Coronavirus: Ministry of Health confirms 89 new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand

There are 76 new confirmed cases and 13 new probable cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, taking the country's total to 797.

The latest figures were announced by the Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield during the daily press conference on Thursday, the eighth day of the nationwide lockdown. 

There are 13 people in hospital. Two are in ICU, but all are stable. No one else has died. There are 92 people who have recovered from the illness. The Ministry defines someone who has been symptom-free for 48 hours as recovered.

Dr Bloomfield doesn't yet believe New Zealand is flattening the curve of COVID-19. More cases of the virus are likely to be recorded as testing ramps up.

He said it is possible that on Saturday he'll be able to update the public on what the criteria could be to reduce the alert level and remove lockdown restrictions.

Of the cases the Ministry of Health has information on, there continues to be a strong link to overseas travel (51 percent of cases) as well as confirmed cases in New Zealand (31 percent). One percent are defined as community transmission. Additionally, 17 percent of cases are still be investigated, and Dr Bloomfield said he believes some of those will be community transmission.

Overall, the District Health Boards (DHBs) with most number of cases are the Southern DHB, Waikato, Auckland and Waitemata.

There are six clusters of ten or more people with confirmed/probable COVID-19. That is down one on Wednesday, which may be because a probable case is now being defined as suspected.

Dr Bloomfield said testing capacity is growing significantly. On Wednesday, labs processed 2563 tests, taking the total to just over 26,000. Eight labs are processing tests, which should climb to ten next week. The country can test more than 4000 people daily.

Over the last seven days, the Ministry has distributed 1.8 million masks to the sector. On Tuesday night, an additional 41 million face masks were ordered and they will arrive over the next six weeks. Dr Bloomfield said we have 23 million pairs of gloves in the country, with 1 million on order, there are 850,000 safety glasses, and 640,000 face shields on order. There have been 9000 individual kits of personal protective equipment  given to frontline officers.

Outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush also spoke to reporters on Thursday. He thanked Kiwis complying with lockdown restrictions by staying at home, but also addressed commentary from Dr Lance O'Sullivan that more needed to be done to enforce the rules in Kaitaia. Bush said more police have now been deployed to that area to "engage, educate and encourage people to do the right thing".

He said there hasn't been a significant increase in reported family harm or domestic violence, but acknowledged that some organisations say there has been a jump. 

There have been four or five arrests for non-compliance with the restrictions. 

Bush said those going into self-isolation after arriving in New Zealand are required to provide a phone number. Firstly, they will receive a call ensuring they are safe. Following this, they will receive a text from police asking for their consent to be monitored via their phone's location functions. He said privacy laws require police to get people's consent. There are other methods to check-up on people, such as by ringing them or by doing random visits. 

Bush is finishing in the Police Commissioner role on Thursday, but will continue working within the All of Government response to COVID-19.

What we know about 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.

Modelling presented to the New Zealand Government showed up to 14,400 people could die of the virus if no significant action was taken.

Several papers from both New Zealand and overseas have suggested that intensive measures may be required until a vaccine is developed, which is between a year and 18 months away.

"The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package - or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission - will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) - given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed," a paper from the Imperial College of London says.

Unless the virus is eliminated from the country or vaccinated against, relaxing the lockdown may lead to another spike in cases, which if not properly managed with the ramping up of restrictions, could overwhelm the health system.

New Zealand's first virus-related death was announced on Sunday. Greymouth woman Anne Guenole, aged in her 70s, returned a positive test for COVID-19 after initially being diagnosed with influenza, complicated by an underlying health condition.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • not eating shared or communal food
  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.
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