New Zealand has now split into two alert-level states as the country battles to eliminate the Delta strain of Covid-19 from the community.
From 11.59pm on Tuesday, areas south of Auckland move to alert level 3, while Auckland and Northland remain at alert level 4.
Hours before the split, police were setting up checkpoints at the border south of Auckland.
Motorists can expect to be stopped and asked to prove their travel is essential, say police.
Police were preparing five checkpoints around the Auckland region head of the alert level move.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the checkpoints would be in place to stop motorists to ensure their travel is essential. Police intended to have all checkpoints operating by 11pm.
Police would set up southern checkpoints in the following locations:
• SH1/Mercer off ramp – southbound traffic.
• SH1/Oram Rd – northbound traffic.
• Mangatawhiri Rd/SH2.
• East Coast Rd – Waharau Regional Park.
• SH22/Pukekawa-Churchill Rd and Logan Rd.
Just like past checkpoints and at the request of the community, Port Waikato has been included in the Auckland border. This ensures residents in the region are not cut off from essential services close to their homes.
The move to the new alert level south of Auckland comes on the day that there were 49 new cases of Covid in the community - the lowest total in six days. All cases are in Auckland.
Six babies under the age of one have caught Covid-19 in the Delta outbreak, director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield said that news was "sobering", although none of the children who have tested positive are in hospital.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said having six children under 1 with Covid-19 reminds her of how important widespread vaccination is.
Ardern said it's too early to say if daily case numbers are plateauing.
Three Tegel employees test positive
Poultry producer Tegel confirmed today three people who work at its Henderson plant had tested positive for Covid-19 after visiting places of interest in Auckland City and West Auckland. They are now in quarantine.
As a precaution, Tegel closed the departments they work in and asked all the other staff to test and self-isolate. All test results returned so far have been negative.
"We are an essential service and we have been operating during all the lockdowns with extensive safety measures in place," said a Tegel spokesperson, noting that Tegel itself was not a location of interest.
"However ... this variant of Covid is very infectious. Consequently, we are upping our efforts to keep Covid at bay to ensure our production lines and distribution centres can continue to supply customers with Tegel product without further disruption."
Prison officer tests positive
A Corrections officer at Springhill prison has also tested positive for the virus. There are 23 staff who had contact with that person. They are isolating and getting tested. There are 123 inmates in the unit where the staffer worked, and they have been segregated and all will be tested.
The Corrections officer was fully vaccinated and is considered part of the Auckland outbreak as they live in the city.
The prison officer was asymptomatic.
New location of interest
A new location of interest has been added to the Ministry of Health's list this afternoon - Crystal Laundromat in Manurewa, South Auckland on August 24 from 11.45am to 2pm.
People who were at Crystal Laundromat at the above time are advised to self-monitor for Covid symptoms for 14 days after the potential exposure.
If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result and until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
You can see the full list of locations of interest at the end of this article or on the MoH's website.
Rest home 'reassured' by results
All patients at a dementia unit where a staff member tested positive for Covid-19 last week have returned two negative results.
A third and final test, part of the standard process outlined by ARPHS, will take place on September 6 for residents of the dementia unit at Amberlea Home and Hospital in Algies Bay, near Warkworth, CHT Healthcare Trust CEO Carriann Hall said.
The facility also conducted two rounds of voluntary tests for Covid-19 amongst its wider hospital residents, Hall said. All had returned negative results.
Tests on staff to date had also been negative.
"Staff and residents are staying safe and well, and we're all feeling reassured by the negative results so far," Hall said.
"The generous support of our wider CHT team and partners has ensured we can continue to provide quality care for all our residents, likewise we have had an outpouring of support and well wishes from families and the community which is greatly appreciated.
"We already had PPE and cleaning protocols in place appropriate to alert level 4 control processes such as extra surface cleaning, wearing of surgical masks for staff, social distancing, full PPE when caring for isolated residents and cohorting of staff and residents wherever possible.
