COVID-19 media update, 17 March

News article

17 March 2020

The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield updated the media at 3:30pm Tuesday 17 March on the health response to COVID-19.


  • The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says New Zealand has three new cases of COVID-19 – all cases are connected to overseas travel. None required hospital treatment and are recovering at home.
  • Testing and isolating people is the best way to break the lines of transmission. We need to ensure the right people are being tested.
  • Healthline and the Government call-centre answered more than 7000 calls yesterday and phone capacity is being increased to ensure calls are answered as quickly as possible.
  • Dr Bloomfield says New Zealand is in line with the World Health Organisation in its approach to testing. There needs to be a reason why people are tested for COVID-19. This means along with symptoms of COVID-19 they should have either a history of travel or close contact with a possible case.
  • Our health system is gearing up to cope with a wider outbreak in New Zealand and is focused on flattening the peak of an outbreak.
  • There is a lot of interest in New Zealand’s Intensive Care Unit capacity and the ability to ventilate people if they’re very unwell. In addition to our ICU beds, there are a number of other places in hospital where people can be ventilated such as in post-operative recovery rooms which are used when people come out of surgery.
  • One way to increase our capacity to ventilate people is to stop elective surgery and use those facilities to ventilate people who may be critically unwell.
  • In Christchurch, a traveller who arrived in New Zealand after the new self-isolation regulations came into effect was unwilling to self-isolate for 14 days as required. The intention is to deport the traveller.
  • From today, people arriving in New Zealand who are required to self-isolate for 14 days will be subject to spot checks in order to help reassure the Ministry and the community that people are doing the right thing.
  • Health staff at the border are asking people arriving in New Zealand for details of their self-isolation plans.
  • Closing schools and other educational institutions remains an option but we don’t think it’s a necessary step at this stage as we don’t have community transmission.
  • The influenza vaccination programme has been brought forward and vaccine is now going out to general practices. An announcement will be made tomorrow.
  • Further advice will be available in the next few days around mass gatherings and events. Event organisers have a responsibility to not only protect people attending events but also the wider community.


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