COVID-19 media update, 10 April

News article

10 April 2020

The All of Government COVID-19 National Response provided an update at 1.00 pm today.

Speakers:

  • Dr Caroline McElnay, Director of Public Health.

View video of the media briefing below.

Update summary

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay announced the sad news of the country’s second death, a woman in her nineties, who died at Burwood Hospital, Christchurch on Thursday 9 April.

Today there are 44 new cases of COVID-19 to report - made up of 23 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 21 new probable cases. At this stage, 14 of the new 44 cases are linked to existing clusters, with investigations ongoing for others. Further details are in the media release.

Rosewood Resthome and Hospital, and Burwood Hospital

Dr McElnay said the woman who died at Burwood Hospital was one of a group of 20 residents transferred from Rosewood Rest Home and Hospital to Burwood Hospital earlier in the week as part of Canterbury DHB’s cluster management process. Those residents are being investigated as a group. A number of staff and residents have been tested for COVID-19 and one of the issues being investigated is how the first case became infected. As some residents are very frail and may not fully understand information about the test, they may not be tested but could be deemed a probable case because of their symptoms and their proximity within a cluster. The group is being managed as if they have COVID-19 and have been isolated and managed appropriately.

Case numbers and clusters

Dr McElnay said despite the increased numbers announced today, New Zealand is still generally heading in the right direction. She said while this is very affirming but it confirms that no one can be complacent, and we are not out of the woods yet.

Numbers would be expected to go up and down in the medium to short term.

Many of the cases are linked to clusters that would have a bit of ongoing transmission. A number of clusters are from events that happened prior to lockdown and we are now seeing some ongoing spread within the households of those affected people. We may continue to see more cases in that situation.

She said social events had been shown overseas to be very efficient vectors for the spread of disease and this was the case in New Zealand with social events such as one in Bluff that has led to a large cluster of cases.  Now spread was occurring within households of those who had attended events. This was next generation spread, but it was very contained within households.

Had we not been in Level 4 lockdown more cases would have been expected from these events as people went to work and out into their communities.  The lockdown allows us to really limit the interactions people have, it enables effective contact tracing and helps contain the clusters.

Dr McElnay said New Zealand was aiming to eliminate the virus which meant taking a very aggressive approach to stamping out new cases that pop up and understanding where and why this is happening. In the next two weeks we would expect to see that any new cases are linked to other cases we already know about.

There would be some household transmission. If we see anything outside of that it may be telling us that our current restrictions perhaps are not actually being followed. We need to act very quickly from any of our outbreaks to ensure we don't get further spread.  These are our two weeks to really get our level of disease down to an absolute minimum within New Zealand.

Dr McElnay said this Easter unlike other Easters, was a challenging time for some people who wished to practise their faith. She said it was important to emphasise the Prime Minister's message that this is a time for us all to get behind the country and stay at home over Easter.  Many churches have   put in place online coverage of services so people can still worship in the way they wish to worship while staying at home and following the Government’s guidance.

Testing

Our testing numbers continue to increase and the figures I saw yesterday show we had the highest number of tests performed to date.  We are monitoring the numbers over the weekend. Importantly, despite doing an increasing number of tests, there is not a significant increase in the cases being reported.

Waikato Hospital Staff

Dr McElnay confirmed two staff at Waikato Hospital tested positive yesterday for COVID-19, with some further test results expected.  The Waikato District Health Board is fully investigating the situation in conjunction with their public health unit.   

PPE

Dr McElnay said there is plenty of PPE available and it is definitely not being rationed.  She said there had been some distribution issues, but the Ministry has been working with DHBs to ensure the distribution chain is moving smoothly.  A better distribution system would be in place next week. Any healthcare staff who are having issues with PPE should contact their DHB.

Dr McElnay said she would be surprised if DHB staff were being told to take off PPE but that was something hospital staff should discuss with DHBs. She said there is clear guidance about the use of PPE and when it is required, on the Ministry website.

Caroline McElnay: My name is Caroline and I am Director of Public Health at the Ministry of Health. I have a short prepared statement and then I will take questions afterwards.

The Ministry of Health is sad to report the country's second death linked to COVID-19. The second death is a woman in her 90s, at Burwood Hospital, Christchurch. She passed away yesterday.

