Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warns it's too soon to celebrate drop in new COVID-19 cases

The Prime Minister is warning New Zealanders that it's too soon to celebrate the drop in new cases of COVID-19, and is emphasising the need to watch out for the "silent spread" of the coronavirus.

The Ministry of Health confirmed 61 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, far lower than the 83 new confirmed cases at the weekend, but Jacinda Ardern says it's no time to get complacent. 

"While on the face of it that may seem like a heartening number, relative to some of the other figures we've had, I want to emphasise it is too early to assess if our measures are successfully slowing transmission," Ardern said on Wednesday. 

She said because COVID-19 takes a while to incubate, the country may still see increases in case numbers in the coming days off the back of transmission in the community prior to the lockdown where people may have "invisible symptoms". 

"If the virus is in the community in this way - present but not yet seen - the worst thing we could do is be relaxed or too complacent and allow a silent spread," Ardern said. 

"I think we only need to look at some of the clusters of cases that we have in our community to know just how quickly COVID-19 can spread, if we weren't for instance, currently at alert level 4."

She mentioned the cluster in Matamata that can be traced back to a bar, as well as Marist College in Auckland where more than 40 cases of the virus have been confirmed. 

"If we weren't at level 4, we could see outbreaks that were far, far worse down the track," Ardern said, addressing the country on the seventh day of the lockdown. 

"We also don't have a full picture of the extent of community transmission," she added. "That is why we have been so focused on increasing testing capacity - we've seen a 91 percent increase in testing capacity and we are continuing to build that."

The Prime Minister announced on Tuesday that the testing criteria for the virus had been widened, so that anyone who shows symptoms - shortness of breath, a cough or a fever - can be tested. 

It was expanded from tests only being allowed for those who had symptoms and a link to overseas travel or contact with a confirmed case. GPs were given permission to use their judgement, but people continued to be turned away. 

With the testing criteria expanded, Ardern hopes it will give the Government the accurate information it needs to make a decision on whether to extend the lockdown period. 

"We want to know as soon as accurately possible how widely spread COVID-19 is in the community so we can be confident we have it back under control and so we can successfully stamp out cases as they arrive."

The Prime Minister's press conference followed the Ministry of Health's confirmation of 61 new cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, bringing the total to 708.