Two more people have died from Covid-19, bringing New Zealand’s death toll to 11, Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay has announced.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson warned the country is still in lockdown and the said deaths served as a sombre reminder to stay home to save lives.☸
Data shows that the number of daily new coronavirus cases continues to decrease, with health officials finding eight more infections, bringing the total to 1409 on Friday.
Two of the cases were confirmed and six were probable cases but all were linked to known cases or outbreaks. The last time eight cases was recorded was on March 19.
New Zealand’s total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases passed 1400 on Thursday.
ALERT LEVEL 3
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said single digit cases was an “encouraging sign” that level 4 was working but people should not get ahead of themselves to assume this meant a move to level 3, he said.
“One of the main things we are concerned about is if we are breaking the chain of community transmission.”
On Thursday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern provided the much-anticipated explanation of life under Covid-19 level three, saying most people would need to remain at home. Bars and cafes will remain closed.
This was not an invitation to adopt those measures and it was important to remember New Zealand was still at alert level 4 with rules to obey, he said.
Cabinet would meet on Monday to decide if it would extend the alert level 4 time frame from midnight on Wednesday or whether the country, or some of it, would move to level 3.
There was still more data to collect before a decision was made, so all options were still on the table and this included remaining in lockdown, he said.
He warned level 3 would not be markedly different than level 4 and would not be a return to pre-Covid days.
“We are some time from that,” he said.
He noted that the lockdown in the UK had been extended by three weeks.
“I share this as a reminder that this is a long game, a marathon, not a short sprint,” he said.
The Treasury scenarios released earlier in the week reflected that a little longer spent at level four or level three was ultimately better for the economy than that an early exit and potential return to lockdown later.
The Government had to be assured that New Zealand was genuinely breaking the chain of community transmission before moving out of lockdown, Robertson said.
“We also have to make sure we have in place measures for contact tracing and all the capacity we need in our health system as well, so there is still work to do on that.”
A lot of work was being done in relation to contact tracing and he was aware of a Bluetooth-enabled CovidCard and app based approaches but they had to be assessed for privacy issues and if they would work.
McElnay said New Zealand was increasing the amount of testing and expanding the pool of those being tested for Covid-19 to include anyone with respiratory symptoms.
On Thursday, 4241 tests were processed, meaning 74,401 test were done to date, McElnay said.
The Government had stepped up its contact-tracing efforts as it makes a move towards level three and has started testing for community transmission.
This information would be used to inform the decision around stepping down from alert level four.
The level of community transmission in New Zealand was currently low and most of the cases that have been diagnosed with Covid-19 have links to overseas travel or close contacts of other cases, she said.
On Thursday, 343 people volunteered to be swabbed at a supermarket in Queenstown, an area concern for community transmission.
It was a random sample of shoppers and supermarket staff and about half of the tests had been processed and all were negative so far.
There had been a high demand for tests and more swabs were taken than anticipated, McElnay said.
DHBs in the Covid-19 “hotspots” of Waikato, Auckland and Canterbury also arranged for mobile testing clinics at supermarkets, to provide further information on community transmission in these regions.
In Waikato these had been set up in Hamilton, Matamata, Cambridge, Te Awamutu and Otorohanga.
The additional testing and targeted testing would add to the total pool of tests done and provide officials with increased confidence in the data.
Supermarkets were chosen because staff were in contact with a lot of people and highly exposed if something was circulating in a community, she said.
Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said both families were not able to be with the patients when they died.
The man in his 90s, who died at Waikato hospital, had a connection to the Matamata cluster. He had been living at home with family and was admitted to hospital on Saturday night.
The second death was a woman in her 80s who had an underlying health condition.
She was part of the group of 20 Rosewood residents who were transferred to Burwood Hospital, where she died on Thursday.
There have now been seven deaths from this group.
There were five other cases who remained stable but it was a group of frail elderly people.
“It’s a reminder of the serious threat Covid-19 poses, particularly for elderly and vulnerable people. We all need to continue to play our part … by staying home ….”
McElnay said there are now 816 cases of Covid-19 who have recovered, an increase of 46 cases.
There were 14 people in hospital with the virus, and three people in ICU – one each in in Middlemore, Dunedin and North Shore hospitals. Two were in critical condition.
There were still 16 significant clusters and 15 more cases were connected to them.