The election campaign has been thrown into uncertainty with the announcement last night of Auckland returning to Lockdown Level Three.
All campaigns have been suspended until the situation is reviewed at midnight Friday. And Nationals big-scale campaign launch looks as though it will be cancelled.
The Prime Minister is in Wellington; Judith Collins will return there today; Winston Peters is in Palmerston North and will make an announcement on what he will do this morning; James Shaw will stay in Wellington, and David Seymour will remain in Auckland.
But there is now a big question-mark over National’s campaign launch which is planned for the Manukau City Vodafone Events Centre on Sunday.
National’s Campaign chair, Gerry Brownlee, last night told POLITIK that while no decision had been made about whether to continue, it was hard to see a gathering of over 1600 going ahead.
“It’s hard to believe that at midnight Friday we will be back to level one,” he said.
“I think this thing is away, and more will test positive.”
However late last night, after Brownlee spoke to POLITIK, an announcement was placed on the centre’s website saying the centre would be closed till Sunday night. That will end any chance the National launch could go ahead.
“In line with the latest Government Advisory that Auckland will be placed under Alert Level 3, Vodafone Events Centre will be closed from 12 noon, Wednesday, 12 August until 12 midnight Sunday, 16 August,” the site said..
Brownlee is concerned that while the election campaign is suspended, the Prime Minister will have access to the airwaves to broadcaster her press conference updates.
She said last night the next one would be at mid-morning today.
“That’s not tidy,” said Brownlee.
But while National Leader, Judith Collins last night called on New Zealanders to follow the advice of health officials and do their part to stamp out the latest case of Covid-19 community transmission.
“This will come as a shock to all New Zealanders who believed what we had been told – that we had got on top of this virus,” she said.
“It is disappointing that it is once again in our community.”
But both Collins and Brownlee have questions about who knew what when about the latest four cases.
The Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, confirmed last night that he was made aware there was a potential case in South Auckland just before 3.00 p.m. on Monday.
“That person was swabbed yesterday (Monday) when they presented to their general practitioner with symptoms,” he said.
“That test was processed twice and returned positive.”
So on Monday, Bloomfield had a positive test result for one person in South Auckland.
“And a second swab today (Tuesday) also returned a positive result,” he said.
However, the Prime Minister said the first she learned of the case was late yesterday afternoon.
“I was informed of this case after exiting a gathering, a public gathering in Wanganui, which would have roughly being 4 p.m today,” she said.
“I drove directly to Wellington.”
But in an interview with POLITIK, Collins said the Prime Minister was giving mixed messages because when Ardern briefed her shortly before 9.00 last night, she talked of needing to be sure they were not getting false-positive test results.
There are other signs that the Government was expecting something like what has happened.
On Friday, the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination (ODESC) held an unscheduled meeting. No one, of course, knows what that was about but Covid would be highly likely to be on its agenda.
The same day, Bloomfield, began a campaign to show how to wear masks and suggested people should wear them one day a week to get used to them.
If there are further outbreaks of Covid-19, masks will be another important component for the Government’s strategy., he said.
On Sunday he said: “As we all know, we can’t afford to be complacent.
“We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand. Every person in the team of five million has a role to play in this.”
Gerry Brownlee on Monday described Bloomfield’s comments as “puzzling”.
And last night he said that all the signs were there and his comments were “an educated hunch.”
But if there was a delay between knowledge of the cases in South Auckland and their announcement at 9.30 last night, that could be down to the Prime Minister’s innate caution when making big decisions.
Her next big one will come on Friday ion whether to continue the Auckland lockdown.
“It is a very big decision to shut down an entire city for a two week period without having full information around the source of this case,” she said.
“And so I feel very strongly that we need to give ourselves the ability to answer those questions before we ask that of all of Auckland.
“I believe we should have much more information over the next 72 hours.
“We’re going to undertake widespread mass testing, continue the interviews across the range of those individuals affected and see if we can identify those sources, which may then limit our need to continue with these restrictions for long periods of time.”
But for the meantime, the election campaign is suspended, and National’s big opening extravaganza is in doubt.
“I absolutely understand the impact that will have,” she said.
“I, too, obviously will be changing plans and over the next three days, expect that everything I had planned will be will be put to the wayside.”
So is there a possibility the election itself could be delayed.
“I don’t want to speculate on that at this point,” she said.
“Obviously, the Electoral Commission has always undertaken planning to allow an election at an alert level two, but again, anything beyond that right now for something that is six weeks away would be purely speculative.”
There are reasons to be pessimistic.
POLITIK understands that parents from Mt Albert Primary School — in the Prime Minister’s electorate — have been advised that one of the cases is a pupil at that school.
And that’s the problem.
If these cases have been actively participating in their community, the virus could be anywhere.