COVID-19 media update, 11 April

News article

11 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

Dr Caroline McElnay reported on two additional deaths linked to COVID-19, with the Ministry offering its sympathy to the families involved.

New Zealand now has four deaths linked to COVID-19. Both today's cases can be linked to existing clusters and involve older individuals with underlying health conditions. The first individual is a man in his 80s admitted to Wellington Hospital on March 28. The second individual is a Christchurch man in his 70s. This gentleman was one of 20 residents transferred from Rosewood Rest Home and Hospital to Burwood Hospital last week. 

On behalf of all New Zealanders, the Ministry wants to sincerely thank front line health staff who are providing patients with comfort and support during these times. 

  • Dr McElnay reported there are 29 new cases today. These are 20 confirmed cases, along with 9 probable cases. 
  • There are now 422 reported cases who have recovered.
  • The total combined, confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 1312. 
  • There are now 15 people in hospital, including five in ICU. This is not currently inclusive of the Burwood group.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health carried out 3061 tests. 58,746 tests have been carried out across New Zealand so far. 

  • 7 minutes in - There are 13 significant clusters across New Zealand.  Two of the large Auckland clusters have now been named. 
  • 9 minutes in – Dr McElnay took questions from the media.
  • 17 minutes - Dr McElnay responded to questions around PPE. 
  • 18 minutes in - Dr McElnay encourages the public to continue to seek care if there are any medical issues they are concerned about. Hospitals and general practices are still open. 

Caroline McElnay: Tena koutou katoa. I'm Director of Health at the Ministry of Health. A short statement and then happy to take questions.

The Ministry of Health is saddened to report two further deaths linked to COVID-19. The families of both people will be in the country's thoughts at this very difficult time and we extend our sympathy to them. All families need time to grieve and we ask that their privacy continues to be respected. New Zealand now has four deaths associated with COVID-19. As we have said previously, this can be a very serious disease, particularly for elderly people and also for those with underlying health conditions.

What we can say about the two cases we are reporting on today is that both deaths have occurred in older individuals with underlying health conditions. Both can also be linked to existing COVID-19 clusters.

The first individual is a man in his 80s who died at Wellington Public Hospital yesterday. This had a link to an established cluster. To allow his family more time to grieve, we will not be identifying that cluster today. We can say that he first became unwell on 26 March. He was admitted to Wellington Hospital on 28 March and has been there under care ever since. We are confident his close contacts have been traced and there is no additional risk posed by this very sad death.

The second individual is a man in his 70s who died at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch yesterday. As with the death we reported on yesterday, this gentleman was one of a group of 20 residents transferred from Rosewood Home and Hospital to Burwood as part of the Canterbury District Health Board's cluster management process. These residents were relocated to a ward at Burwood to allow them to be managed in one location but in isolation from each other. This gentleman was tested on 9 April and subsequently returned a positive result for COVID-19.

Due to the underlying vulnerabilites of this group, we cannot rule out further serious illness or deaths within it.

We acknowledge the anxiety New Zealanders may be feeling about today's news, both in the wider community and also for family and whanau grieves over these sad deaths. Because of the current level 4 alert, we know it can be difficult for families to feel that they are part of their loved one's final hours.

On behalf of all New Zealanders, the Ministry wants to sincerely thank front-line health staff, also providing patients with confident and support in these times. Today's 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. We want you to know that our health system will continue to do everything it can to support the fight against COVID-19.

I want to give you an update on the numbers for today. So today there are 29 new cases of COVID-19 to report, made up of 20 new confirmed cases and nine new probable cases. As I mentioned, there have been two additional deaths to report for a total of four. There are now 422 reported cases who have recovered from COVID-19. It is an increase of 49 on yesterday. We continue to report more people recovered than new combined cases. So the total combined, confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 1,312.

Today there are 15 people in hospital – this includes five in ICU, one each in Wellington, Middlemore, Hawke's Bay, Dunedin and North Shore. One of the ICU patients in Dunedin is in a critical condition.

For those cases we have information on, we are still seeing a clear but declining link to overseas travel at 40% with ongoing links to confirmed cases within New Zealand. 46%, including those in clusters, we already know about and community transmission at 2%. We are still investigating 11% of cases.

In terms of testing, yesterday we carried out 361 tests with a rolling 7-day average of 3,619 and our total tests to date of 58,000 – 58,746. I want to say a few words about clusters because we at the ministry have a focus on clusters and we know there's significant public interest in our management of them. As I've stated earlier, three of the four deaths to date are linked to clusters. There are 13 significant clusters across New Zealand as of today and our three largest clusters remain Matamata, with 70 cases, Bluff, with 85, and Marist College with 85. Although we have given those names to those clusters, I want to reiterate that we see cases across the country and those cases – names – do not necessarily mean those cases are all in those places.