The woman recently returned a positive test to COVID-19. As we have seen around the world, COVID-19 can be a deadly disease, particularly for elderly people and also those with underlying health issues. Now, New Zealand's first death linked to COVID-19 was on March 29 on the west coast in a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions. As in that case, the country's thoughts will be with the Christchurch woman's family and loved ones at this time. Understandably the family will take time to grieve and we would ask media to please respect their privacy.

In this case, we can say that the woman was one of a group of 20 residents transferred from Rosewood Rest Home and Hospital to Burwood Hospital earlier in the week as part of the Canterbury District Health Board's cluster management process. Those residents were relocated to a ward at Burwood to allow them to isolate together in a group bubble.

The woman who sadly died had experienced a number of common age-related health conditions prior to her testing positive for COVID-19 this week. Because of because of the current A-level level 4, no family members were able to visit the woman in hospital in recent days and were not able to be present when she passed away, however hospital staff were able to provide her with comfort and support and we thank them for that.

This latest sad news reinforces the importance of our move to alert level 4 and the measures we are all taking to limit spread, break the chain of transmission, and prevent deaths. Our health system will continue to do everything that we can to support the fight against COVID-19. Canterbury District Health Board can provide additional information this afternoon relating to the ongoing care and support of the other Rosewood residents and their families.

I'd like to now give you an update on our numbers. Today, there are 44 new cases of COVID-19 to report – that's made up of 23 new confirmed cases and 21 new probable cases. At this stage, 14 of the new 44 cases are linked to existing clusters with investigations ongoing. There are now 373 reported cases of COVID-19 which we can confirm have recovered and that is an increase of 56 on yesterday. We can continue to report that we have more people recovered than new combined cases. The total combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 1,283.

An update on those in hospital. Today there are 16 people in hospital. That includes four in ICU, one each in Wellington and southern DHBs. Two of these ICU patients in one area are in a critical condition.

For those cases that we have information on, we are still seeing a strong but declining link to overseas travel at 40% and ongoing links to confirmed cases within New Zealand at 44%. That includes those in clusters that we already know about with community trans mission at about 2%. There are still cases that we continue to investigate. That's about 14%.

There are 12 significant clusters. Our three largest clusters remain the same. One area has 69 cases, up five from yesterday, Bluff, which has 87 cases and that has not changed since yesterday and Marist College at 84, also no change.

Thank you, happy to take questions. 

Media: All the underlying conditions of the illness of the woman who died, you said they were age related – can you tell us what they were?

Caroline McElnay: I'm unable to give further details on that. This was an elderly, frail woman. 

Media: Is anyone related to that woman or been in contact with her recently displaying symptoms?

Caroline McElnay: So the woman was part of a group from the Rosewood Rest Home and they are being investigated as a group by Canterbury District Health Board. 

Media: Are there other patients at Rosewood in isolation with that woman, are any of them in critical condition?

Caroline McElnay: Not that I'm aware of. There are some with symptoms and who have been tested and they are part of the cluster that's reported for Canterbury. I'm not aware that any of them are in a critical condition. I haven't been briefed otherwise. I have asked about their condition. They have – they are symptomatic but appear to be well whilst symptomatic. 

Media: An uptick in cases today after the consecutively dropping for the last few days – is that significant? Does that mean anything?

Caroline McElnay: Well, I think it confirms that we can't be too complacent about the numbers that we're seeing. I think we're still generally heading in the right direction and that is really affirming to see that, but it very much emphasises we're not out of the woods. We can't be complacent. We would expect to see numbers to go up and down in the immediate short-term.

What I say is that the increase we've seen have been a number of cases that are linked to clusters and we do expect with our clusters to see a bit of ongoing transmission. Those are particularly happening from events that happened prior to lockdown but we're seeing some ongoing spread within the households of those people who were affected and we may continue to see a few more cases in that situation. 

Media: Is there any indication as to how this woman, how the virus came into that rest home?

Caroline McElnay: Well, that's being investigated by Canterbury District Health Board. There are a number of staff and residents they have tested and one of the questions that they will be looking for is, how the first case came to be infected, so they're currently undergoing that investigation and we will be able to brief you further on details when we have further details to give you. 

Media: How many staff and residents have been tested at this point?

