[SPEAKING MAORI] Welcome to the Ministry of Health
for today's media update.
So New Zealand has three new cases of COVID-19.
We have two in Wellington.
The family recently returned from the United States.
And the third in Dunedin recently returned from Germany.
So all these cases are associated
with overseas travel.
The Wellington man in his 30s and his father in his 70s
tested positive on their return from the USA, as I say.
The man in his 30s became unwell on the flight,
and his father became unwell the day
after they arrived in New Zealand.
Neither of these men require hospital care
and are both recovering at home.
They traveled on American Airlines Flight AA83
from Los Angeles to Auckland, arriving
on Saturday, the 14 of March.
The relevant seats they were in on that flight
are seats 4A and 10H.
They then traveled to Wellington on Air New Zealand flight NZ419
that same day and they were in seat numbers 1B and 1C.
Contact tracing on flights covers now the two seats
in all directions--
to the front, to the back, to the side, and diagonally,
This is supported by current evidence and is in line
with the approach taken by the European Centers
for Disease Prevention and Control.
So the public health unit and Healthline
have been contacting those close contacts on those flights.
I have given the seat numbers and they
will be in the media release.
So they have either contacted or are
in the process of contacting people
who are in the areas around those seats.
If you haven't heard and you are wondering
if you are close contact, then you
are welcome to call Healthline.
Others on the flight sitting much more distant
from those seats and in particular,
on the international flight, the two seats
are in business class and premium economy.
So people in economy class are merely
considered casual contacts as are others on the air New
Zealand flight who were seated away from the front row.
There is no need for those casual contacts
to call Healthline.
The information about symptoms of COVID-19 to look out for
are available on our website.
However, you will expect a call from Healthline
just to check that you are aware of that information
at some point.
So the further case, the third case
I'm talking about today of the Dunedin man
in his 40s recently returned from Germany
was confirmed just this morning.
It was five days after the man returned to New Zealand
when he began to show symptoms.
So contact tracing is not required for people
on the flights that he was on.
He had been in New Zealand for longer than 72 hours
before he developed symptoms.
Now two family members who have symptoms
are currently being tested and are in self-isolation.
The man himself has mild flu-like symptoms
and is also at home in self isolation.
One of the two family members with symptoms who is currently
being tested as a student at Logan Park High
School in Dunedin.
The student is now in self-isolation at home,
as I said.
The school is working with both education staff and public
Obviously, we are all very interested
to see the outcome of that test, because the action
that the school takes next will depend on the outcome.
Our advice to the school is that if the test result is positive,
the school was closed for the next 48 hours
while close contacts are traced and put into self-isolation.
And all casual contact staff and students
are given information about what to do if they become unwell.
The school would be carefully cleaned before reopening.
This is the approach that has been
taken in other jurisdictions, in particular, Australia.
So as I've said in the past, we are
expecting more sporadic cases of COVID-19.
These cases-- all our cases tonight
are associated with international travel.
And as over the last two weeks, we
have seen a big increase in the number of countries
overseas with cases.
We will expect more travelers returning to New Zealand
to present with symptoms of COVID-19.
And they will be tested.
As you know, since midnight Sunday,
all people traveling to New Zealand
are required to go into 14 days of self-isolation.
So that will be very helpful and us
managing any potential onward transmission of any people
who have traveled from overseas and who may have COVID-19.
And therefore, presenting to the community spread.
At the WHO media briefing overnight, the WHO director
general Tedros reinforced that all countries must
take a comprehensive approach.
And he describes the most effective way
to prevent infections and save lives
is by breaking the chains of transmission
by testing and isolating.
And this, of course, is exactly what New Zealand
is doing at the moment.
As he says, if they test positive, isolate them,
find out who they have been in close contact
with up to two days before they develop symptoms.
And test those people, too, if they become symptomatic.
New Zealand has no barrier from cost to testing, including
there being no cost to individuals for the test itself
nor is zero constraint on capacity,
as you've heard the prime minister say earlier.
However, we also need to ensure that the right people are
That is to say--
people with a history of recent overseas travel
or of contact with a probable, possible, or suspected case
and who have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
Our microbiology laboratory network
commit yesterday by teleconference convened
by the ministry's chief medical officer, Dr. Andrew Simpson,
to ensure that our labs are taking
a national and coordinated approach
and support our overall response.
