Coronavirus: Ministry of Health reveals 50 new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand

New Zealand has 50 new cases of COVID-19, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed on Wednesday, taking the country's total to 1210.

He said that is made of 26 confirmed cases and 24 probable cases. There are no new deaths to report. A total of 282 people have recovered. Twelve people are in hospital. Four are in intensive care, two of those are critical.

A strong link to overseas travel continues (41 percent), while 43 percent have a link to a confirmed case in New Zealand. Community transmission is at 2 percent, while the rest are being investigated.

There are 12 significant clusters. The three largest are at Auckland's Marist College (84), the Matamata Bar (62) and Bluff wedding (81).

Overall, around 20 support and care workers, 17 nurses, seven administrative workers, seven doctors and three medical students have COVID-19. Around a quarter of those contracted the illness offshore. 

Authorities are looking at the ethnicity breakdown for everyone being tested. Not all of the data is yet in from all District Health Boards, but so far it shows 13.6 percent are Maori, 7.8 percent are Pasifika, 12 percent are Asian, 64.2 percent are European or other, while 2 percent are Middle Eastern / Latin American.

There were 4098 tests processed on Tuesday, the largest daily total yet. That brings the overall number conducted to more than 46,800. The average over the last seven days is 3343 per day. Testing capacity continues to increase, now at just under 50,000.

The country remains under lockdown, a measure implemented two weeks ago in order to stem the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It requires Kiwis to stay indoors unless they are heading out for essential services or exercise. 

Those strict requirements are currently scheduled to remain in place for another two weeks, however, may be extended if New Zealand isn't able to successfully contain the virus. Authorities will be watching the level of community transmission over the illness over the next two weeks when considering whether to lift the lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said considering the high number of tests and relatively low number of positive cases reported, she is cautiously optimistic we are starting to turn a corner.

But she does not want people to become complacent, especially over Easter. She acknowledged that may be disappointing to people of faith and asked religious leaders to make sure congregations don't happen.

Dr Bloomfield also said it was promising, but he'd be looking at the more specific, regional data over the coming two weeks to ensure that no outbreak were being missed.

The Prime Minister has also reiterated work remains underway in terms of toughening New Zealand's borders. That could include an across-the-board mandatory quarantine, as the National Party has called for. Experts are concerned that if the lockdown was lifted, but mandatory quaratines are not in place, someone with the infection could get through and lead to another spike.

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.

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.

There are currently 1.4 million cases of the virus worldwide, with 82,000 people having died of the disease.

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.

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
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • 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.