The All of Government COVID-19 National Response will provide an update at 1.00 pm today.
- Hon Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance
- Dr Caroline McElnay, Director of Public Health
View the video of the media briefing below.
Dr McElnay reported an increase of 8 new cases of COVID-19 for today.
The Minister of Finance Grant Robertson made a statement on behalf of the Government.
Health questions and responses today included:
- Creating a safe environment for patients and a safe working environment for frontline healthcare workers.
- The current situation with the Roewood Gardens cluster and the tragic news of two more deaths - one linked to that cluster and one linked to the Matamata cluster.
- Recent voluntary testing in Queenstown, Christchurch and Waikato. There was high demand for this testing, and more swabs than expected were taken.
- How these locations were chosen, on the back of advice from the Technical Advisory Group to target hot spots and places in New Zealand where there have been higher numbers of cases. These random tests are designed to give us a snapshot.
- Health equities and how our response to COVID-19 takes these into consideration
- A positive test result for a Canterbury DHB nurse - we're still investigating this result and we stress that the use of PPE is part of an overall approach to protecting yourself against COVID-19. We encourage and support the use of PPE.
Grant Robertson: Kia ora. Greetings everybody. Welcome to the media conference. As you can see today I am joined by Dr Caroline McElnay, the director of public health. I will hand over to her to update you on case numbers and testing numbers before I run through a couple of items of Government news and take your questions. Dr McElnay?
Caroline McElnay: Tēnā kotou katoa.
Today New Zealand's total number of COVID-19 cases increased by 8, made up of two new confirmed cases and six new probable cases and all of them are linked to either confirmed cases or known outbreaks. The new combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 1,409.
Sadly, there are two further deaths to report today. One death occurred in Waikato hospital. This person was a man in his 90s who died yesterday. He had been living at home with family and was admitted to hospital on Saturday night very unwell. The man had a connection to the Matamata cluster. While the man's family were not with him when he passed away, staff at Waikato hospital provided support to the man and his family to care for him in his final days.
And sadly the second death is in a woman in her 80s who died at Burwood hospital yesterday. She was part of the group of 20 Rosewood residents who were transferred to Burwood on April 6th. The woman had an underlying health condition. Her family were also not able to be with her, but a staff member of Burwood hospital was with the woman when she passed away.
Sadly, there has now been 7 deaths from the group of Rosewood residents who were moved to Burwood. There are five other cases who remain stable at present, but this is a group of frail elderly people.
This brings the total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in New Zealand to 11.
These people and their families will be in the thoughts and prayers of all New Zealanders today as we are again reminded of the serious threat that COVID-19 poses, particularly for elderly and vulnerable people.
We all need to continue to play our part to contribute to the elimination of this virus from New Zealand by staying home, staying in your bubble, breaking the chain of transmission and saving lives. There are now 816 reported cases of COVID-19 who have recovered, an increase of 46 on yesterday.
Today we have 14 people in hospital with COVID-19. The total includes three people in ICU, one each in Middlemore, Dunedin and North Shore hospitals. So that's no change from yesterday. Two of the ICU patients are in a critical condition and again that's unchanged from yesterday.
There are still 16 significant clusters, no change from yesterday, and 15 more cases have been connected to the clusters, but I have to reiterate that that's because a connection has been made, that's not necessarily new cases. As we go through the process of case investigation, we are able to make the connection to the clusters.
Just an update on testing, 4,241 tests were processed yesterday with a rolling 7-day average of 2,674, giving us a total tests to date of 74,401. New Zealand continues to increase the amount of testing and is expanding the pool of those being tested for COVID-19 to include anyone with respiratory symptoms.
We encourage anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms to get tested and we continue to encourage DHBs to make sure that they're supporting that testing. The level of community transmission in New Zealand is currently low and most of the cases that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 do have links to overseas travel or close contacts of other cases.
DHBs, including in Queenstown, Waikato and Canterbury, are arranging for teams to go out into the community, including through mobile testing clinics. They are also undertaking targeted testing to provide some further information about community transmission in these regions.
Yesterday at Pak N Save in Queenstown, 343 supermarket workers and customers were tested. About half of those tests have already been processed and all are negative to date.