Now both Healthline and the government call center
faced extreme pressure yesterday with seven times
the usual number of calls from the same time last year.
They answered more than 7,000 calls.
That's the number they answered.
We have a graph that shows the huge spike in demand
yesterday with over 24,000 people trying
to contact Healthline.
I know that some people yesterday had to wait some time
or their cause got dropped and that is why what I can do
is reassure people that Healthline and the staff
there are doing an excellent job of trying to answer all calls
and to prioritize calls that require where people require
They've moved all that calls from people just requiring
information to the government call center
and there is now an online process for registering
Around 3,000 of the calls that came to Healthline
were able to be referred yesterday
to the government help line.
They have increased the phone capacity
from 400 parallel lines and that is
going to increase to 1,200 by the end of the week.
They've also brought in another 50 nurses
with additional clinical support from DHCP and primary care
and another 200 non-clinical staff who have been trained
to help with Healthline.
So the staff there are doing a fantastic job answering
a huge number of calls.
And there is a graph, as I say, on the ministry's website
showing just what has happened in the first three
months of this year compared with last year.
And I just want to thank the Healthline staff
for the advice they are giving and support to thousands
of New Zealanders every day.
And finally, just around testing, as of 8:00 AM
this morning across the laboratories in Auckland,
Christchurch, Dunedin, and the ESR
laboratory here in Wellington, there were 11 confirmed tests.
We have the two probable cases where the tests were negative
and another 570 negative tests.
There is a large number of tests underway today.
As I've said, we want people to be
tested to either rule in or rule out COVID-19.
And around the country, I would say there are over 500 tests
being conducted today.
So we're seeing that testing increase.
Just to reiterate, we want to test the right people,
and the case definition is very clear,
and all our practitioners have it.
They also have the ability to exercise
their clinical judgment if they have concerns.
I'm happy to leave my comments there and open to questions.
The health sector got us what went to business support today.
Is $500 million enough to carry the health sector
Yes, I'm very pleased with $500 million.
That is a significant sliver.
And the minister in his press releases
outlined the various areas of the system that it will fund.
And not all of it is committed.
So there is a significant portion
that is there as a contingency as well
to help support our overall response.
So yes, I'm very pleased with it--
that package that we've been able to get it
signed off so quickly.
[INAUDIBLE] from Wellington.
Where are they at the moment?
They are at home in self-isolation.
And what was their pattern of travel from when
they arrived to being home?
Yes, very limited, actually.
They have had no close contact other than with a close family
member, who's also in self-isolation.
But no other contact with others who are
considered his close contacts.
There are just the people who were on the flights with them.
So they were picked up from the airport?
They were picked up by private vehicle at the airport
and spent the weekend at home.
And then were tested.
And I should also say that they called ahead to the emergency
department, so that the emergency department staff were
able to wear appropriate PPE and not put themselves at risk.
So again, a great example of people following
the advice and it really just does
reduce the risk not only to health staff,
but to other New Zealanders.
Are you going to start seeing people
that don't show symptoms?
We've seen a British actor say he doesn't feel like a sick,
and he's confirmed positive.
When do you start seeing people that aren't showing symptoms?
So at the moment, it's very clear,
and we are in line with the WHO advice on this,
to use both the epidemiological criteria.
So there has to be a reason why people, their symptoms
might be related to COVID-19.
Because remembering that most of the symptoms
we're talking about, still in New Zealand,
the result of common cold or potentially influenza.
So there has to be a history the history of travel or contact
with a possible case and the symptoms.
Now previously, the symptoms required fever, and cough,
or shortness of breath.
That's been brought in to be fever and/or cough, shortness
of breath, sore throat, not feeling that well,
with or without fever.
So we have broadened the clinical criteria as well.
The people in Wellington-- are they New Zealand citizens,
can talk more about their age and gender?
So there are two men.
I think I went over this--
I'll just quickly pop back to my notes.
Two men, yes.
So one in his 30s and father in his 70s.
And again, they became--
the younger one became unwell on the flight and the father,
actually, after he returned about a day later.
What can we cope with and how will today's money change that?
Well, our system is gearing up to cope
with if we do get a wider outbreak in New Zealand.
However, our response is also very focused, of course,
on flattening the peak of what the size of the outbreak
might be so that it is at a level where the health
system can cope.
