeish to discuss the options for any economic relief package for Auckland.
7pm: Ardern gets back to Wellington. Meets Health Minister Chris Hipkins and the All of Government Covid officials, including Police Commissioner Andy Coster and Bloomfield.
7.45/ 8pm: Ardern leads meeting of the Covid-19 Ministers: Ardern, Winston Peters, Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins, Andrew Little and David Parker.
8.30 pm: Ardern calls Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and National Party leader Judith Collins to brief them.
Other ministers alert Air NZ, the Reserve Bank Governor, the supermarket companies, education groups, Business NZ, Retail NZ and the Council of Trade Unions.
8.53pm: An advisory is sent to media to advise of a press conference at 9.15 pm.
9.22 pm: Ardern and Bloomfield announce four cases of potential community transmission. Auckland is put into level 3 and the rest of New Zealand to level 2 at noon the next day for an initial period of three days.