Coronavirus: Second death from COVID-19 in New Zealand

There has been a second death from COVID-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health's Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay has confirmed. 

The woman, who was in her nineties, was at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch when she died on Thursday. She had recently returned a positive COVID-19 test.

She was one of 20 residents transferred from Rosewood Rest Home to the hospital earlier in the week after a cluster broke out at the rest home facility. The group were in the same ward to allow them to isolate together in a group bubble. 

As of Thursday, there were 21 people with the virus in that Rosewood cluster.

"The woman who sadly died had experienced a number of common age-related health conditions prior to her testing positive to COVID-19 this week," Dr McElnay.

"Because of the current alert level 4 no family members were able to visit the woman in hospital in recent days and were not able to be present when she passed away. However hospital staff were able to provide her with comfort and support and we thank them for that."

The group is being managed as if they have COVID-19, with some residents being symptomatic. Dr McElnay said some of the residents have been tested, but others haven't.

"A number of these residents are elderly and frail and so this is where the probable definition comes in, where we may not have been able to test people because it is not a pleasant test and, particularly for older people who may not understand exactly why the test is being done, they may not have been tested," she said.

"They may not have been tested, but because of their close proximity and the group they have been part of, they have been deemed to be a probable case."

Dr McElnay said in a specific situation like this where people are showing COVID-19 symptoms and are linked to someone with the virus, a test won't provide much more information.

How the first case at the rest home came to be infected is currently being investigated, Dr McElnay said. However, the Ministry of Health website currently says the origin is "overseas exposure".

Greymouth woman Anne Guenole, aged in her 70s, was the country's first death. She returned a positive test for COVID-19 after initially being diagnosed with influenza, complicated by an underlying health condition.

New cases

On top of the death, New Zealand has recorded 44 new cases of the virus. That is made up of 23 confirmed cases and 21 probable cases. Fourteen of the new 44 cases are linked to clusters. Overall, the country has 1283 cases.

There are now 373 people who have recovered, an increase of 56 on Thursday. Sixteen people are in hospital, including five in ICU. Two of those are critical.

For the cases the Ministry of Health has information on, there is a strong link to overseas travel (40 percent) or confirmed cases in New Zealand (44 percent). Community transmission is at two percent.

Thursday marked the highest number of tests performed in a single day, but Dr McElnay didn't have the exact number available.

She says the uptick in cases shows we can't be complacent, but we do continue to head in the right direction.

"We're not out of the woods, we can't be complacent."

"What we would expect to see over the next two weeks is that our new cases will be linked to other cases that we already know about, there will be some household transmission, is what we would expect to see.

"If we see anything outside of that, that might be telling is that our current restrictions are not actually being followed and we need to really be very quick to act from any of our outbreaks, that we don't get further spread. This is our two weeks to really get our level of disease down to an absolute minimum within New Zealand."

The country is currently under an alert level 4 lockdown, a measure introduced two weeks ago to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. With at least two more weeks of the lockdown to go and the number of new cases dropping daily before Friday's numbers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday what New Zealanders were doing was "huge".

On the eve of the lockdown, Ardern said modelling showed New Zealand was on a similar trajectory to Italy or Spain. That would mean Aotearoa would have 10,000 cases by now if no actions had been taken. New modelling shows the current controls have had a significant impact.

"You are breaking the chain of transmission and you did it for each other," she said. "You have saved lives".

If New Zealand continues to see numbers drop and no community transmission is detected, it is likely we will have Alert Level 4 lockdown restrictions lifted in two weeks - at least in some regions of the country. A decision on whether to lift or extend the lockdown will be made on April 20.

Modelling released on Thursday found that New Zealand could contain the virus if the lockdown ended after its four-week run and fast contact tracing was underway. Our current daily numbers do track similarly to that "optimistic" view, however, in "realistic" or "pessimistic" scenarios, New Zealand could see another outbreak if the lockdown was lifted. Having the lockdown in place for 45 days would likely see the virus contained while a 90-day lockdown could see it eliminated.

Authorities are advising people not to become complacent, especially over the long Easter weekend. 

There are currently more than 1.6 million cases worldwide, with nearly 100,000 people having died.

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.
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