Coronavirus: 'Malicious' misinformation could block New Zealand's move to alert level 1 - Chris Hipkins

New Zealand's move to alert level 1 could be blocked by the "repeated, deliberate and malicious" spread of misinformation, the Health Minister says.

Chris Hipkins said on Thursday that there's been organised campaigns that spread misinformation and sow doubt about the country's COVID-19 response.

Hipkins warned the virus "is real and it's deadly", so New Zealand shouldn't be complacent in how it responds.

"Everybody has a right to be sceptical and hold their own views, but, equally, everybody has a right to be safe," he said.

"So please think twice before sharing or passing on something that you cannot verify. Even better, we can all play our part in drowning out misinformation by sharing the right information."

He said the scepticism may be from people seeing the virus' destruction overseas and it not having a similar impact in New Zealand.

"We do just need to watch the TV news and look at what's happening internationally and the countries where COVID-19 has got out of control, where deaths are a daily occurance.

"We're very fortunate in New Zealand that because of the collective efforts we've taken, we're not seeing that in New Zealand. What that means though is that some people are becoming more sceptical as time goes on."

He emphasised again the deadliness of the virus and said since there's no vaccine, people can't protect themselves from it.

"The best protection that we all have is through our collective efforts to give the virus nowhere to go."

It isn't the first time Hipkins has shut down misinformation circulating about the virus. Last week, he slammed the "deliberate misinformation" that the Government was reportedly going to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory.

He said he was alarmed at the number of letters he'd received from New Zealanders concerned a vaccination would be made mandatory.

"This is a direct result of deliberate misinformation that's being spread through social media. The Government is not making COVID-19 or any other vaccinations compulsory."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

And in August, he also urged New Zealanders to be cautious about potential misinformation that is shared online and wants people to take it with a grain of salt and treat it as a rumour if it hasn't come from an official source.

"That is [treating it as] unverified and therefore something that cannot be relied upon to be true or accurate," he said at the time.

Hipkins' latest misinformation warning came as four new COVID-19 cases were announced, two of which are in the community and are epidemiologically linked to existing cases in the new bereavement sub-cluster, which links back to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church. The other two cases are imported.

Hipkins said the new 'bereavement activities' sub-cluster appears to have been detected early, and all new cases are known contacts of infected people.

"We know we have the new sub-cluster - let's get on top of it as quickly as we can," he said.

He added church leaders are encouraging all members of the Mt Roskill congregation to retest by Friday and to comply with other public health requirements such as self-isolation.

"As a result of this cooperation, by 8am this morning, labs had registered new tests for 64 percent of the congregation - that's 213 of the 332 people," he said.