Coronavirus: No new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand

There are no new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced on Thursday.

It marks the fourth consecutive day of no new cases in the country, the last confirmed case announced during Sunday's briefing.

Ninety-seven percent of all cases (1452) have now recovered from the virus. Only 30 cases are still considered active.

New Zealand's overall confirmed and probable case total remains at 1503 - 1153 of which are confirmed - and there have been no additional deaths, the death toll sitting at 21. One person is currently hospitalised with COVID-19.

On Wednesday, 6113 tests were processed, bringing the overall total of processed tests to 244,838.

"It is very promising. I'm feeling encouraged, as we all should. It means we're in a good position to provide advice to Cabinet on Monday about the possibility of increasing the numbers of groups," Dr Bloomfield said.

"I think it's a really good outcome. Even our active cases are ones from some time ago, so we are increasingly confident we have broken that chain of transmission here... that's as good of an outcome we might have hoped for from the lockdown and alert level 4.

"We've got an ever stronger focus on ensuring our border is robust and our measures there, but also a focus on how we might put in place the systems and processes that would allow us to start opening [the border] cautiously with Australia and potentially beyond." 

Cabinet will be reviewing the current cap on social gatherings on Monday. Under alert level 2 protocol no more than 10 people can congregate in a social setting, whether it be in a public space or in the home. However, based on New Zealand's current situation, the size of gatherings may be able to increase.  

Since alert level 2 was officially implemented just over a week ago, around 650 funerals and tangihanga have been registered by funeral directors to allow groups of up to 50 to attend the event - as long as they can confirm that public health precautions will be followed. Dr Bloomfield said the system is working "very well" and he is pleased that family and friends are able to come together and grieve for lost loved ones.

Dr Bloomfield confirmed that 236,000 New Zealanders have registered for the Government's COVID Tracer contact-tracing app so far, with 6500 QR codes generated by businesses.

"This helps us with our overall efforts to contact you quickly if we need to... [speed] is a very important part of our overall effort," he said.

Bars, clubs and pubs will reopen as of Thursday night under strict level 2 protocol. Dr Bloomfield said although he hopes club-going Kiwis will "have fun", it still isn't the time to "publicly try out any new dance moves". Venues are permitted to resume operating as long as patrons remain seated and there is limited interaction between staff and customers and between different social groups. 

Dr Bloomfield also addressed the likelihood of a decrease in the testing volume New Zealand has seen so far, noting that testing will continue to focus on two key groups - firstly, those who are presenting symptoms, and secondly, those who are deemed at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

He noted that the case definition is currently being reviewed by the technical advisory group to ensure it's appropriate for the future. 

"As we move further into level 2, the testing will be on two distinct groups - one, symptomatic people, people with respiratory symptoms. We know there will be less of these people now than there might be in a couple of months time, when we're in winter. Those people will be tested," he said.

"We are reviewing the case definition to make sure that it's appropriate for a situation we may find ourselves in where we've got very low, or no level, of the virus circulating inside the country - but we still want to make sure we're not missing any cases. Alongside that is surveillance testing, which is targeted at those higher-risk groups, like people who are working at the border or in healthcare."