A sombre Dr Ashley Bloomfield has issued a heartfelt plea to New Zealand on behalf of the whānau mourning the loss of two brothers, who both lost their battles with COVID-19.
Tokoroa man Nigel Te Hiko, 54, was admitted to Waikato Hospital on August 19 after contracting the virus from his brother, Alan. He died in the hospital's intensive care unit on Tuesday afternoon - almost two weeks after Alan also succumbed to the virus.
Speaking at Wednesday's press conference shortly after the confirmation of Nigel Te Hiko's death, the Director-General of Health passed on a message from the man's family.
"The man's whānau has asked us to tell the country that coronavirus is so real, and to be vigilant and cautious," he told reporters.
"They have issued a plea to all New Zealanders - if you are sick and have symptoms, stay home and seek advice about getting a test.
"The man's death again emphasises the seriousness of this virus if it is not controlled and the consequences it can have."
Te Hiko was prominent among the local Ngāti Raukawa iwi, and was regarded as an esteemed and well-respected figure - or rangatira.
"Our thoughts are most sincerely with this man's family and friends during [this] difficult time, and also for his iwi - Ngāti Raukawa - who have lost a rangatira who was very prominent in the iwi's history," Dr Bloomfield said.
"They mourn the loss of their loved one - they have requested privacy as they grieve and we ask that this is respected."
When questioned further by a reporter about the deaths of the brothers, Dr Bloomfield reiterated his sincere condolences to the grief-stricken whānau, recognising Te Hiko's death as "a huge loss" to the community.
"I can't imagine how devastating this is for this whānau. We haven't been directly in touch but clearly we have passed through our condolences to the family. He was a prominent figure in the local iwi, Ngāti Raukawa, so this is a huge loss," he said.
"It just goes to show that even though this outbreak has had a relatively small number of cases compared with our outbreak earlier in the year, that people - particularly people who have got preexisting conditions - are susceptible to poor outcomes from this virus."
He noted that the deadly nature of the virus is why officials hastily placed Auckland under alert level 3 lockdown following the emergence of community transmission in August.
"This has been one of the key drivers of our response and the reason why we responded so quickly with the alert level 3 introduction in Auckland and [level] 2 elsewhere in the country.
"I certainly want to reiterate our condolences to this family."
Te Hiko is the 25th person to die of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
His passing follows the death of former Cook Islands Prime Minister Joe Williams, who succumbed to the virus on September 4 after weeks of hospitalisation.
The country currently has 79 active cases of the virus, 27 of which are new arrivals who had been staying in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. The remaining 52 are cases of community transmission.
Just one new case was recorded on Wednesday - a woman in her 30s who arrived from Dubai on September 9. She is related to the three other imported cases reported on Tuesday.