Coronavirus: One death, five new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand

There has been one new death and five new cases of COVID-19 recorded, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed.

The woman who died on Monday was in her seventies and one of six COVID-19 positive residents from St Margaret's rest home in Auckland who were transferred to Waitakere Hospital on April 17. She had an underlying health condition. 

Residents were transferred to the hospital as several staff were put into isolation after coming into contact with positive cases of COVID-19. This impacted on staffing levels. A further nine residents who don't have the virus but are close contacts were transferred to North Shore Hospital.

The death has taken New Zealand's toll to 13.

The five new cases on Tuesday are broken down as two confirmed and three probable. The country has now recorded 1445 cases of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A total of 1006 cases have recovered, up 32 on Monday. There are 12 people in hospital, with three in ICU. None are critical.

Dr Bloomfield confirmed New Zealand continues to have 16 clusters. 

On Monday, 3203 tests were processed in the country, taking the total to 89,503. 

The Director-General continued to stress that New Zealand has a "very good distribution of [personal protective equipment]."

Leader of the House Chris Hipkins confirmed that Parliament would meet again on April 28. Physical distancing will occur in the debating chamber and Hipkins expects a lower number of MPs will be present than usual. The Government's legislative programme won't continue as normal while under alert level 3.

In his role as Education Minister, Hipkins said under alert level 3 most children will continue to learn from home. Schools will be open to up to Year 10s for families that need them. At-risk staff are asked to stay home as well.

He also confirmed the death of a New Zealander in Peru from COVID-19. The man's family is being supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

There are 2038 people in managed isolation or quarantine.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand would move out of lockdown and to alert level 3 on Monday night next week. The decision came after officials spent weeks scrutinising the latest data available to understand the virus' infection rate in New Zealand and the origins of cases. 

"We have done what very few countries have been able to do. We have stopped a wave of devastation. Our transmission rate - that is, the number of cases that each person with the virus passes it on to- is now 0.48, less than half a person each. Overseas, the average is 2.5 people," Ardern said.

With testing having ramped up significantly and surveillance testing yet to find a positive case of the virus, Ardern said Dr Bloomfield was confident there's no widespread undetected community transmission in the country. 

However, Cabinet did extend the lockdown past April 23, when it was originally scheduled to end, to provide "additional certainty" that the gains made during the lockdown wouldn't be put to waste.

"Waiting to move alert levels next week post-Cabinet costs us just two more business days but gives us much greater long-term health and economic returns down the track. It means we are less likely to have to go backwards," Ardern said.

"Ultimately, we have taken a balanced approach and one that the Director-General of Health not only supported, but also recommended. This time we now have will be used to prepare, on all fronts."

Alert level 3 is still restrictive with Kiwis instructed to stay at home unless it is essential they leave. But people will be able to slightly extend their bubbles and businesses will be allowed to open if they can operate without coming face-to-face with customers.

The Prime Minister said New Zealanders would need to continue to respect the rules in order to ensure another outbreak doesn't occur. So far, however, Kiwis' compliance has made the lockdown successful in stopping the tens of thousands of hospitalisations and deaths that could have occurred.

"In short, the effort of our team of 5 million has broken the chain of transmission and taken a quantum leap forward in our goal to eliminate the virus," Ardern said.

She stressed that while New Zealand was pursuing an elimination strategy, that didn't mean having zero cases per day. Instead, it means having "zero tolerance" for cases and that when one emerges, officials would rapidly work to isolate them and trace their close contacts.

New Zealand will stay at level 3 for at least two weeks from Monday. A decision will then be made on whether to extend it or shift the country to level 2, which allows Kiwis to begin socialising again.

What we know about the coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread via human-to-human transmission. It causes the coronavirus COVID-19 illness.

The virus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs, however, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces isn't fully understood, but some studies have suggested that on some materials it could be for days.

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.