Coronavirus: More details emerge of New Zealand's first COVID-19 death

The first person to die from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in New Zealand has been named as Anne Guenole. 

Guenole died in Grey Base Hospital, Greymouth, on Sunday morning. During a press conference later that day, the Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed Guenole was in her 70s and had been initially diagnosed with influenza, complicated by an underlying health condition.

After being admitted to hospital on Wednesday, Guenole returned a positive test for COVID-19 on Saturday. 

The 21 staff who treated the woman had been equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) suitable for an influenza patient, but not a COVID-19 patient, the ministry said. The staff are currently self-isolating as a precautionary measure.

Guenole's family say they have no idea how she became infected with the virus.

"There's a lot of blanks we're trying to fill in right now... a lot of old-school people, they don't let you know when they're unwell, she... kept her aches and pains to herself," a relative, who wished to remain anonymous, said in an interview with Stuff

"When the person came in they had classic symptoms of influenza and a pre-existing condition and COVID-19 wasn't part of the diagnosis at that point," Dr Bloomfield reiterated in an interview with The AM Show on Monday morning.

"Any death is obviously one we're very sad about. This one was someone who did have pre-existing medical conditions, so a COVID-19 infection on top of that did contribute to this person's death.

"We do see this with other infections in older people, or people with pre-existing conditions. If they get influenza or another infection, that can be the difference for them."

Staff 'followed protocols and procedures'

The ministry confirmed that as Guenole did not initially meet the case definition for COVID-19, staff who first assessed her removed their eye protection. They were otherwise clad in full PPE.

West Coast District Health Board (WCDHB) chief executive David Meates confirmed to Stuff that as of Thursday night, Guenole was regarded as a suspected COVID-19 patient and staff were wearing eye protection while awaiting her test results.

Relatives who visited Guenole in hospital will also be monitored in self-isolation for 14 days.

"Staff followed protocols and procedures and did everything they could to help this patient and to protect themselves," Meates told the outlet

"They took appropriate precautions for what they thought the diagnosis was at the time and subsequently, when they saw the clinical picture, they obviously did the COVID-19 test and then immediately did take appropriate precautions," Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show.

"I don't have any criticism for the staff there."

WCDHB has enough staff to cover the 21 in self-isolation but is working to fill a number of key roles. 

Meates did not reveal if Guenole was placed in the hospital's isolation unit.

A 'beautiful, kind' woman

Guenole's daughter described her mother as a "beautiful, kind and caring woman who was very much loved".

Another relative told Stuff the woman was well-known in the Greymouth community and "loved and adored" her family. 

"It's heartbreaking from every level, it's very surreal... everyone is very numb."

The woman was one of the West Coast's three confirmed COVID-19 cases. As of Sunday morning, there are now 514 confirmed and probable cases nationwide. A total of 56 people have recovered from the disease.