By Thomas Coughlan and RNZ

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Northland is set to leave level-four lockdown tonight, a senior Government minister has confirmed – as Auckland hospitals start relocating patients to the South Island to make way for Covid cases.

Associate health minister Aupito William Sio told TVNZ today it was looking positive for Northland moving to level 3 from 11.59pm tonight, joining the rest of New Zealand south of Auckland.

The comments indicate officials are happy with wastewater test results and case data.

In Auckland, however, the pressure on hospitals from the Covid outbreak has forced patients with spinal injuries to be transferred to Christchurch, RNZ reports.

There are 687 cases in the Covid outbreak following the announcement of 75 new cases yesterday. Auckland’s district health boards are treating 32 Covid-19 patients between them – including eight in intensive care – and have asked for up to 30 intensive care nurses to be diverted from around the country to help with the Covid-19 response.

Health Minister Andrew Little says the Ministry of Health and district health boards are also transferring patients to other centres. One example is patients with spinal injuries who live just south of the Bombay Hills, and who would normally go to Middlemore Hospital, are being sent to Christchurch.

He says any transfers are being handled carefully to avoid any risk of spreading Covid.

Meanwhile, the first of 40 Auckland supermarkets have been named as new locations of interest – out of “an abundance of caution” – as health officials try to circle the Delta outbreak.

That caution also now extends to domestic airports – with Auckland Airport boosting security to prevent cases of more students breaching lockdown rules and travelling between cities.

Over recent days, a Victoria University student flew from Auckland to Wellington without an exemption and an Otago University student flew from Auckland to Dunedin. Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said this was “disappointing”.

First of 40 supermarkets named

The Ministry of Health has so far released the names and times of 14 supermarkets, along with advice to shoppers to self-monitor for any symptoms.

They are Countdown Mangere East, Countdown Mt Roskill, Countdown Papatoetoe, Countdown Ponsonby, Countdown Three Kings, Countdown Warkworth,Farro Fresh Grey Lynn, New World Papatoetoe, New World Southmall Manurewa, Pacific Fresh Manurewa, Pak’nSave Mangere, Pak’nSave Clendon, Pak’nSave Sylvia Park and Pak’nSave Westgate. Several dairies and mini-markets have also been added – full details are listed at the end of this article.

“Out of an abundance of caution and after some discussion internally, we’ve decided to add a number of supermarkets as new locations of interestm” director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said yesterday.

“Around 40 supermarkets across Auckland will be added to the website. These were places visited by people who subsequently were identified as a case,” Bloomfield said.

A risk assessment had been done on each of them but due to physical distancing, plastic screens andPPE use the events were “deemed to be low-risk”.

“People should look out and if anyone has been in one of these, even if it was some time ago, the advice is to just be careful and watch for symptoms if you were there at the time and place on the website, so no need to go and get a test, just for awareness.”

MIQ system changes to help stranded Kiwis

New Zealanders trapped overseas will soon no longer have to waste their time refreshing the MIQ booking system, with the Government promising a more “transparent” system is on its way.

But while a more “transparent” system will make the process of booking a room fairer, it will not add extra rooms to the MIQ system, meaning difficulties securing a room are likely to continue.

“The lobby is a virtual queue that will mean people can be selected from the queue randomly,” said Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

Hipkins said the Government would introduce a “lobby” system, where people would wait until they received an MIQ voucher. The MIQ vouchers would be allocated randomly,

Once all the rooms had been taken, the lobby would be closed until the next round of room allocations was opened up, beginning the process again.

Hipkins cautioned that problems caused by a small number of rooms would remain.

“It will not fix the overall issue of supply and demand. We still have more demand than we have supply available … but this change will make bookings more transparent,” he said.

“It will create a more level playing field.”

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The system will be rolled out when the current pause on MIQ bookings ends in the coming weeks.

Thomas Kamm, the administrator for the Kiwis In London group, has expressed frustration with New Zealand’s border rules.

He told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that allowing people to visit relatives overseas and vice versa was not a traditional holiday, but in many cases necessary to maintain people’s mental health.

That was especially so in the case of attending funerals, or saying goodbye to loved ones.

Cases rise by 75 to almost 700

New Zealand notched up 75 new cases of Covid-19 cases yesterday, all bar one in Auckland. There are now 687 in total.

The jump in cases followed two days with case numbers in the 60s but director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield urged optimism.

He arrived at the Government’s 1pm briefing with a visual aide, echoing a similar move made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and leader of the Opposition Judith Collins in recent days.

