A woman who allegedly absconded from her southeast Auckland home last night while being escorted by MIQ security has handed herself in to police.
According to a spokesperson, she has been charged with failing to comply with a Covid health order and will be taken straight to the Auckland District Custody Unit in Mt Eden to appear in the Manukau District Court tomorrow.
The Covid-infected woman had been transferred from hospital to the Holiday Inn MIQ facility yesterday and was escorted to her house to collect personal items and to tend to a pet.
MIQ security staff accompanied her but did not follow her into the property in southeast Auckland.
They waited outside for 10 minutes before realising she had fled.
Earlier today, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield warned that infections are likely to keep rising - despite the number of new Covid-19 cases dropping to 60 today.
Bloomfield said public health teams across the country have "resourced up" and would be on standby if cases crept up.
Fifty-six of the new cases are in Auckland and four are in Waikato.
Twenty-two cases remain unlinked to the outbreak and 43 people are in hospital with Covid.
A total of 89 per cent of Aucklanders have now had one vaccine dose.
The Ministry of Health said there has been an increase in cases on Auckland's North Shore and in New Lynn.
Bloomfield highlighted the North Shore suburbs of Bayswater, Rosedale and Redvale - the suburb where the infamous influencer party took place.
New Lynn's Shadbolt Park has been removed from the Ministry of Health's locations of interest list. It is an exposure event with a small number of contacts who have all been contacted and are isolating.
No one else is being sought in relation to that event, Bloomfield said.
People with mild symptoms in New Lynn and North Shore are being told to get a test as soon as possible and to isolate until they receive the result.
Bloomfield said it's to make sure there aren't undetected cases in those areas. There will be additional testing from tomorrow.
Of the four new cases in Waikato, two are household contacts already in quarantine and the other two are closely linked.
Bloomfield said public health teams across the country have "resourced up" and would be on standby if cases crept up.
Bloomfield said case numbers are expected to double around every 10-12 days. The number of unlinked cases is expected to grow too, but they are not quite so worried about where they came from, he said.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he wanted to remind everyone in the South Island that things can change quite quickly, and they remain in alert level 2 as a form of protection. He said there is still a lot of movement between the two islands.
Bloomfield said the spread of Covid to the South Island is not imminent.
Third jabs, 'diluted' dose incidents
A third dose of the Pfizer vaccine will be available for immunocompromised people - with more details on the Ministry of Health website this afternoon. People cannot book the third vaccine on Book My Vaccine.
Bloomfield said criteria for people eligible for a third vaccine is narrow - people who fulfill it will be reached out to by their clinician and it will be available on prescription.
Today, the Government launched a new campaign called "Two Shots For Summer" targeting 16-to-19-year-olds to encourage full vaccinations by December.
Hipkins backed the success of Super Saturday for first doses, but he said it gets harder and harder and they still need another 200,000 people to get their first dose.
Booster shots are available now Hipkins said, but they are waiting on technical experts for the timeframe of administering. Next week the timeframe should be outlined, Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield said incidents of "diluted doses" are picked up immediately, and all those affected were followed up and given advice. Another incident in Wellington included vaccines that were past their 30-day period. Those people were told to get a further vaccine.
Bloomfield said it affected a small number of people, and the fact that these incidents were found, reflect that quality assurances were in place.
Hipkins said two absconders scaled fences at MIQ, were spotted doing that, were out less than five minutes and were watched the entire time they were out
The third case was collecting belongings to care for a pet, after 10 minutes they did not return, and were escorted.
Announcements on changes to MIQ settings are due early next week, Hipkins said.
Hipkins said he didn't want to "raise or lower expectations" for people before Christmas.
Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, said he is "acutely" aware of Covid's impact on students. He said stresses are more evident by the day.
Students in Years 11, 12 and 13 will return to classroom from Tuesday October 26 in alert level 3 areas, to complete NCEA exams and assessments.
They will be required to wear masks. Staff will need a negative test before returning.
Those more at risk of Covid should stay home. Face coverings on school transport will be mandatory.
Exams will proceed in alert level 3 areas. Auckland students are eligible for an "unexpected event" grade.
Students in Auckland, Waikato and Northland who cannot attend exams will receive the "unexpected event" grade, based on their school work earlier in the year.
Further decisions on schooling for Years 1-10 and early childhood will be announced next Tuesday. Education outside in warmer months is possible, Hipkins said.
Hipkins said it is safe for senior students to go back to school.
He said it isn't much different from a large workplace in terms of the level of risk.