Today a similar approach is being taken in Canterbury with another 250 people being tested at a supermarket and in Waikato, there is also asymptomatic testing occurring at supermarkets in five towns, Otorohanga, Hamilton, Matamata, Cambridge and Te Awamutu. This additional testing and targeted testing will add to the total pool of tests done and provide us with increased confidence in our data and that will help give us an overall picture of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
Lastly, I just want to draw your attention to the health Research Council who have today announced funding for researchers from the medical research Institute of New Zealand to three international significant trials in its fight against COVID-19. The trials will assess potential therapeutic agents to fight COVID-19, including hydroxy chloroquine which is one of a number of drugs that has got attention across the world as potentially a treatment for the virus.
Grant Robertson: Thank you very much, Dr McElnay. I want to add the Government's sympathies regarding the sad news of these further deaths. The fact that we knew we would lose some New Zealanders to COVID-19 doesn't lessen the shock or the sadness each time it happens, and we send our thoughts to the family and friends of those who have passed. This also serves as a sombre reminder that we need to continue to stay home, to save lives and to break the chain of transmission.
Despite the release yesterday of information about alert level 3, it is important to remember that New Zealand is still currently at alert level 4. We must make sure that we are following the rules and guidance for level 4. Information about what may come next is not an invitation to adopt those level 3 measures yet. So please remember, stay local. Don't visit others and don't do anything that could put you in danger and needing rescue. Going hard and going early has put us in a good position. Things could have been very, very different so let's not waste this chance.
As you know, Cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss and decide whether to extend the level 4 timeframe from midnight on Wednesday or whether the country or some of it will move to level 3. I want to say two things about this. First, as the Prime Minister made very clear yesterday, level 3 is not markedly different from level 4. It does allow more businesses to open safely as we position the economy for recovery and keep New Zealanders in jobs, but it is not a return to pre-COVID days. We are some time away from that. As we work through our decision, I note the news overnight that the UK Government extended its lockdown for a further three weeks. Other countries have made similar decisions such as France, Australia, India and Japan. None of that is intended to signal Monday's decision. I share it with you simply as a reminder that this is a long game, a marathon, not a short sprint.
My second point is whether we remain at level 4 or move to level 3, Government support for businesses and assistance for workers remains vital and will continue. It will cushion the economic hit and help keep New Zealanders in jobs and our businesses viable. On that point may I also note that our response has differed to that of some overseas Governments in that a large part of the money that we are investing is already out the door and in people's pockets and bank accounts. It has been paid for 12 weeks up front so no matter where we are, that money is reaching people.
As an aside and to throw back to my earlier comments about the importance of staying home to save lives, I note that the Treasury scenario released earlier this week also reflected that a little longer now spent at level 4 or level 3 is ultimately better for the economy than an early exit and a potential return to lockdown later on. So it is clear to me that from both a health and economic perspective what we are doing is working and I urge everyone to continue that work. There is more mahi to do.
Lastly, before I take your questions and as some of you may have already seen, the Treasury has done as it said it would and released its weekly economic update today and accompanying dashboard of high frequency economic indicators. These indicators cover the underlying state of the sectors in the economy like transportation and freight movement, consumer spending and trade. The dashboard also contains information on the wage subsidy scheme and the MSD Jobseeker support payments. The Government is trying to pay a role here in making sure that data like this is available to support decision making and independent analysis. The Treasury is working to constantly update its weekly dashboard as more data sets become available both from Government and private sector sources.
I think it is worth acknowledging again that the wage subsidy is doing its job to protect jobs and help business and workers stay connected through the lockdown. To date the subsidy has paid out $99.9 billion since we announced it on March 17th and is protecting the jobs and income of 1.6 million workers. In comparison, there are roughly 23, 000 new people on Jobseeker support over that time. That represents about 1.5% of the amount of workers being covered by the wage subsidy. This shows that our action to move early and get money out the door to support businesses and workers was the right one. Happy to take your questions.
Media: The fact that we are in single digits today in terms of new cases, that would seem to be a good sign towards us moving to alert level 3 next week?