The chart showed that case numbers can spike – as they did on Wednesday – even when the overall trend is for a reduction in daily cases.

“If we look at the smoothing of the average over the last three days, it is clear that, on average, the daily case numbers are lower than the peak in the early 80s,” Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield had further cause for optimism, noting that the majority of cases continued to be very close contacts of existing cases, indicating the virus was not rampant in the community, but spreading through households.

He also said there was a 90 per cent probability that the R value – which records how many people each infected person passes the virus onto – remained under 1, indicating the outbreak was reducing in size.

Te Pūnaha Matatini modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said the cases showed “a bit of a jump from the lower numbers of the last two days”.

However, he said it was “still consistent with an overall downward trend”.

“We do expect numbers to jump around day-to-day even as the overall trend is for them to head down”.

The Government will today

receive waste-water testing from over 20 sites in Northland. If those tests come back negative, then Northland will join the rest of the country – minus Auckland – in level 3 at midnight.

As vaccinations opened to people aged 12 and over yesterday

, the Government continued its race to secure more supplies for the rollout.

National leader Collins put pressure on the Prime Minister in question time over where additional supplies of vaccine would come from.

Ardern said the current outbreak had led to a surge in demand for the vaccine, and the Government was trying to meet that demand. While it had ordered enough vaccine for everyone in the country, only about 726,000 doses were actually in New Zealand – with the rest arriving in weekly shipments.

“We’re always receiving doses in order to meet the demand that we have at any given time,” Ardern said.

The majority of the Government’s vaccine shipments – four million doses – will arrive in October, leaving September as the only period where significant supply problems could be encountered.

The Government is currently trying to bring more doses into the country sooner and Hipkins promised an update on its efforts would be made “before the end of the week”.

He said if additional doses could not be found, Auckland would be the priority for the rollout.

“In the worst-case scenario where we can’t increase supply, use of the existing supply we have will be focused certainly on Auckland, also on making sure that we can honour people who have booked in,” Hipkins said.

“It may mean that things like walk-in clinics, for example, around the rest of the country might need to be scaled back a bit,” Hipkins said.

He said that if the current high rates of vaccination continued, the Government’s rollout could be “restricted” if additional supplies weren’t found by the middle of the month.

Security beefed up at Auckland Airport

Security checks have been beefed up at Auckland Airport after two students were caught breaching lockdown rules by flying out of the city, RNZ reports.

Over recent days, a Victoria University student flew from Auckland to Wellington without an exemption.

An Otago University student flew from Auckland to Dunedin.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said this was “disappointing”.

“These people should not be travelling, there will potentially be consequences for them, for breaking the rules.”

He said he would check to see airport security was operating as it should.

“They should be being checked even before they get into the airport terminal. Previous level 4 restrictions, and I just want to check to make sure this has absolutely operating as it has previously, have had people at the door at the airport terminal checking why people are entering the terminal, before they can even get anywhere near the plane.”

On Wednesday evening, the Aviation Security Service said it made changes when it realised some passengers were not following the rules.

When level 4 began, security officers only asked for travel documents, such as a boarding pass or travel itinerary, when people entered airports.

But changes began yesterday morning.

Now, a passenger had to show their boarding pass, an eligbility document and would be asked about why they were travelling.

If they did not meet the requirements they could not enter and if they objected, the police would be called.

If the police were not available they would be “handed over” to the airport company.

The universities explained the details of each case.

A Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington spokesperson said a resident at Te Puni Village, an accommodation hall, arrived back on Sunday after breaching the Government travel orders.

“It appears they and their family did not fully understand the government guidelines,” the spokesperson said.

“The resident has returned a negative Covid-19 test and is isolating in alternative university accommodation. The resident advised that they have not been to any locations of interest published on the Ministry of Health website. Our investigations show that the resident did not have close contact with anyone at the hall.”

They said the matter had been referred to the police.

An Otago University spokesperson said the university could not comment on the particular situation, as it was subject to a police investigation.

However, they confirmed the student lived in a flat, and the university ensured their flatmates were not residing at the same address.

“All students, along with all other New Zealanders, need to obey the government’s alert level guidelines. We have been impressed with how overall students have complied with the government’s rules. We are regularly communicating with students and will advise when government rules enable students to return south to study.”

Police confirmed they had issued two infringement notices to two people who flew out of Auckland with no exemption on Monday.

The infringement fine is $300. Auckland Airport has been approached for comment. – Additional reporting, RNZ

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