COVID-19 media update, 29 March

News article

29 March 2020

The All of Government COVID-19 National Response provided an update on 29 March 2020.

Speaker:

  • Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern – COVID-19 update
  • Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health – health update.

View video of the media briefing.

Summary of the health update

Dr Bloomfield confirmed the sad news that New Zealand recorded its first death linked to COVID-19 on the West Coast early this morning.

He said the woman who died was in her 70s. She’d initially been admitted with what was thought to be influenza complicated by a chronic underlying health condition.   

Dr Bloomfield said all our thoughts are with the woman's family and loved ones at this time.

As we have seen around the world, COVID-19 can be a deadly disease – particularly for elderly people, and those with underlying health issues. 

Dr Bloomfield told media that as a result of the initial diagnosis of influenza and then the subsequent confirmation of COVID-19, there was a period when staff treating the woman were using protective equipment which was appropriate for influenza, but not COVID-19.

Taking a precautionary approach, the DHB has now stood down 21 staff involved in the patient’s treatment for the balance of 14 days.

Dr Bloomfield said this latest sad news underpins our move to Alert Level Four, and the measures we are all taking to limit spread, break the chain of transmission and prevent deaths.

He said there were also 63 new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand made up of 60 new confirmed cases and 3 probable cases. This is as at 9.00 am this morning.

The combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 514.

There are 56 individuals that we can confirm have recovered.

Dr Bloomfield said we are still seeing a strong link to overseas travel, as well as links to confirmed cases.

We continue to investigate several possible clusters.

Dr Bloomfield issued a reminder - we are seeking physical separation not social separation, so be supportive, reach out to people and most importantly be kind.

PPE

He said hospital staff at Grey Base Hospital did take a range of Personal Protective Equipment precautions. There was just one element of what they did that we would not recommend for COVID-19. Once they found out, they took full precautions. It’s very low risk but we’re taking a precautionary approach.

Dr Bloomfield said the person’s test result was confirmed on Friday morning and subsequently the full PPE precautions were taken. Prior to that the person was isolated, there was no risk to other patients and a range of precautions was taken. It was just this one element and that was that they hadn’t used safety glasses or a visor.

No staff are symptomatic and its very much a precaution that they’re in isolation and will be monitored and reporting any symptoms and tested if they need to be.

Dr Bloomfield reiterated that there’s very good advice around what PPE people should be using in different clinical and care situations, depending on what the status of the person they are caring for.

One of the areas there’s a lot of interest in is the use of masks. People see that as a fundamental part of PPE. In most situations, workers in a health care setting or home and community support workers don’t need to use masks, but we have this under constant review. It’s the best advice we have at the moment. He’s asked the Ministry’s clinical team to look at what other countries are doing to make sure we’re on top of the evidence there and we’ll update advice if there’s new or emerging evidence.

Staffing at Grey Base Hospital

Dr Bloomfield reassured the media that staffing levels now won’t be a problem. He said what we’ve got at the moment is all our hospitals have stopped elective surgery and some of their outpatient work so he occupancy rates in all our hospitals is around 50% - that is not typical, many of our larger hospitals operate usually between 90 and 100 percent and even higher going into winter. All of our hospitals are about half full so the staffing both there and elsewhere is fine.

More information

He said there is an investigation continuing into how the person who died this morning got COVID-19 – there is a link to overseas travel. But it’s still being investigated.

He said no other close contacts have been tested but family members who are close contacts are in self-isolation and they’ll be tested if they develop symptoms.

What we have advised all our hospital workers and what they’re working on is if they have someone who is a suspected case of COVID-19, then they take all the precautions right from the admission and in fact this is a slightly different case because this person was well known already to that facility and to the staff there, and they had these symptoms, because of their underlying condition, they weren’t initially treated as COVID-19. In other cases, there’s a really clear hand over from either primary care or from Healthline to the hospital, so they can take appropriate precautions right from the start.

Dr Bloomfield said we are in extraordinary times and in the provision of healthcare, there are extraordinary measures being taken. He says the important thing here is to make sure the needs of the person – a new mother and baby or indeed someone critically unwell, are being looked after without increasing the risk to either staff in the hospital, other patients and to the family themselves.

He’s confident staff will be able to assess the risk and if that risk is low or there’s no risk, then they will act appropriately. Our primary concern here to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19 in our community. The last place we want it is in our healthcare institutions.

The number of new cases associated with community transmission will be increasing, particularly because we’re seeing a small number of clusters around NZ. Alert level 4 is predicated on the fact community transmission is either present or there is a risk of it being sustained. That’s why we’re in alert level 4 – to break that chain of community transmission.

Dr Bloomfield said it’s very clear there is a lot of clinical judgement being applied to testing – not everyone has an international travel link or is a close contact of a case. That’s good to see. We continue to increase our testing capacity and we want to find the cases so we can act accordingly.

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