Grant Robertson: It is an encouraging sign for alert level 4 doing its job. I don't think we should get ahead of ourselves. We still have two or three more days of data to go before we reach the point of making a decision. I want to remind you of the important things that we have to assure ourselves of to be able to move. One of those is that we genuinely are breaking the chain of community transmission in particular. While the Ministry of Health has been doing some excellent work on getting to the bottom trough cases that we weren't able to identify that work goes on for some cases. I will just finish the answer. We also need to make sure that we are fully have in place fully the measures around contact tracing around making sure that we have all the capacity that we need in our health system as well so there is still more work for us to do to decide on that.
Media: Just on that, just following up on that, with Treasury saying a little longer now spent at levels 4 and 3 is better in the long run, are we seriously still considering staying in level 3, is that still a serious consideration?
Grant Robertson: Staying in level 3?
Media: Four, sorry.
Grant Robertson: All those options are still on the table. Cabinet has not made its decision. We still have more data to collect and we still have to take what is a critical decision very, very seriously. A number of other countries have taken the decision to extend their lockdown periods. We will make ours on the basis of the most up-to-date data we can get. New Zealanders have made great progress under level 4 and we should all be very proud of what we've done but this is an extremely important decision and one we will take with the most up-to-date data.
Media: It is amazing that these health workers are able to be with these people when they are so unwell before they pass. You talk about the fact that the families are not there is devastating, is that something that will change under level 3?
Grant Robertson: As was discussed I think the last time you raised this question, that is something that has been considered by the Ministry of Health. I will get McElnay to say anything more about that. It is a heart breaking time for those people and I, like the Prime Minister, can't imagine how that would feel for me. These are the sacrifices New Zealanders are making so that we are making the progress we are and so my sympathies go out to them but Dr McElnay, have you got anything more on that?
Caroline McElnay: No, that is totally right. We want to have a safe environment for our patients as well as your family and obviously your health care workers as well so we will be looking, particularly as our numbers have gone right down, at what we can put in place in order to enable that but still keep people safe.
Media: Are you going to expedite that work?
Caroline McElnay: It is happening at the moment so we have expedited it. We are looking at how we can do that.
Media: In the past you and Dr Bloomfield have both talked about foreshadowing potential further deaths at Burwood, is that still the case?
Caroline McElnay: As I said, we have got a number who are confirmed or probable cases. This is a group who have been frail and vulnerable from the outset and we just can't predict or we can't say in this age group and with these - the frailty that they have, you can get deterioration quite quickly so we are aware that that might be the case, but that doesn't mean that it will happen and of course we hope that it doesn't but we are not out of the woods yet.
Media: Just a question around contact tracing, a couple of things, Dr Verrell's contact tracing report, when can we expect to see that made public and also around these community tests being done in Queenstown and Canterbury, are people compelled to do them, are they happy to do them? What is the feedback there?
Grant Robertson: I will hand over to Dr McElnay on the detail of that. On the first point I will have to find out. On the second point my understanding is that they are asked if they want to participate in that. From what I saw in Queenstown people have wanted to do it and it actually made sure that they take the time to have the test done on them. This kind of surveillance testing is useful. As you heard from DrMcElnay half of those 350-odd tests in Queenstown yesterday have already been processed. Everybody was negative but this is the kind of reassurance I know we want. We want to maximise the amount of testing we do. We have capacity for more testing in New Zealand and so we will look forward to the outcome of the two extra sites today. Anything to add on that?
Caroline McElnay: Just reiterate that yes, it is completely voluntary. I have some feedback on how it went yesterday in Queenstown and that went very well. There was a high demand. They actually took more swabs than they'd been anticipating taking. It was a random sample of people who were shoppers at the supermarket as well as workers at the supermarket and so the roll out today in Waikato and Canterbury will be following the same sort of model but completely voluntary.
Media: Can I ask, is there any more information regarding to Invercargill home death and whether that has been linked to COVID-19?
Caroline McElnay: We are still investigating that. My understanding is it was a post-mortem has been undertaken for that individual and we are waiting for the results of. That so we will be able to update you once we have word back from that post mortem.
Media: What do you think of the proposal that I understand is under consideration that 5 million COVID cards should be distributed to enable contact tracing that everyone would carry at the cost of $100 million?
Grant Robertson: There is a lot of work being done in a lot of different businesses and research centres on what is the best way to be able to support contact tracing. There has been a number of questions at previous press conferences about bluetooth-related testing and testing in mobile phones. I am aware there is work going on in a card-type approach. We have to assess all of these as to whether or not they are the best way in order for us to get the maximum amount of contact tracing done and whether they can practically work and what are some of the other consequences for instance around privacy. So certainly aware of that work. The Ministry of Health is working very closely with a number of different people and we will have more to say about that as we come to make a decision on how we use it.