Caroline McElnay: I don't have the complete number of people who were tested. Bear in mind that a number of these residents are elderly and frail and so in is where the probable definition comes in where we may not have been able to test people because it's not a pleasant test and particularly for older people who may not understand exactly why the test is being done – they may not have been tested but because of their close proximity and the group they've been part of, they have been deemed to be a probable case. The total of the confirmed and the probable does not necessarily mean they've all been tested. 

Media: There's been a dip on testing numbers at the weekend, with it going into the Easter weekend, are you expecting much of an impact on the testing numbers?

Caroline McElnay: To date we've seen continuing increase in our testing numbers and the figures which I saw for yesterday – I don't have the exact figure with me – show that yesterday we had the highest number of tests performed to date. We will be, we are monitoring the numbers over the weekend. We may see a decline in those figures but on the whole, our pattern has been increasing number of tests and that's what we're really encouraged by, that we are seeing a lot of tests. Importantly, despite having those large number of tests, we really are not seeing any significant increase in the cases being reported. 

Media: Are all the centres going to remain open over Easter? Are some of them going to close?

Caroline McElnay: I don't have the details of the specifics. It may be that some of those centres are having reduced hours. People would have to check with their local district health board exactly what the opening hours are. 

Media: The staff at the Waikato hospital are now tested positive for COVID-19?

Caroline McElnay: I don't have the details of that to hand. I am aware that there were two staff who tested positive yesterday, with some further test results expected. 

Media: On that case in the Waikato Hospital, we understand two of the staff were infected after being told to remove PPE – how concerning is that?

Caroline McElnay: I'm not aware of the details there. The Waikato District Health Board is fully investigating the situation there in conjunction with their public health unit. I'm not aware of any specific details there. I am aware that PPE is available on four staff, there is no shortage of PPE, so – floor staff – there is no shortage of PPE. I don't know the details. 

Media: Would there be a concern if they were infected after being told to remove PPE?

Caroline McElnay: I don't know the details of that particular situation, sorry.

Media: ... Staff from Auckland and Christchurch staff saying they're facing challenges with PPE – is it being rationed?

Caroline McElnay: Definitely not being rationed. We are aware of problems with distributions, the cuff country has significant stocks of PPE and we've been working with DHBs to ensure the distribution chain is moving smoothly. Any health care staff who are having issues with PPE should contact their DHB and find out why that is happening. We have been working with the DHBs to get a much better distribution system in place and we hope to be able to stand up a different system next week with further details being made available on that. 

Media: In saying that, what's your advice to hospital staff wanting to wear it but are told to take it off?

Caroline McElnay: I will be surprised if people are being told to take off PPE but that is something hospital staff should discuss with DHBs. 

Media: We've been having reports of people told to take it off. If they are told to take it off, what should they do?

Caroline McElnay: We have clear guidance about the use of PPE on our website and when it is required for health care workers. I would suggest individuals look at that advice as a first point, because that's our clear guidance about when you do need to use PPE. If people are still concerned that their DHB is giving them different advice, then that's when we would advise them to contact us at the ministry. 

Media: We have had reports out of Hamilton that some people are door-knocking and leafletting over the Easter weekend, spreading the message of the faith, I suppose – obviously that is, that goes against the guidance the Government issued. Do you have a message to people struggling to probably practice their faithful Easter in a different way this time round?

Caroline McElnay: We recognise that it is a challenge for many people. This is an Easter unlike other Easters, but I really want to re-emphasise the Prime Minister's message, that this is a time for us all to get behind the country and stay at home over Easter. I'm aware many churches have already put in place online coverage of services so people can still worship in the way they wish to worship, but still be ail to stay at home and follow our guidance. 

Media: With the emphasis of new cases, it switches from mainly being connected to overseas travel to mainly connected to economist existing cases or but new clusters springing up seemingly from nowhere. How does that change the way the Government is fighting this thing? Does it change your overall strategy?

Caroline McElnay: No, it doesn't change our strategy at the moment, because we're in level 4 lockdown and we're aiming for elimination. What it does mean for these last two weeks, what it means is that we have to be very aggressive at stamping out the new cases that pop up and really understanding why they're popping up and what the circumstances have been there.

What we would expect to see in the next two weeks is that our new cases will be linked to other cases, that we already know about. They will be, there will be some household transmission is what we expect to see. If we see anything outside of that, that may be telling us that our current restrictions perhaps are not actually being followed and we need to really be very quick to act from any of our outbreaks that we don't get further spread, because this is our two weeks to really get our level of disease down to an absolute minimum within New Zealand. 