"Extra precautions also include monitoring our residents for symptoms, undertaking twice-daily temperature checks, and using full PPE for all staff."
'Breaking chains of transmission'
Sixty-six per cent of new cases reported yesterday were household contacts. Seventy-seven per cent did not create any exposure events.
Of the cases reported yesterday, only 23 per cent are considered to have been infectious in the community.
The cases could have been visiting the supermarket or have been an essential worker, Bloomfield.
The reproduction rate is remaining under 1, and "we are successfully breaking chains of transmission", Bloomfield said.
Thirty-three people are in hospital, eight in ICU, and two are being ventilated.
The youngest person in hospital is 18, Bloomfield said. Two-thirds of cases in the outbreak are under the age of 34.
Most of the people in hospital with Covid-19 are in older age groups, Bloomfield said. It seems the hospitalisation rate of Delta is twice of other strains, he said, noting that 6 - 7 per cent of total cases are in hospital.
Bloomfield reminded people that it is safe to receive hospital-level care under alert level protocols.
There were 16,755 tests processed nationwide yesterday.
The seven-day rolling average for tests is 31,600 per day.
Just over 76,350 doses of the vaccine were administered yesterday - around 20,000 more than expected at this time.
There are some sites that have not been able to operate under alert level 4 restrictions, but people can and should re-book their vaccination, Bloomfield said.
How did Delta get into community?
Ardern says she "lies awake at night" trying to work out how the Delta strain got into the community. The outbreak is linked to a returnee at the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility. How it got from that facility into the wider public remains a mystery.
Many scenarios have turned out to be "dead ends", Bloomfield said.
"Now we're left with theories that don't have people to people contact, but simply the air," Ardern said.
The Crowne Plaza continues to be empty. Ventilation specialists are doing another assessment of the building to see if anything can be improved.
Ardern said MIQ is still fit for purpose despite the community outbreak, but the transmissions shows "just how tricky" Delta is.
STORY CONTINUES AFTER LIVE BLOG
Protests lead to 19 arrests
Police responded to anti-lockdown protests involving small groups outside government and local council buildings around the country this morning, resulting in 19 arrests for failing to comply with alert level 4 restrictions.
The protestors were spoken to by police at each location and all have now dispersed.
In Northland, two people were arrested – one each outside the Kaikohe and Whangārei council buildings. The Whangārei protestor was subsequently released and issued with an infringement notice.
In Auckland, four people were arrested at a small protest outside Government House in Epsom. Two infringement notices were also issued.
Waikato Police arrested three people for failing to comply with the Health Order after responding to a group of protestors gathered in Civic Square, Hamilton.
Six people were arrested by Bay of Plenty Police following a gathering outside the Tauranga City Council building.
Another small gathering was reported in Taupō, with one arrest made.
Central District Police responded to small groups of protestors outside council buildings in New Plymouth, Whanganui and Manawatū. Two people were arrested at the Whanganui protest.
A demonstration also took place outside the council building in Nelson. Police engaged with protestors and no arrests were made.
In Christchurch, one person was arrested following a protest also outside a council building.
"While these protests were small, the actions of those involved are very disappointing," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.
"While protest is a normal feature of a well-functioning democracy, police have a low tolerance for anyone who deliberately ignores the restrictions in the current situation. Today's arrests reflect that.
"The alert level is in place to protect us all and we need everyone to do their part."
New Covid variant
A new Covid variant identified in South Africa has been detected in New Zealand - and there are warnings it is worse than Delta.
A new preprint study by South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases warns the new variant has "mutated substantially" and is more mutations away from the original virus detected in Wuhan than any other variant previously detected.
The new variant, known as C. 1.2, first emerged in South Africa but has also been detected here, as well as England, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritius, Portugal and Switzerland.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson confirmed to the Herald today that a case of the new variant was identified at the border in Auckland in late June 2021.
