COVID-19 media update, 26 March

News article

26 March 2020

The All of Government COVID-19 National Response provided an update on 26 March 2020.

Speakers:

  • Mike Bush, Commissioner of Police – update on Covid-19 national response
  • Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health – health update.

View video of the media briefing.

Summary of the health update

Comments made by Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health

There are 78 new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand made up of 73 new confirmed cases and 5 probable cases. This is as at 9.30 am this morning.

More details of the new cases, including the probable cases, will be provided via our website shortly and updated as new details emerge.
There are 27 individuals that we can confirm have recovered.

We have seven people in hospital with COVID-19 – all in a stable condition. There are three in Wellington regional hospital, two in Nelson hospital and one each in Waikato and Northland hospitals. None are in ICU.

Our laboratories are working to process and report test results as quickly as possible. Yesterday we processed 2417 tests around the country. The total number of tests processed to date is 12683.

Anyone who has been tested is expected to be in strict self-isolation until advised of the result of their test – that means effectively quarantining themselves from other members of their family.

Our public health staff actively investigate every case they are notified about and activate contact tracing.

Of our new cases today, the majority still have a link to overseas travel, including being in the same household as someone who has returned from overseas, have attended a known event or linked to a cluster of other cases or are close contacts of a confirmed case.

We are currently investigating several possible clusters:

  • Marist College in Auckland 
  • the World Hereford cattle conference in Queenstown
  • a wedding in Wellington
  • a trip by a Wellington group of friends to the US
  • a contact with the Ruby Princess in Hawkes Bay 
  • a rest home in Hamilton. 

In summary, the combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 283. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

It’s important our health workers and those working in essential services have access to PPE. It is already available for health workers and we are also providing a supply to essential workers.

Measures to address immediate needs for PPE equipment are being taken with urgency. 

For example, later today we will be sending 600,000 masks to DHBs. 

We are also continuing to manufacture more masks in New Zealand, more than 200,000 produced each day and source masks and equipment from overseas.

Change to pharmaceutical schedule

To address issues of stockpiling of medicines PHARMAC will be making an announcement later today of a change to the pharmaceutical schedule to address this.

There is no issue with the medicine supply chain.

From later tonight, pharmacists will be limited to providing only one month’s supply of prescribed medicines, or a limit of 3 months for the supply of oral contraceptives.

There will be no change to the way prescriptions are issued, it is simply a change to the amount of medicine able to be distributed by the pharmacy for each prescribed medicine.

Pharmacists still able be to make exceptions to provide additional amounts where people live remotely or for individuals with disability and would have difficulty in more regular refills of prescriptions.

These are unprecedented times for New Zealand and other countries around the globe. We are all in this together. We will expect the number of cases to increase for at least the next ten days. If we all do our bit, and we break the chain of transmission, slow the spread of COVID-19 and we will be able to get on top of this.

As always look after yourselves, look after your loved ones and look after your community.

Clusters and the Ruby Princess

Dr Bloomfield said in most of these cluster cases, such as events such as the wedding or a location like an aged residential care facility we can easily identify all the close contacts and take appropriate action. 

He said he was particularly interested in and wanted to publicise was Ruby Princess visit in Hawke’s Bay – there will be information coming out about the exact locations and times where people might’ve been at risk. 

He said we want to identify all the people who may’ve been in a location at the time, remembering  we’re doing this now at alert level 4, so people will be self-isolating anyway. If they’re currently essential workers and are out and about, then they will have to go into self-isolation. If there’s a risk they’re a close contact, even in their home arrangements, they should be distancing from family members and if they become symptomatic then they will be tested.

The person with the original infection onboard the Ruby Princess was identified and it’s only now been identified that someone in that location has tested positive and the connection has been made with the earlier infection and so it wasn’t a close contact of the person who had the original infection – now that location is being treated as if it was a cluster and a process has begun to identify anyone who might be at risk. 

More on PPE

Dr Bloomfield told media we have really good supplies of Personal Protective Equipment. He said we are working hard over today to make sure it’s out with everyone who needs it, in whatever clinical situation they’re in, whether that’s with a midwife out in the community, in pharmacy, in DHB settings and in primary care.

It’s also important we use the PPE appropriately, so it doesn’t mean everyone working in a hospital needs to be wearing a mask or be in PPE all of the time. The important thing is we’re using the PPE to reduce risk to our health workforce. As we make sure there are good supplies of PPE where they need to be and we have good advice for health professionals when they do and don’t need to wear the PPE, that will provide clarity for everyone.

Dr Bloomfield making sure distribution is rock solid, so we’re bringing that into a national process and overseeing that from a national process. Usually we don’t supply PPE to community-based organisations and facilities and that includes workers going into homes who are home and community support workers or people working in aged and residential care facilities. Dr Bloomfield said we're considering them as one workforce and we’re making sure we’ve got the supply chains there to ensure we can supply them.

Modelling

Case numbers are hard to predict but it may get up into the thousands. The key thing here is that we want the turn around point as soon as possible. That could be in around 10 days time, if we are doing what we need to do now.

There’s always a challenge that there’s a whole range of symptoms that people can exhibit and across ages. We talk about older folk being more prone to serious infection. But many older folk will only have mild or moderate symptoms  – some people will have such mild symptoms, that they may not even know they have been unwell. That’s part of the reason we’ve got early to alert level 4, and gone for the isolation because that will help us, particularly if people have mild infection and maybe infectious towards others. If we don’t have them mingling with other people, then they won’t be able to pass the infection on. 

On the 10–12 days, that’s based on looking at what has happened in other countries that have put in place the measures that we have, although we’ve done it earlier that similar countries. We have got some modelling and I think someone at the University of Auckland might’ve releases some modelling as well, and if you look at the international modelling which has been guiding a lot of our actions to date, that is why we have taken the actions we have. We have  several modelling exercises done by Professor Michael Baker recently and updated for the different measures we are putting in place and we’re putting an overview across those and then intend to release those once we have shown those to Ministers.

We have got modelling and that’s why we’ve taken the steps we have. We do intend to release that modelling once its been seen by Ministers.
Getting out of this pandemic in NZ without any deaths would be ideal and that’s why we’ve moved as early as we have. The modelling shows not just what happens if you do nothing, or what happens if you do something, it shows what happens if you do a lot. We have used that to inform our actions and we have updated our local modelling regularly to show if you implement these actions, then what is the impact on when your peak might be, how high it is and impact it would have on hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths.

Border measures

Under new border guidelines, there are a set of principles. If people are not symptomatic and have a clear, safe arrangements to get into a place where they can self-isolate to get into, and with a clear understanding of the expectation on them, with a follow up visit from the Police, then that’s as good as keeping them in a facility where they might be supervised, so it didn’t seem appropriate to keep people in a quarantine-type facility when they are low risk when they arrived and they had a really clear, safe arrangement to go into.

People returning. For over a week, we’ve been health screening people at the border with a series of questions and anyone with any symptoms has had a health assessment, a temperature check and some have been tested and that continues today. There were 8 people who had symptoms, they go straight into quarantine, so a different arrangement from people who don’t have any travel arrangements.

Final comments

Our hope this is a rolling hill and what we will be watching carefully for is what will be the trigger levels to be able to move down the levels to 3 and potentially 2. Also we’re looking at what residual things we need in place to reduce the likelihood that we get another increase.

Another lockdown is possible and that’s why we’re looking to see what we need to come out of the current arrangements and looking to countries like China to see, as they come out of a successful lockdown arrangement, what things they put in place to prevent getting a further increase again.

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