The new cluster is an aged residential care facility in Christchurch, known as the George Manning. Additionally, two of our larger Auckland clusters which we have not previously named we can now provide some additional information about. They are already on our website but the first is an outbreak in the community which has subsequently resulted in cases at a spectrum day care facility providing day care to individuals with intellectual disability and the second cluster is linked to a private party to celebrate an event in Auckland. There have been 35 cases linked to this cluster.

Thank you, I'm happy to take questions.

Media: What more can you tell us about the residents at Rosewood that were transferred or measures that are made to contain or manage that particular cluster?

Caroline McElnay: So, at Rosewood, can I report that there are 30 cases there, who have been identified, that's a combination of both confirmed and probable and that is made up of 13 residents and 18 staff, plus two other cases who are connected through close contact. The 20 from Rosewood who were moved to Burwood are in Burwood and further investigation has been under way for the other staff at Rosewood to make sure that they are well. They have been tested. I have received no information that any of those have tested positive – they remain well.

Media: Obviously with lockdown conditions people can't get to see their loved ones. What can you tell families about the management of that, if they have loved ones in these facilities and are concerned about what is happening?

Caroline McElnay: I would totally sympathise with the concern that families would have at this time. I think it is obviously very concerning for them. I would ask local family members to direct their inquiries direct to the DHB and they can tell them exactly what is happening in terms of their family members. What we needed to do or what Canterbury needed to do, was to, because of the cases and staff, was to put the cases, the staff into isolation, and that's resulted in management systems having to be put in place to look after remaining residents.

Media: Can you update us into the investigation as to how COVID-19 got into Rosewood in the first place?

Caroline McElnay: Those investigations are still ongoing. I've spoken to a medical officer of health in Canterbury there today and they're still doing further testing to see if they can identify how this infection came to be at Rosewood.

Media: Are you confident you made the right decision moving them from the rest home to the hospital, given we've now seen two deaths?

Caroline McElnay: So, yes, the Canterbury District Health Board did make the right decision to move the people to Burwood. These are a group of frail individuals who did need ongoing support. They were moved as a group but kept in isolation, so that they were not kept together, but they needed that extra level of support at Burwood.

Media: Is there any more you can tell us about the new cluster in Christchurch, the George Manning?

Caroline McElnay: The George Manning is a cluster that's been there, has been there – cases have been reported for a few days. I do have some numbers that I can give you. We have 14 cases there, who are confirmed and probable. They are a mixture of residents and staff. That's all the information that I have at the moment.

Caroline McElnay: My understanding is that a is a cluster well contained, not continuing to increase.

Media: About how quickly this virus moves for elderly people like those at Rosewood because the man who died wasn't named as critical yesterday, was he?

Caroline McElnay: I think with the group at Rosewood they are a group of frail elderly people. What we're seeing, sadly, in New Zealand, but also what we have seen overseas is the impact that COVID-19 particularly has on that very frail and vulnerable group. I have been assured today that all the people, all the residents moved to Burwood are, whilst they are frail and they're not well, they are being managed and given the best possible care, but we just want to acknowledge that COVID-19 for this age group and for people with significant underlying conditions can be a very unpleasant illness and sadly, we do know that people can die from it.

Media: The date for the new cluster in Auckland, the private function?

Caroline McElnay: The private function again is a function that's been reported, I think previously, on our website. It has 35 cases confirmed and probable. I think what we're seeing with these private functions and we see that particularly with the Bluff wedding function, is that social events like weddings, like parties, and other social events really act as a mixing bowl for this infection to be spread. We're seeing that, we're seeing that in New Zealand, we're seeing that in other parts of the world as well.

Media: Is this an outbreak that came up earlier – no suggestion this was a function into the lockdown of people getting together?

Caroline McElnay: No, this is one we knew about. This is because with that particular one, there is ongoing transmission happening from some of the people who who were at the function. A number of people infected at the function. Then they've, that infection has passed within their household bubbles during the lockdown, but the function was well in advance of any lockdown happening.

Media: Can you tell us about what the function was – was it a private birthday party among family a work function or any other details around the function? That's quite broad.

Caroline McElnay: All I can say it was a private function, it with wasn't a workplace function, a private social event.

Media: The residents in Rosewood, are they counted within the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals and if they're not, why not?

Caroline McElnay: They're not currently counted within the numbers in hospital because they're not receiving hospital level care. The numbers that I quoted who are in hospital are people who are receiving hospital care. The residents were moved to Burwood Hospital to assist with their management but they're not currently categorised as being in hospital. That's something that we may need to look at how we report numbers.

Media: A fine distinction – they must be receiving care from hospital staff?

Caroline McElnay: That is something we can look at as to how we report the figures until this point, we're clear when we say the people in hospital, they are in hospital, because their clinical condition requires them to be in hospital. They're receiving hospital level care.

Media: Is there consideration of changing the approach of retirement homes given the clusters and the vulnerbility of people in those facilities?

