Coronavirus: Caroline McElnay reminds everyone ambulances are free if you have COVID, 'don't leave it to chance'

Health officials are urging COVID-19 patients isolating at home to get to hospital as soon as they can if they feel their condition deteriorating.

The call comes after the at-home death of a west Auckland man who'd reportedly spent days coughing up blood and in agony, but was told the symptoms were normal and he'd get better. 

The 68-year-old was waiting for officials to tell him to go to hospital, the NZ Herald reported, but instead they allegedly told him to take lozenges for his cough and paracetamol for the pain.

"He should have been in quarantine, he should have been in hospital," his daughter told the paper. 

"You have Kiwis at home who are sick that are dying but you have well people who have travelled from overseas in MIQ quarantine. Why aren't they sent home to self-isolate and put these people that are sick here in Auckland, that are struggling and in all this pain into quarantine?"

There have been a few deaths of COVID-19 patients at home in recent days. The growing number of cases in the Delta outbreak and high demand from inbound travellers for spaces forced a switch away from our former strategy of putting every single case and their close contacts into quarantine. 

Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay on Friday urged people not to dither if they felt like they were getting sicker.

"This is a serious virus and none of us can afford to underestimate it. If you or your loved ones are being cared for in the community and you feel that your or their conditions is deteriorating, please don't leave it to chance that you'll improve. Please reach out as soon as possible or ask someone to do so on your behalf."

She said cost should be  no concern - not only is hospital care free, but so are ambulance trips for confirmed COVID-19 cases. St John for example, a charity, normally charges close to $100 per trip. 

"Our hospitals are ready to help, and have the best infection prevention and control measures in place to keep you and your loved ones safe… 

"People have died this week and this is tragic for their friends and family. This is a very real reminder that the more people that get COVID-19, sadly the more deaths we are likely to see. It is a sad reminder that COVID is potentially fatal, and this is particularly true if you're unvaccinated."  

Another 201 community cases were announced on Friday. New Zealand's case fatality ratio to date is 0.4 percent, low by international standards - our low case numbers to date have prevented health services from being overwhelmed. The worldwide rate is 2 percent, about 20 times that of influenza. 

The family of the west Auckland man are planning to contact the Health and Disability Commissioner, complaining of his "inadequate" treatment.