Coronavirus: Health Minister David Clark says there's no evidence community transmission figures being underestimated

Health Minister Dr David Clark says the latest information around the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 shows no evidence the community transmission rate is higher than 2 percent.

There are currently 647 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, still with the majority of recorded infections associated with international travel.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Sir David Skegg believes the country's community transmission figures are being grossly underestimated. He told Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday, "The actual number of people who have been infected will be far higher - and we really have no idea of the extent of community spread".

On Tuesday afternoon, Dr Clark acknowledged there are likely more cases that have not been found.

"We do know there is some community transmission - that is precisely why in this level 4 alert we're expecting quite drastic steps from the public," he told Magic Talk's Ryan Bridge. "We've only got evidence of actually less than 2 percent [community transmission] because [in] most of the cases we can still link back to international travel or to close contact transmission."

Dr Clark admitted, however, they can't be sure if community transmission was above 2 percent.

"We don't have the evidence that it's above 2 percent but we can't be certain," he said.

"Ultimately it will be on us as New Zealanders; if we observe that social distancing, if we stay home when we're sick, washing our hands, sneezing into our elbows, and so-on, if we as New Zealanders commit to doing all of those things then we will see this virus come under control."

Dr Clark reiterated the plan was to "ultimately" see the virus eliminated.

"The reality is of course that we've got people who come into New Zealand - we will not shut ourselves off from the world forever.

"This is the kind of thing that we are learning about day-to-day. We're 90 days into this turning up for the very first time - it didn't have a name 90 days ago and our public health folks are churning out research papers."

New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfied said earlier on Tuesday there was no indication case numbers would drop.

"The number of cases may reflect lower numbers in [testing] on Sunday in particular."