COVID-19 media update, 23 March

News article

23 March 2020

The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield provided an update to the media on the national COVID-19 response at 12.30 pm today.

Summary

Dr Bloomfield confirmed there were 36 new cases of COVID-19 as at 8AM today, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Zealand to 102.

He told media that of the cases today over half are directly related to overseas travel, most of the remainder are close contacts of a previously confirmed case or associated with an event where there were confirmed cases such as the Queenstown World Hereford Cattle conference. None of the cases announced today appear to relate to community transmission.

Across all cases we have two that we cannot be certain where the infection came from and are therefore treating them as community transmission.

Contact tracing for these cases is ongoing.

Dr Bloomfield said most of our cases are still from people who have travelled to NZ from overseas.

An increasing number of cases are close contacts of people who have travelled from overseas.

Dr Bloomfield told media physical distancing continues to be essential but so is social connection. Physical distancing does not mean social distancing.

In fact, it’s now more important than ever to remember to frequently check in with friends, family, neighbours – people can and should be doing this over the phone or online.

Dr Bloomfield said we have two cases of likely community transmission. This makes the core public health messages even more important: physical distancing, cough and sneeze etiquette, washing hands and more importantly not going out if you are unwell.

One case is in the Wairarapa and the other is in Auckland.

Dr Bloomfield sad the important thing is to find the cases, isolate the cases, find the close contacts and isolate them too.

Dr Bloomfield said with more demand for Healthline, the service has been continuing to increase staffing capacity at Healthline. We’ve also linked in other Government helplines; and there’s a clear self-isolation registration on the website.

He said earlier tracing would be well and truly complete, and in face many will have recovered. Active close contact tracing is now underway for the latest cases from the last few days.

He said we have anticipated this increase in cases. A team here at the Ministry can manage up to 50 new cases a day.

Dr Bloomfield said if you look at data internationally, some people have a very mild illness – especially children. There will be people we test because they’re close contacts or they maybe very mildly symptomatic and they may test positive. We will continue to be rigorous In close contact tracing, isolating and testing.

Dr Bloomfield told media all our DHBs have plans in place to scale down their current activity, which may include elective surgery and outpatient appointments to free up capacity and staff. He said that doesn’t mean people won’t be seen if they need care but many of the outpatient appointments could be done with phone calls.

He said this is to free up capacity in hospitals.

He said it’s pleasing to see there’s a lot of testing on a daily basis. New Zealand’s case positivity rate from the testing is between 1 and 2 percent.

Australia’s is just under 1 percent. To date, South Korea’s has been about 3 percent; the UK about 5 percent and the US about 13 percent – so we’re doing a lot of testing comparatively. We want to find the cases which is why we’re testing where there’s suspicion.

Each DHB and PHO has looked at and decided the best ways to do testing in their area- some are going through a drive through arrangement – that way they can keep people isolated in their cars, have them come through and ask them questions or test them through the window.

People should go if they have symptoms and are concerned because they won’t automatically get swabbed. We want to reserve the swabbing and testing for people who need to be tested. The right thing is still to ring Healthline first. It’s not one of those places you go and say I think I need a test – you will be asked about your history.