Hipkins said they want to minimise students on-site while vaccination rates need to increase, and there are logistical challenges for the school, such as teachers who have children aged under 12 who cannot go back to school.
He said secondary students need to prepare for exams and that's why they have been prioritised to go back to school earlier.
Hipkins said younger people were the latest to join the vaccination campaign and their rates continue to be the lowest. The Government is making sure schools can deliver vaccines on-site with the help of health providers.
New Zealand schools are not built with air ventilation, apart from windows and doors, and installing them would take time and money, Hipkins said. Heading into summer, having doors open would be the best ventilation in classrooms anyway, he said.
Filtration units would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to install in every classroom and are "clearly not feasible", Hipkins said, but it's possible for classrooms that are not properly ventilated.
Tamaki charged over lockdown protest
Four people face charges over lockdown protests held in the upper North Island on October 16.
One of the four is Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki who attended an event in Auckland Domain and has spoken to police yesterday and again today.
Tamaki, 63, has now been charged with failing to comply with an order under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act and Alert Level 3 Order - and will also appear before the court for breaching bail conditions.
Tamaki has been taken into custody and is due to appear in court today via audio visual link.
Tamaki's charges follow his boast on social media yesterday that he would not be charged over the latest lockdown protest.
Meanwhile, two Waikato men have been summoned to appear in the Hamilton District Court in relation to a mass gathering at Claudelands Park on October 16.
A 46-year-old man has been charged with failing to comply and is due to appear on November 17.
A 56-year-old man has been charged with organising a mass gathering and failing to comply and is due to appear on November 16.
In Northland District, a 47-year-old man has been summoned to appear in the Whangārei District Court on 25 October in relation to organising a mass gathering at Mander Park.
The Northland region was under alert level 3 when this gathering took place.
MIQ booking system investigated
The Ombudsman has launched an inquiry into the MIQ booking system, saying it was prompted by hundreds of complaints.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said the complaints fitted into four broad categories - claims the allocation system was unlawful, unfit for purpose, unfair, and poorly managed.
"I have decided to do my own independent investigation into them all.
"One of the specific complaints is that disabled people are being disadvantaged. I have concerns about whether the online booking system is accessible and whether suitable alternatives are being offered for those who have difficulty using this digital platform."
He said he had notified the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, of his intention to investigate.
"I want to give the public some assurance that the MIQ booking system is working as well as it should."
He said the MIQ system was set up quickly in response to an immediate crisis, but border restrictions and the need for isolation or quarantine facilities were going to be fact of life for some time to come.
"I want to find out how MBIE is responding to these concerns and whether it has a robust plan in place for allocating places in the coming months and years. If there is not, I will recommend it makes improvements."
Boshier it will not directly result in anyone being granted a voucher right now or given priority in the queue.
"My message to anyone wanting a space is to continue to use the existing channels. If you believe that you meet the criteria for an emergency allocation, you should apply for it in the usual way. Otherwise, you should continue to seek a place through the virtual lobby."
Boshier said he intended to report to Parliament early next year, but could make statements on my findings at different stages before then.
Boshier said legal action currently under way against the Government's operation of the MIQ system would be taken into account.
Earlier today, Hipkins warned that yesterday's record number of 94 new cases was not likely to go down any time soon – he said on Newstalk ZB he expected the cases to be nearer the 100 mark today.
However, he said the Government was still not giving consideration to a snap-lockdown at level 4 – an option put up by some health experts but which was rejected by Cabinet because of concerns about compliance.
Today, Health Minister Andrew Little also announced that 300 places a month will be reserved in MIQ for bringing health workers into the country from November.
"Our world-class workforce is vital in rebuilding the health system and dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic," Little said.
"Whether it's bringing doctors or nurses in from other places or New Zealanders bringing their skills home, we need to be able to get them into the country and into the workforce."
At the moment, health and disability workers are eligible under a wider quota of rooms for time-sensitive travel but Little said employers had told him it was now difficult to secure those rooms.
"They are competing with others who are also in this category, and that's making it harder for our health services to get some of the people they need.
"Health managers need to be able to bring the people they need into the country and know that they can get them places in MIQ."
The Ministry of Health would work with District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations to allocate them to the people needed most urgently.
The plan for how MIQ will operate in the future is not expected until next week, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlines the so-called traffic lights system on Friday.
The Prime Minister is also expected to outline what vaccination target will trigger that new system, which will set out how future outbreaks are handled and is likely to include measures such as vaccination certificates.