COVID-19: More than 10k new cases, change to how deaths reported, ministry confirms testing to determine 'true' scale of outbreak

The Director-General of Health has provided an update on New Zealand's response to COVID-19.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield was accompanied by the Public Health Agency's deputy Director-General Dr Andrew Old, who will take over COVID-19 media appearances when Dr Bloomfield steps down at the end of the month.

The pair announced a change to the way COVID deaths are reported. The Ministry of Health will now focus on deaths caused by COVID-19 or where the illness was a contributing factor. Previously, all deaths were reported among people who died within 28 days of having a COVID-19 infection.

What you need to know

  • Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and the Public Health Agency's Dr Andrew Old have provided a COVID-19 update
  • The Ministry of Health has confirmed it will undertake prevalence testing in the coming weeks to understand the true scale of the COVID-19 outbreak
  • The pair announced a change to the way COVID deaths are reported. The Ministry of Health will now focus on deaths caused by COVID-19 or where the illness was a contributing factor. Previously, all deaths were reported among people who died within 28 days of having a COVID-19 infection.
  • There were 10,772 new community cases reported on Tuesday
  • New Zealand remains at the 'orange' setting, with officials emphasising the use of masks and for people to get vaccinated.

These live updates have finished.

1:20pm - The chair of Health New Zealand admits they are using "sticking plaster" solutions to cope with an overworked health sector.

It comes after Health Minister Andrew Little refused to say the system is in a crisis despite emergency department wait times increasing and the sector being under significant strain from spiking COVID-19 infections, the return of the flu, and labour shortages.

Chair of Health New Zealand Rob Campbell told AM on Tuesday they're dealing with problems caused by the old District Health Board (DHB) system. 

"They're our problems now and the critical thing is and I think of it just like in an emergency department, everything's going on. It's madness, you're short of staff, there are people coming in," Campbell told AM co-host Ryan Bridge. 

Read more here.

1pm - Being "more precise" with the reporting of COVID deaths will help "illustrate the seriousness of COVID", says Dr Bodo Lang from the University of Auckland's Business School.

"As a side benefit, having this new classification will also be useful to address one of the criticisms from anti vaxxers and COVID doubters: how many deaths are really caused by COVID?

"The evidence will now be clearer on this, possibly resulting in a reappraisal of COVID's seriousness by those who were least likely to follow COVID guidelines."

12:45pm - Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has made these comments about changes to the reporting of COVID deaths: 

"It is good to see this upgrading of COVID-19 mortality reporting. New Zealand has followed the international reporting standard specified by the World Health Organisation which is important as it allows for meaningful comparisons across different countries and time periods. However, this standard needs some revisions, which our Ministry of Health is now making.

"All health agencies and researchers want health statistics that are valid, i.e. that measure what they intend to measure. This change will therefore increase the confidence we have that deaths attributed to COVID-19 are valid. I am pleased to see that all of our COVID-19 mortality data will be revised to incorporate this change, including current and previously reported numbers.

"It is likely that reporting of COVID-19 deaths will continue to underestimate numbers. COVID-19 infection can cause death from heart attacks and strokes and other causes that may not be attributed to this condition. We know that deaths from other infections such as influenza have always been hugely underestimated. Only about 5% of deaths linked to influenza have this infection recorded as the cause of death. This problem is partly because of the way that mortality reporting focussed on the underlying cause of death, so tends to default to any major chronic illnesses that a patient had, rather than acute infections that contributed to their death at that time.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the complexity of ensuing that health data are as valid as possible, and the need to keep improving our methods."

12:35pm - Kiwis need to remember there is still a global pandemic and more transmissible variants are still emerging. Future variants could be more severe than Omicron, Dr Bloomfield says. Omicron is a significant contributor to the stress on the health system.

"We are not out of the woods yet," he says.

