Coronavirus: Two new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand

Two new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in New Zealand, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has confirmed.

One confirmed case is a person in quarantine and one is a probable case linked to an already known case. A previously probable case has been reclassified as confirmed. New Zealand now has recorded 1474 confirmed and probable cases.

There have been no additional deaths. Six people are in hospital. None are in intensive care. Overall, 1229 people have recovered, an increase of 15. There continues to be 16 significant clusters.

On Tuesday, 2637 people were tested, taking the total to 128,073 tests.

Wednesday marks the second day of New Zealand under alert level 3, which allows more businesses to reopen if they can operate without the need for extensive face-to-face interactions with customers and for some Kiwis to begin expanding their bubbles.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said police recorded 104 breaches of the level 3 rules in the first 18 hours. The vast majority resulted in warnings, but 21 people were prosecuted.

Additionally, there were 742 complaints of businesses not complying with level 3 rules. Most related to a lack of social distancing. Sixty-one cases are being followed-up on. Images of people outside at an Auckland BurgerFuel caught the Prime Minister's eye.

Dr Bloomfield said it is crucial we remain vigilant and continue to implement physical distancing. He said, for the most part, businesses handled the shift to level 3 well, but "we did see some pictures of quite large groups of people congregating outside one or two places". Non-compliant premises can be closed if needed.

Wednesday also saw a partial reopening of schools to some children. Ardern said data accurate to 10:30am on Wednesday showed 7713 children (4 percent) attended an early childhood service and 11,846 (1 percent) attended a school. Not all services or schools have reported their attendance, however.

In terms of supporting small businesses, Ardern said the Government has already put into place the wage subsidy scheme and agreed to push out deadlines on lease terminations when someone moves into arrears.

However, she acknowledged more support is needed for those commercial businesses which cannot pay their rent while they are not trading. Ardern confirmed work is underway on more measures.

New Zealand will remain under alert level 3 until at least May 11 when the Prime Minister and her Cabinet review how COVID-19 is tracking in the country. Among the data officials will look at is whether community transmission is controlled, if our contact tracing ability is up to standard and if testing is happening across regions and ethnicities.

Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show on Wednesday morning that while he is confident there is no community transmission, the fight against COVID-19 will continue for many months to come. 

"We are on track for alert level 2, which will open things up even further. The key ingredient for us to get to alert level 2 as soon as possible… is how people behave under alert level 3, because we will need to maintain that going into alert level 2, especially the physical distancing, that is going to be fundamental to us staying on top of this," he said.

Dr Bloomfield has pushed back on Wednesday against any suggestion New Zealand went too far with the lockdown, causing significant damage to the economy.

"I don't think we went too hard. If you look at countries overseas, you can see what the alternative is. When we made the decision, or the Government made the decision and the advice was pretty clear from us, you looked at all the countries where it got out of hand, they had to go into lockdown anyway, and what's more, they are staying in lockdown longer than we have," he told The AM Show.

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.