Media: A couple of questions on the random testing, why did you choose those locations and how much of a role will those results play in the decision making on Monday?
Caroline McElnay: Well we have been increasing our testing over the last few weeks but we are mindful that that requires people to present for testing so we sought advice from our technical advisory group as to how we could increase our confidence that we really didn't have any undetected cases in the community and they advised two things as a short-term measure, they advised us to increase our testing at our CBACS and designated practices and make sure there were no access issues but the other recommendation they made was to target what they refer to as hot spots, so places in the country where we know we have got cases. We have got higher numbers of cases in those areas. So we identified four places, Auckland, Waikato, Canterbury and Queenstown in particular in the southern district and we were able to stand up very quickly the testing in Queenstown, Canterbury and Waikato. So it won't be perfect information but it gives us a snapshot of people in the community. The one we chose supermarkets is because supermarket workers are in contact with a lot of people so they would be highly exposed if there was something circulating in the community. So we worked with the supermarkets to stand up that testing.
Grant Robertson: In terms of the second part of your question, it will be one factor, but it is within – it is a factor within a factor essentially that as I said one of the main things we are concerned about is are we breaking the chain of community transmission. Now this is a helpful piece of information in that regard but equally as the earlier contact tracing we have done and the work I have talked about just before in terms of going through those cases where we weren't sure and starting to eliminate some of those cases as being connected either to an overseas visit or an existing close contact. So all of that information comes together as part of our consideration.
Media: When can we expect the testing to be done in Auckland and is it still being done in south Auckland?
Caroline McElnay: So this was a snapshot test to do yesterday and today so that we can get the test results back to inform our advice about the level of disease across New Zealand. We will be doing further testing. We haven't yet worked out exactly where and what that looks like but that is part of our surveillance plan going forward for COVID-19.
Grant Robertson: We will just come over here.
Media: You also mentioned testing would be undertaken in south Auckland?
Caroline McElnay: South Auckland would be one of the communities we would want to get testing done but we haven't been able to organise that for today.
Media: The Government specifically looking at the COVID card model for contact tracing and doesn't this need to be done a whole lot quicker if we are going to be feasibly leaving a lockdown soon?
Grant Robertson: The work has been going on for some time under a number of different options. We are aware of a COVID card option as one of those. The Government has been working with a number of different providers.
Media: . . beyond being aware of it? Grant grant it is one of the many options that has been put in front of the Government and it is one that we are aware of and the Ministry of Health has had conversations with the people developing it.
Media: The continued ban on hunting at alert level 3, David Seymour says that's illogical because data shows that it is actually safer than some things that are allowed such as switching and tramping. What is your response to that and is hunting something we can reconsider before we move?
Grant Robertson: There isn't a ban on hunting but what there is a piece of work underway at the moment as to whether or not it can safely go ahead at level 3. I believe the website may have had an error on it yesterday that said hunting is banned. That work is under way right now to consider whether or not it can take place at level 3. I would just reiterate the principles we are trying to apply here which are about making sure that we keep people as safe as possible, that we are involved in low-risk activities and clearly hunting for fairly obvious reasons has some high risks attached to it but if it can be done safely that is what we are now assessing and that work will be finished as we come into early next week -for May.
Media: Can I ask a question on schools, a lot of principals and teachers are upset they weren't consulted ahead of yesterday's announcement, what is your response to that?
Grant Robertson: I think it is important to remember that at any point that we do make a transition down to level 3 the Ministry of Education has been very clear that schools would not open for pupils for at least a week after that. If you think about where we are now in the best possible scene, ah, we are still two weeks away effectively from schools reopening. There is now time to work through with teachers, principals, parents and students to make sure we can make this work. I understand there is discussions this afternoon between the Ministry of Education and principals and teachers to make sure we work through how all this will work. This is a situation where I believe we can make schools into a place that will be very safe for students and teachers, that will be available for those people who have to go back to work, for their children to attend. I am confident we can do. That we just have to use the time we have got over the next couple of weeks.