While Dr Bloomfield is soon leaving his role, he is very confident in his officials who are about to step up to lead the COVID response. He says a "fun evening" planned for next week for his farewell has been postponed. It is not the right time for that sort of event, he says.

12:30pm - The Director-General says there is no difference between advice being provided to the Government and the rules the Government is imposing. Even under orange, masks are required in some indoor settings, he says. The issue isn't whether they are required or not, but whether people are wearing masks, he says.

"The current settings are fully consistent with our advice," Dr Bloomfield says.

Over the last weekend, Dr Bloomfield says he witnessed high compliance with mask-use, but not 100 percent. 

We are doing everything we can to encourage people to get their vaccination, he says.

Dr Bloomfield says officials were asked to look at whether masks should be required in schools. The ministry has settled on the advice that they should be strongly recommended. 

12:25pm - Dr Bloomfield says there will be a prevalence survey rolled out over six months with about 1000 Kiwis invited each week to participate and report on their symptoms. This will give officials an idea about the actual prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.

Another survey will test a number of Kiwis at a specific point in time. The blood test will allow officials to examine the anti-bodies in participants' blood from either the vaccination or from previous infections.

He says schools that have put into place effective measures, such as masks, are the ones who have managed to reduce infections. The Government is supplying masks to schools, which Dr Bloomfield says should be worn particularly for the first four weeks of Term 3. 

12:20pm - Dr Bloomfield says most of the transmission is occuring in households. People should follow guidelines wherever they go. Anyone organising gatherings should consider what measures they can put into place to protect people, the Director-General says. Those who are unwell should not attend.

On Tuesday night, Dr Bloomfield is holding a farewell party. It was meant to be a large event, but it is now a small gathering, with everyone wearing masks and most people joining via Zoom.

12:15pm - There are two new cases of the BA.2.75 Omicron subvariant in Auckland. They are linked to imported cases and are isolating at home, says Dr Bloomfield. These are in addition to six other cases of the subvariant previously talked about. There is no need to change public health settings in response to these subvariants.

Dr Old tells reporters there will be changes to how the ministry reports COVID-19 deaths. It is shifting away from reporting all people who have died within 28 days of a COVID infection to people who died because of a COVID infection or where it was recorded as a contributing factor.

Since July 19, there have been 1252 deaths where COVID was the underlying or contributing cause of death, Dr Old says. COVID was a factor in between two-thirds and three-quarters of deaths of people who had a COVID infection.

12:05pm - Dr Bloomfield is now speaking to reporters alongside Dr Old from the Public Health Agency. Dr Old will take over media appearances regarding COVID-19 when Dr Bloomfield steps down at the end of the month.

There are 10,772 new community cases with 788 hospitalisations and 21 deaths, Dr Bloomfield says. The seven-day rolling average for cases is 9858, for hospitalisations it's 764, and 23 deaths. These have increased over the last week.

In recent weeks, there has been a rapid increase in cases, but this has slowed in the last week. This is being treated with caution and further increases are expected, the Director-General says. In the last week, there has been a 4.5 percent increase in case rates over the previous week, compared to a 33 percent increase the week prior. Cases are increasing across all regions. The hospitalisation rate has increased 28 percent over the last week and one-in-20 patients admitted to hospital are returning a positive result.

While the March outbreak most affected a younger population, rates are now higher among an elderly population. There has been a significant increase in aged residential care.

11:55am -  You should be able to see the livestream above now. If you cannot, refresh your page or click here

11:50am - The Ministry of Health will conduct prevalence testing to understand the "true" scale of the COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand.

A spokesperson for the ministry on Tuesday said it would undertake "an infection prevalence survey to identity the number of New Zealanders who have COVID-19 at a specific point in time and across six months". Serological surveys will also be used "to understand the level of immunity against COVID-19 in the population". 

Read more here. 

11:45am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live updates for Tuesday. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide an updates on New Zealand's COVID-19 Response at 12pm alongside the Public Health Agency's deputy Director-General Dr Andrew Old.