Media: A staff member who work works on the said ward as the nurses who contracted COVID-19 in Waikato Hospital has been told to go to work despite the fact it's the same ward as the people who contracted the virus. Are you sure that enough is being done to stop the spread?

Caroline McElnay: I don't know the details of that particular situation, but I have spoken to the CEO of the district health board yesterday and the infection prevention and control practitioners in the hospital are managing and dealing with that. I'm confident that the right people are managing the staff and patients in Waikato. 

Media: To the testing and the retirement home, where the woman who died was from – you said it is a difficult process for them to be tested – to clarify, that won't be a barrier for testing them?

Caroline McElnay: Well, I think you have to consider the purpose of testing in these sorts of situations where you have a group of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are displaying symptoms that fit COVID-19. In that situation, the benefit of a test is really not going to tell you anything more.

The group are being managed as a whole, as if they have COVID-19, so they have been isolated and they've been managed appropriately. My point is that for some elderly patients in that situation, the distress, the extra distress of having a test which they may not completely understand why they're being tested, that that is not something that we need to do and therefore in this situation we don't need to do it. 

Media: Can you clarify exactly what is so distressing about the test?

Caroline McElnay: Oh, I'm talking about this particular group of elderly, frail people, who may not be able to fully understand what the nurses are saying to them, in terms of explaining why they need a test, that that can be distressing for people who don't understand, so in this particular situation, if – a number have been tested but there were a number who weren't tested and I think that is appropriate in this situation because actually they've been managed as a group who have all been exposed, so we would not expect people to be tested in that situation. This is a very specific situation and for most people, it's not that unpleasant a test, I think it's just being very mindful of the needs and vulnerabilites of this particular group. 

Media: The new cases, stemming from the wedding cluster?

Caroline McElnay: I'm not sure if I have the details of that. This I think I said it in ceased. Bluff was no change, sorry, from yesterday. What we have been seeing with Bluff was an event that led to quite a number of cases there at the event itself. Quite an explosive event, if you like. It was a social event. That's where we're seeing quite a number of clusters, not just within New Zealand, but it's being observed across the world, that social occasions act as a very efficient vector for spread of disease. What we're seeing with the recent cases linked to the Bluff wedding is these are cases occurring in the households of those at the ethe event. It's a next generation but it's very contained because it's been in the households.

I think it is a good opportunity to say that had we not been in level 4 lockdown, we would have expected more cases as a result of those individuals who had been at the wedding returning back to their normal places of work or being out in the community. This is exactly the reasons why a level 4 lockdown allows us to really limit the interactions that people have and so it helps contain, very strongly, contains our clusters. 

Media: There is a workplace one in Auckland. Can you give us details?

Caroline McElnay: I'm not sure I have the details to hand. 

Media: Going back to the Bluff wedding, contact tracing can identify everyone who may have been exposed at that wedding or is it too big of an event?

Caroline McElnay: It has been a big event, but it's also an event like this that we have an ability to coordinate our public health units across the country and connect up cases who appear across the country. That's what we're seeing with Bluff, that although it's labelled at Bluff, quite a number of the cases live in other parts of the country. It's through our systems that we're able to connect them and so we've attributed them to Bluff, but actually many of the cases are in other parts of the country and we are seeing just a small increase in the case numbers, but just repeat – no increase from yesterday and certainly Bluff is one that we would expect to see would very quickly be contained with no further increases.ly take one last question. 

Media: You said before about the critical patients, of those, one of those, was at southern DHB. Is there a link between the Bluff wedding and the critical patient in in ICU?

Caroline McElnay: I'm not aware of any link there. 

Media: Were they on ventilators from overseas coming in?

Caroline McElnay: I haven't got an update on that. Bearing in mind we do have – we have quite a substantial number of ventilators within New Zealand. I'm aware there were orders placed to bring more into the country but I'm not able to update you on the specifics of that order. 

Media: A bit of clarification before we finish this up – 14 of the new cases today are linked to existing clusters. What are the origins of the others?

Caroline McElnay: I don't have the details here. With the cases that we received in overnight, what we would expect to see is that more and more of our new cases we can link to known clusters and other cases. Thank you. 

Media: Is it 2%?

Caroline McElnay: Yes, it is, thank you.

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