Media: Do you see yourself going back on some of the ideas that you announced yesterday, for example would you go back on the idea that it is voluntary or could you do staggered rollouts. Could you change that system if those problems continue to arise?
Grant Robinson: To point of it is to hear from those who are at the coalface or the chalk face and we structure this in a way that it does work and upholds the public health principles that we have got. I think it is really important - I believe that parents will ultimately make the right decision for their children and I just them to do that. Some parents will be in a position going back to work where they do need to make sure that their children go to school. Of course if they can stay at home, and we want people to stay at home if they can, then they can be there with their children. We have time to work this through collectively.
Media: One last clarification point on that. Did you say that schools will definitely have at least a week when level 4 lifts regard less of when that is?
Grant Robertson: That's correct.
Media: Where are you with the apps and have you ruled out using the Singaporean one after talking to. . . ?
Grant Robertson: There is ongoing work around that at the moment. The shortcomings around the Singapore one is obviously it is an example of that technology and there are other examples as well. It is about finding best what is --it is about finding what is best to work for the people of New Zealand. The Ministry of Health is closely involved in that. This development is happening in real time. This is not like a piece of technology that somebody has been working on for two or three years so therefore it makes sense to talk to a number of different people but we are certainly aware of the progress that has been made.
Media: Do you think it is safe for20 plus young children to be attending an early childhood centre under level 3?
Caroline McElnay: We are working very closely with the Ministry of Education to work through the specific advice in order to keep children safe and teachers safe and families safe. So we - I am not aware that we have actually released a specific number. We will continue to work with them following public health principles.
Grant Robertson: That is the most important thing here is that the overriding decision here is around public health and upholding public health. Clearly the early childhood sector is one where we do have to work closely with those who provide the education there to make sure it can be done in a safe way. The creation of bubbles within schools and within early childhood centres is our belief to be the best way of making sure that we maintain those public health principles. It is the reason why, for example, in secondary schoolings, that we are only taking people up to year 10 because that allows the schools to be able to maintain physical distancing requirements, for instance, maintain doubles staying together rather than interacting with other bubbles. Clearly in an early childhood setting there are particular things that need to be borne in mind in terms of the way that toddlers are -will interact with one another. That is why the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education are working together to refine that advice.
Media: Is the Government working on a specific hospitality support package and what does that include?
Grant Robertson: We are working on further support for businesses and one of the things we need to do is understand more about the impact of COVID-19 and the way that we respond to it on particular sectors. It is quite clear from the hospitality and restaurant associations that they are pleased that some of their businesses are now going to be able to reopen under a level 3 framework. If you look towards a level 2 framework in the future you can see further opportunities there. So we will take our time over the coming weeks and months to look at how each individual sector is supported but we have work under way around further support for both businesses and households and individuals.
Media: . . one of the things that they are really crying out for is rent relief. Will you at least consider that?
Grant Robertson: I have said before that we are considering that. Obviously we made some interim steps earlier this week in that regard in terms of the legislative chains but we need to look overall at how we support businesses to get through this. Our focus has been on those that are vulnerable but viable and we will continue to look at that.
Media: Wairarapa appears to be -had zero active cases right now, perhaps the only region, why is this? Is there any particular reason behind the success there and could it be replicated elsewhere?
Caroline McElnay: I don't think there is any particular success there. They certainly did have cases. I think that's just what happens. Cases can pop up anywhere. We have seen that particularly with our large events and functions that you can have people from all over the country being there and they go back to their home place and then that can cause other cases. There's no science behind why one place would have further -higher cases than others but what we are now seeing across the country is a high level of testing across the country so that's giving us a much better assurance that we are not missing any undetected cases.
Grant Robertson: I do think it is important to remember that when data is reported DHB by DHB it doesn't necessarily pick up the point that Mr Heretaunga is making for the hereford bull conference in Queenstown is the source of the Waikato DHB case us. --cases.
Media: On health and equities, how confident are you that your public health response is capturing the concern around Māori and Pasifika communities?
Caroline McElnay: We are very conscious of the need to look at our health inequities. We do not want to worsen any of the health inequities that we have as a result of our COVID-19 response so that has been very much a part of the response that we have put into place and the advice that we have received as well.
