As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak – Thursday, February 17

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8:40am – Speaking to AM, reporter Nats Levi said it’s been confirmed that there are 12 COVID cases at Auckland Starship children’s hospital.

Starship Hospital told Newshub that the 12 cases are from Wednesday’s data and is a mix of six staff and six patients but the number could rise on Thursday.   

Auckland DHB director of provider services Dr Mike Shepherd told Newshub earlier on Thursday that the cases are connected to one that was in the general paediatrics ward last week.

Shepherd told Newshub that staff and the hospital have activated plans immediately to prevent a further outbreak of the virus and are conducting rapid antigen testing on staff and patients. 

He said with record COVID numbers – 1160 infections reported on Wednesday in New Zealand – it’s not unusual or unexpected to see the hospital workforce test positive with COVID or to see more COVID cases within the hospital. 

8:27am – Air New Zealand is helping to bring in tens of millions of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to support Aotearoa’s COVID response over the coming months. 

The airline is operating nine charter flights through to February 20, and Air New Zealand’s General Manager Cargo Anna Palairet says there are plenty more in the works.

“Operating these charter flights was a no brainer. There is a real urgency to bring Rapid Antigen Tests into New Zealand, and we’re proud to be playing our part in getting them here,” Palairet  said. 

“It’s truly been a fantastic team effort between Air New Zealand, Ministry of Health and the freight forwarders.

“We’ve been operating charters for RAT kits since December, but things are really ramping up now. 

“In addition to charters, we’ve also been making use of capacity on commercial flights. Where we’ve got space, we’re using it for RATs. 

“While we are constrained by available aircraft and operating crew for charter flights, having our 777-300 back in action from last week will help to increase cargo capacity across the network.

“We know the demand is there, and our teams are doing everything they can to try and fulfil it.”

Air New Zealand has seen its cargo business skyrocket over the past two years, with an estimated 200 million kilograms of product carried since 2020.

8:20am – Speaking to AM, reporter Ashleigh McCaul said it’s been quiet at the protest in Wellington as gathers wake to a tenth day outside Parliament on Thursday.

She said she hasn’t seen any signs of tow trucks around Parliament on Thursday morning. 

Part-time protester and former leader of the New Conservative Party Leighton Baker told Newstalk ZB a whole village had been built within two weeks.

He said that the intent of the protest was getting New Zealand working together instead of the fragmented society we have today.

There have been reports of violent behaviour by some protesters with Labour MP Steph Lewis posting on Facebook on Tuesday evening that some staff at Parliament have been “afraid to come into work” and that she had “feared” for her safety.

“Me, my colleagues, Parliament staff, the police, security staff, and passing members of the public have all been subjected to harassment and abuse from the protesters at Parliament,” she wrote on Facebook.  

Baker denied witnessing any abuse or threatening behaviour and said it was the most peaceful, calm, respectful place. “It’s like a big family reunion.

8:08am – Speaking to AM, reporter Nats Levi said there are reports of COVID cases at Auckland Starship children’s hospital.

NZ Herald is reporting that there are 12 positive cases. 

Auckland DHB director of provider services Dr Mike Shepherd said the cases are connected to one that was in the general paediatrics ward last week.

He said the cases are a mix of staff and patients and not all of them are present and isolated in the hospital  

Shepherd told Newshub that staff and the hospital have activated plans immediately to prevent a further outbreak of the virus and are conducting rapid antigen testing on staff and patients. 

He said with record COVID numbers – 1160 infections reported on Wednesday in New Zealand – it’s not unusual or unexpected to see the hospital workforce test positive with COVID or see higher numbers of cases within the hospital. 

7:35am – Four Defence Force vehicles have arrived in Wellington with the potential to help with towing anti-mandate protesters’ vehicles. 

NZDF spokeswoman said discussions on the possible deployment of Defence Force assets remain ongoing, and no decisions have been made.

The four vehicles travelled to Wellington from Linton and Waiouru on Wednesday.

“They are being pre-positioned should they be required, but as stated no decisions have been made about their use to assist the towing operation,” she said.

7:25am – Hospitality businesses are crying out for help as data reveals a 30 percent drop in year on year revenues.

They say Omicron is scaring customers away and the Government’s COVID-19 modelling is only making it worse.

“The foot traffic is extremely low. We just don’t know when people are going to come back,” Cafe Hanoi manager Krishna Botica told Newshub. 

Botica owns four restaurants and has been forced to close two. She says the two still open are struggling to get to 50 percent capacity.

In her 35 year career, she’s never seen it so dire.

“All of the support from the Government has been tapped out – we’ve all used it. We all have to start paying it back in May. We’re looking at four closures, bankruptcies. We’re going to be annihilated at this rate.”

Read the full story here. 

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