Coronavirus: Four new deaths linked to COVID-19 in New Zealand

New Zealand has four new deaths linked to COVID-19, taking the country's total to nine, the Ministry of Health has announced.

There have also been 17 new cases recorded in the country. Eight of those cases are confirmed, while nine are probable. This takes New Zealand's total to 1366. 

"I think it is clear we are past the peak under this alert level," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said. He said the key information now will be the origin of new cases. 

One of the new deaths recorded was in Wellington while three are linked to the Rosewood Rest Home cluster in Christchurch. That brings the number of dead from that cluster to six, all of which had underlying health conditions and were being looked after at Burwood Hospital. Two of the new men who died in Christchurch were in their 90s, while one was in his 80s.

The man who died in Wellington was in his seventies and admitted to hospital on March 22 and had been in an intensive care unit (ICU) for sometime, Dr Bloomfield said.

Overall, 628 people have recovered from the infection, an increase of 82 on Monday. There are 15 people in hospital, with three people in ICU. One is in a critical condition.

Dr Bloomfield confirmed 48 percent of cases have links to known cases, 39 percent have a link to overseas travel, and 2 percent are defined as community transmission. 

There were 1572 tests processed, with a rolling seven-day average of 3039. There are now 70 community-based assessment centres, and Dr Bloomfield has sent a message to DHBs calling for a low-threshold for testing anyone with respiratory symptoms. 

He also said it was his understanding that a cluster in Auckland previously described as a private function was a stag party.

It's now less than a week until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her COVID-19 committee decide if New Zealand will leave alert level 4 lockdown in the middle of next week. She told The AM Show that New Zealanders shouldn't assume that is going to happen simply because the daily number of cases being reported is trending downwards.

"Take nothing as a given. We have made no decisions around our movements, but what I can tell you is that we won't jump levels. We will transition through them when we come to move through them," Ardern said.

"We are using the most up-to-date data that we have and case numbers that we have… That is what we will use on April 20 to make that decision in realtime. That is really important, particularly with the lag time of the infection, we need to make sure that we are using all the information that we have to make that crucial decision."

Details on what alert level 3 will look like will be released on Thursday, but the Prime Minister has referred to it as a "waiting room" which allows slightly more activity to occur, but still with some restriction.

What we know about the coronavirus

The 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.

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