Coronavirus: Health Minister David Clark's latest briefing shows no evidence of community transmission

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the latest information he's received on the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 shows no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand.

There are currently 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Aotearoa, with all recorded cases being associated with international travel, having either returned from travel themselves or having a relative who has been to coronavirus hotspots. 

That means New Zealand is yet to record any case of community transmission, where the disease is recorded in a person with no link to travel.

On Friday morning, Dr Clark said he hadn't been informed of any new cases proving community transmission was happening, something he expects he would be told about. 

"We have no evidence of community transmission at this stage. Of course, with the numbers rising of people coming in, bringing this in from overseas, that presents concern and that is why we have been so robust around self-isolation and the expectations around it and why we are doing the spot checks with the police," he told The AM Show.

"We need to make sure that people are taking this seriously because we can't afford for it to come into that community transmission phase as we have seen overseas."

In response to the imported cases, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closed New Zealand's borders on Thursday, with only citizens, residents, and their close family allowed to enter the country. Ardern said she was concerned some visitors to New Zealand weren't adequately self-isolating as was previously required for anyone coming in.

Dr Clark said New Zealand also had the benefit of so far being able to track all close contacts of each infected individual. Hundreds of close contacts have been self-isolated since the first case in the country in late February. After a student at Logan Park High School in Dunedin tested positive, 150 close contacts were self-isolated and tested.

"We are working as hard as humanly possible to ensure that we do not get that community transmission. That is the advantage we have over many other countries, is that we have been able to contact trace everyone thus far," he said.

"We have been able to get people into self-isolation. We have been able to contain cases that are coming in. But you can see what has happened overseas and that, of course, makes everyone nervous."

The Health Minister also reiterated that New Zealand doesn't have any imminent plans to have widespread closures of schools. One of the main concerns of authorities is that by forcing children to stay at home, their parents will have to take time off work. It may also be that the children are sent to their grandparents, who are most at risk of contracting the illness.

"We are certainly not at that stage yet. I've received no advice to suggest that would be a good idea at this stage, but we do reserve the right to have all those tools in the toolkit if we get evidence that that is a good thing to do, of course, we will take that action. But at this stage, the advice is that's not a step we need to take."

New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Thursday that school closures may be considered if community transmission is detected in the country.