Grant Robertson: We have also, it is important to remember that we also have made provision for specific funding packages for Māori health and Pasifika health providers. That's a recognition of the fact that in those population groups we know that we have to work extra hard to make sure we don't allow those inequities to increase.
Media: In terms of the public health response is there anything specific that is being done for those communities?
Grant Robertson: I have just said that. We have just funded those particular groups with additional money and there will be ongoing focus as part of a public health response on all groups across our community but especially those we consider will be more vulnerable.
Media: Dr McElnay, the nurse that tested positive for COVID-19 was wearing PPW and had gone through PPE training, what assurances can you give the health care workers?
Caroline McElnay: We are still investigating that case to see exactly what has happened. It is my understanding she was wearing full PPE. We haven't yet fully investigated the source of infection from this nurse and the public health service is continuing to do that. PPE is part of the overall protection that we can put in place for our health care workers and for patients but there are other factors that we also need to look at which I don't have the information on this individual but certainly we certainly encourage and are supporting the use of PPE by our health care workers. Grant grant we will just go – gran tgrant we will just go down the back.
Media: The number of health care workers who currently have COVID-19?
Caroline McElnay: We have 128 health care workers who have been reported to date and about half of those were infected outside the workplace and we are continuing to investigate the other half because it is actually really critical that we understand how they acquired their infection.
Media: This move around schools at level 3, is it for educational reasons or is it effectively creating like a babysitting-type service?
Grant Robertson: We want students to be able to learn. That is our prime which focus and the reason we rolled out the online learning programme and all of the support that goes with that. We are completely focused on this as an educational issue. We have to undertake that education within a safe public health environment, hence as I said before why in the secondary school settings we are looking at making sure that it is only those up to year 10 so that we can space people out and have physical distancing. Similarly that is the reason why we are looking at bubbles within primary schools and ECEs. This is about making sure that educational opportunity is available. I want to reiterate what I said before we know that a lot of parents will make the decision on behalf of their children that they will stay home and continue to use the distance learning opportunities. That is something to be but for other parents, they – encouraged but for other parents they may not have that choice because they are going back to work. This is about making sure their children continue to get education as well.
Media: Just a couple of questions about the greatest game of rugby league, what do you make of the NRL's plans to resume on May 28. Have they briefed you given the Warriors will be involved and do you support it and do they need a special exemption to leave New Zealand to play?
Grant Robertson: I haven't been involved in any discussions about that. I believe there may have been some high level discussions between some people working on behalf of the NRL and Sport New Zealand. That sounds like a very ambitious date to me to start a competition up and no doubt there is a lot to work through on both sides of the Tasman about how that would work. Clearly both sides of the Tasman are operating strict quarantine arrangements at the moment and therefore that provides some real limitations on the ability of people to travel and spend time in situ. I did hear yesterday that the other NRL clubs had said that they wanted to make sure that the Warriors had the wound to undertake pre-season training once they got to Australia if that's where they got to. If you think about that in terms of the timeline, it is pretty ambitious. I think overall the principle we continue to have to apply is public health and safety and that applies as much to people who are professional sports people as it does to anybody else.
Media: What clarity will you be providing to sports organisations around the sports, which sports with resume training if and when the nation moves to level 3?
Grant Robertson: Some guidance about sport and recreations has just gone upon the COVID website in recent time. At level 3 there really isn't the scope for that. At level 3 we want people to stay in their bubbles still so I know a number of our professional athletes are training hard inside their own bubble. When it comes to level 2, there is further work to do there as to what might be possible in terms of particularly contact sport at a professional level. That requires conversations with health officials and with sports clubs. Clearly myself, as a sports fan, and many others around the country would love to see that take place but it certainly won't be happening at level 3. Up the back.
Media: On the active cases, do you know how many of them are in quarantine or managed self-isolation?
Caroline McElnay: I don't have those figures with me but we can get that information.
Media: Under the level 3 rules, the relocation rules, would someone in a bubble be able to move to their holiday home if they were staying in the holiday home for the entirety of whatever the next lockdown period is?
Grant Robertson: As I understand the bubble rules we want people to essentially stay where they are. If they do need to relocate back to a region for work then we have said that is OK but we do not want a large number of people heading off to their holiday homes.
Media: I just want to ask about building quarantine coming into the country, can you give us an update around how many have come in and how many more you might expect and what the Government is doing for them and how that is panning out?