Caroline McElnay: I think this highlights that age group is very vulnerable and aged residential care facilities are very mindful of the risks that are posed to their residents. What I can tell you is that at the ministry today, we will be in touch with all the District Health Boards to make sure that they are in contact with their aged residential care facilities to emphasise with them the need to have good policies in place around visitor restrictions. We know that under current level 4 lockdown there is already, that is very much many place.

Media: The way this is being managed – do you have concerns at all that things aren't as robust as they should be, particularly in residential, for elderly people?

Caroline McElnay: I'm not aware of any specific concerns for any of these cases. What we are doing is we're reminding that the aged residential care of what they should have, already have, in place, and that does include making sure that staff don't come to work if they're sick, that PPE is available for staff, and that good infection prevention control is practised. Those have been given out to those sector and we want to make sure DHBs are supporting that sector in implementing that.

Media: In Northland they saw a 50% drop in lockdown, have GPs seen a similar... ED or emergency department presentations in Auckland and Northland have seen a 50% drop in the lockdown, are GPs seeing a similar reduction?

Caroline McElnay: I haven't seen figures for that. I'm aware that is what GPs are reporting one of the comments that we have been saying in the week is that we don't want people not to seek healthcare in this time because of the concern about COVID-19. We are concerned that there may be people with other health conditions who are not getting the treatment that they need. That's for those conditions, so we would recommend and advise people to contact their GP if they're not feeling well. COVID-19 is a particular focus, but we really want to make sure that people who need care for other conditions are seeking out that care. We are hearing that there's been a reduction and we want to make sure that people are seeking care when they need it.

Media: Will you be ramping up requirements for PPE given these deaths occurred amongst the elderly? We've had calls from people older and immune compromised saying that community care workers have been coming to them with no gloves, or masks and saying that's because they're still fulfilling their Ministry of Health requirements by not having things?

Caroline McElnay: We have provided guidance on guidance on PPE. We have a lot of PPE in the country. We're moving that to places that need it. We have more PPE coming in this week. We will have a new distribution system available for our PPE. We really want to make sure that our staff have access to PPE, so that not only are they safe, but they feel safe as well and as we move into this next phase of our response in New Zealand and we're seeing some of these critical areas, where we're still seeing cases, I think aged residential care in particular is highlighted as an area of need. Then we do need to make sure that people have access to PPE and they are using that in the correct manner.

Media: Whether they have access to it or not – if it's not in the Ministry of Health guidelines they have to wear it they're not going to wear it – that's what people are telling us. Do the requirements and guidelines need to be strengthened?

Caroline McElnay: The guide lines have been modified in the last two weeks. Certainly what we want to emphasise is that people in clinical care, if they wish to use a mask, then they should use a mask. We don't, we're not restricting use of PPE. We have provided guidance about the highest risk for using PPE. We want to make sure that PPE is used in those situations. We're certainly not rationing the use of PPE outside of that. As I say, the supplies have increased and so we should be able to support that.

Media: What more can you tell us about the Wellington death? Is the man from the Wellington region? Were his underlying health conditions?

Caroline McElnay: No, not able to say more from a patient privacy section.

Media: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

Caroline McElnay: Not that I'm aware of.

Caroline McElnay: What more can you give us about the two nurses infected at Waikato Hospital? Have the priorities of the infections been uncovered, was it at work?

Caroline McElnay: I understand there were three staff at Waikato and investigations are ongoing as to the source of the infection. I stand the three nurses are connected. They have close contact with each other. That's outside of any hospital setting. So further investigations are under way to determine the source there.

Media: What information do you have regarding a death at the Pullman Hotel last night in Auckland which is used as a COVID-19 quarantine?

Caroline McElnay: I'm not aware of any death that occurred there. I will look into it and get back to you. Two more questions.

Media: We had a supermarket worker diagnosed with the virus and was working possibly for a couple of days before symptoms emerged, I think. Have you been able to link any cases back to this worker?

Caroline McElnay: Yes, so, that particular case, I've spoken to the medical officer of health in Hawke's Bay and there is a link, there is a household link there. So that is a case that we do know about, that is not community transmission in Hawke's Bay.

Caroline McElnay: One last question.

Media: Have you had general information about breaches or people's behaviour over Easter, anything?

Caroline McElnay: I'm hearing that on the whole people have been following the rules, people have heeded the advice to stay home have a stay-cation. I know police have been out doing road checks and following up calls that they have been to them, but on the whole I'm hearing that most people are being very compliance and very aware of the need to stay at home at this time. One last question.

Media: By choosing to not name those Auckland clusters until now, have you missed opportunities for contact tracing?

Caroline McElnay: No. Whilst we haven't named them on the website, the work has been ongoing for all of those cases. Every case that gets notified is followed up and their contacts are followed up. It's only after you follow up each individual case and follow up their contacts, that you begin to make the connection that they could be part of a cluster and then there's a further investigation to try to find out where that source of exposure might have been. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes it's less obvious, but certainly the management of every single case and their contact follows immediately on notification. Thank you very much.

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