"It's not causing a problem here, it will be interesting to see if it becomes more transmissible and a more dominant variant, but at the moment it's a variant of interest," Bloomfield said.
PM's golden rules for alert level 3
Regions outside of Northland and Auckland move to alert level 3 at midnight tonight.
Ardern said some people who are isolated and who need childcare support can bring another person into their bubble under alert level 3.
Contactless delivery can occur but all staff are legally required to wear a mask for outwardly facing businesses such as supermarkets and petrol stations.
The "golden rules" for everyone south of Auckland are: keep your distance from people, continue working from home if possible and keep children at home with you. They should only go to school if parents are essential workers.
Public venues such as gyms, pools, playgrounds and markets remain closed.
Travel is restricted for work or for those needing to pick up goods in a contactless way.
From tomorrow, anyone aged 12 or older can book a vaccine.
Funerals, weddings and tangihanga are allowed for up to 10 people.
Businesses must be contactless and meet requirements such as wearing face coverings to operate.
Personal travel between alert levels is highly limited, Ardern said.
West Auckland flooding
Ardern also issued an update on the wild weather in West Auckland today, saying fire and emergency staff responded to 370 incidents involving flooding, power lines and downed trees.
If people are in need in shelter, they should report to the Auckland Council building in Henderson, Ardern said.
Emergency situations and evacuation advice overrides alert level advice.
There will be some bubbles by necessity that are joining others simply because they need shelter, Ardern said.
Alert level shift
Auckland will remain in level 4 for two more weeks, while the rest of the country south of Auckland will move to level 3 at midnight today.
All going well with testing, Ardern said yesterday Northland would move to level 3 at 11.59pm Thursday.
This morning Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB it was still too early to say whether yesterday's lower case numbers figure was a trend, but he would be keeping his fingers crossed.
He wanted to see the numbers drop and stay low but it was still too early to say if that would happen.
Hipkins told Newstalk ZB the Government was about to "ink a deal" on new supplies, however Ardern dubbed those reports "speculative" when talking to RNZ today.
Hipkins confirmed officials were having "active conversations" about bringing in more vaccine to the country and those details would be shared "once they were signed on the dotted line".
He said they had always been pushing hard to get vaccine into the country earlier but their order would total 10.1 million doses by the end of October, so if each Kiwi had two doses each, they would still have some left.
He was hopeful of being able to tell Kiwis about more vaccines coming to New Zealand in the next couple of days.
However, Ardern was more tight-lipped when questioned on RNZ.
Asked about reports that the Government was close to a vaccine deal with another country, Ardern dubbed that "speculative".
"We are working hard to increase supply," she said, declining to get into specifics on exactly how.
She wouldn't be drawn on if that was a deal with Pfizer or another country.
"It is not the case that we are going to run out," Ardern said.
If more vaccines couldn't be obtained, then the country would revert to its original plan of delivering 350,000 jabs a week.
Meanwhile, Ardern told Breakfast public health officials "absolutely believe" that the Covid situation in Wellington was now contained.
Despite confirming the country wouldn't run out of vaccine, Ardern said health officials were trying to figure out whether they can meet the current high demand.
She said the worst case scenario would be for vaccinations to go back to the rollout plan made before the current lockdown.
Asked by Newstalk ZB about why South Islanders should still be getting the vaccine when the outbreak was centred in Auckland, Hipkins said they didn't want any vaccination appointments to be cancelled anywhere.
Aucklanders should get vaxxed first - Mayor
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says Auckland should be "a priority" when it comes to Covid-19 vaccines.
"It's clear where the risk lies. It lies in Auckland," Goff told Newstalk ZB.
"Where do you piut the most prority? The people who are most likely to contract the virus, and that's in Auckland."
We should take advantage of the lockdown, Goff said. "At level 4, a whole lot of elective surgery can't be done and a lot of staff can provide the injections."