Grant Robertson: I don't have particular numbers in front of me. Clearly numbers have dropped off significantly and we can come back to you with what those are but it is to be expected that people have made their way back to New Zealand. There are declining numbers, and there have been every week since we have been in lockdown. In terms of how is it going, my understanding is it continues to work relatively well. People are being looked after and they have been assessed and monitored as we said they would be.
Media: The economic dashboard talks about the IMF forecasting much worse global economy in 2020 than during the global financial crisis but then it goes on to say that the global economy is forecast to rebound strongly in 2021. Are you confident it will happen that quickly?
Grant Robertson: That is the forecast of the IMF and it is certainly what everybody would want. What that reflects is that economic activity will have some burst when we do come out of periods of lockdown around the world but clearly all of these projections are being done in an environment where we lack any data to compare it to. We in many ways can't compare it particularly well to the financial crisis because that was a crisis of the financial sector and the system. This is essentially a health crisis that is leading to a demand crisis within the global economy. So they are actually different examples. Clearly what we would all like to see is the economy rebound as soon as possible into 2021 but we will need a lot more data before we can be sure about that.
Media: Might the Government start pushing ahead with some of its infrastructure projects under alert level 3 or will they have to wait to alert level 2?
Grant Robertson: What alert level 3 allows is some productive parts of our economy to get going including manufacturing, forestry and construction and so on. Within that sector are a number of Government projects that I would like to see get going as soon as they can within the public health guidelines. If we are able to move through the levels to level 2 that will see more of that work come forward. In terms of the identification of projects, that work continues. There are a lot of projects that have been identified and so we will take some time over the next couple of weeks to work our way through that list.
Media: Are you alarmed at the number of complaints MBIE has received about employers pocketing the wage subsidy?
Grant Robertson: There are a large number of complaints and they need to be thoroughly investigated. We have been extremely clear that the purpose of the wage subsidy scheme is for money to reach employees and make sure they stay attached to their business. Those accusations now need to be investigated, they are being investigated and I would be very, very disappointed if businesses had misused that scheme.
Media: Just to follow on that worker has told us that he hasn't received the subsidy and has been paid out $2.6 million. What is the message to Michael Hill?
Grant Robertson: I will look into that right now.
Media: The Wellington nurse who has tested positive, we have been told - I am just trying to decipher this, a patient positive with the virus left an isolation room which is how the nurse got infected, can you confirm that?
Grant Robertson: That is probably the kind of investigation that Dr McElnays aid is exactly under way and rather than just take from you something that you are deciphering that is exactly why we need to look into that.
Media: We have another one, in Christchurch we have spoken to a COVID case who was cleared from self-isolation after being symptom-free for 48 hours and then subsequently was retested as positive late rthat day. Is that 48-hour window suitable?
Caroline McElnay: We – on our website we have our guidance for when patients are considered to be recovered. It is 48 hours from when they're symptom-free. I don't know the details of that particular case and there may be more in order to interpret your question. But that guidance is there and it talks also about a 10-day period from the onset of symptoms. So we have got quite a robust definition of recovery.
Grant Robertson: We will just take a couple more questions.
Media: Your reaction to the trialling of the hydroxychloroquine drug and why is that so important what benefit is New Zealand bringing to the table by investing in vaccines or into that research?
Caroline McElnay: The details of that research I will have to pass you over to the Health Research Council because they have been involved in the funding of that but I guess it is a reflection of the worldwide interest that there is and New Zealand will be the – the researchers we have will be one of a team - part of a team looking into this. There is interest, as you will be aware, on the possibilities of this drug and so we do need to do further research in order to really understand whether or not that is the case.
Grant Robertson: Could you just say the name of the drug again for me?
Media: colour Hydroxy Quinn. Grant grant that is fantastic.
Media: You want to ramp up testing so why not remove the requirement to get a test from Heathline or a GP?
Caroline McElnay: We will look at how to make our testing as available as possible going forward. It is one of our central pillars for maintaining elimination which we hope to achieve but maintaining that going forward so we need to, as we move through into the next phases we need to look at how best we can get that testing done.
Grant Robertson: To be clear, if people have respiratory symptoms they should come forward and they should be tested. Thanks everybody. Thank you.