One of the areas I know there a lot of interest in is around
ICU capacity-- intensive care unit capacity--
and the ability to ventilate people who are very unwell.
Now in addition to our ICU beds, there
are a number of other places in the hospital where
people can be ventilated.
For example, in the post-operative room when
they've come out of theater.
So one of the ways we can surge capacity to ventilate people is
to stop surgery, elective surgery--
we would keep doing acute surgery--
and use those places and those machines
to ventilate people who may be critically unwell.
One of the key focuses first of all
is to train additional staff in looking after people who
require ventilation, partly to ensure
that if we have ICU staff off sick,
we can make sure we are maximizing in all our ICU beds.
But also, so those people can look
after people who might be being ventilated those other areas
of the hospital.
What can you tell us about the--
there's a woman in Dunedin who has been or is
going to be deported for not having self-isolation plans.
What can you tell us about that?
I'm not sure--
Somebody in Christchurch.
Yeah, in Christchurch.
So there was a traveler who came in yesterday
after the new expectations and requirements went into effect,
who was unwilling to commit to self-isolating for the two week
period, and said that her intention was
to continue with their travels.
That person has been found and still appears to be unwilling.
So the intention is therefore to deport that person.
How many other similar cases like that one?
That's the only one I know about.
There is the odd person who's come through
and perhaps expressed the view they
weren't going to self-isolate.
And they've been spoken to and convinced that it
is the right thing to do.
We are also starting from today, the spot checks on people
who are self-isolating just to help reassure us,
and of course, other New Zealanders that people
are doing the right thing.
How did she come to attention?
How did she come to attention?
Because now we have health staff at the border
before the immigration and customs desks.
And they are looking at the health declaration
of every person coming in and quizzing them
about their plans for self-isolation.
And if they're not convinced that the person has
concrete plans or as the person is objecting to self-isolation,
then they can refer those people we have on either police
staff or customs officials there,
who can make a decision about whether that person gets
let into the country in the first place.
What's your advice for people who made aware of travelers who
aren't going to self-isolate?
What can those people do in that situation?
Well, I think one of the things that can do
is if it's at the airport they can
make customs officials or the health staff aware of that.
And again, usually people after a discussion
about why the requirement is there and what the expectations
are willing to comply.
And of course, we can support that
with out spot check activities.
Or if it's someone who has arrived back
and other members and other people in the community
are aware that the person not self-isolating--
in other words, physical distancing, for example,
like going to work, or intent going out to a restaurant,
then they could either let the Healthline know,
and that can be followed up.
Or they could let the police know.
How many people have entered the country since the deadline?
Do you have [INAUDIBLE]?
I'm sorry, I don't, but we'll get those figures.
I do know that the number of people
coming into the country-- and you
will have seen reports of this-- has dropped significantly.
And of course, this is having a real effect
on what the airlines can--
And if you're also able to find out how many of those
are New Zealanders returning home and how many of those
are foreigners-- you know, do you know if they are?
And have they had to have help to self-isolate?
That's something that would be sort of be quite interesting,
given those figures.
OK, we'll get some information about that.
What would you say to the tourist that
wasn't willing to self-isolate?
Well, I can understand why someone who might have
planned a trip for a long time--
two weeks to New Zealand--
might be disappointed to arrive and find right at the 11th hour
they can't travel around the country.
However, we are not the only country
that is putting these expectations in place.
And there is a very good reason to do so.
And that is to protect the health and well-being
of New Zealanders.
Obviously, one school has been affected over this Dunedin
And public health experts that we've spoken to
are saying that schools and universities need to close now.
Why hasn't that been done already?
Well, certainly closing educational institutions,
whether they're really childhood centers, schools,
or universities, or other tertiary institutions
is an option.
And it's one of the suite of options we've got.
In fact, the prime minister's chief science advisor
just today asked her team to have
a look at what other countries have done.
And there's a mixed approach here,
but actually, if you look at countries
that have been successful to date
in keeping the number of cases low like Taiwan and Singapore,
for example, they haven't closed schools
or educational institutions.
And our approach at the moment is, if we need to,
we can pivot to do that.
But at the moment, we don't have community transmission
and we don't think that's a necessary step.
But surely, an essential part of stopping community transmission
is closing schools and universities.
Yes, it may well be if that time comes.
All our cases so far have come from overseas travel.
And likewise, it may well be you don't
need to close all of those institutions
around the country.
You may just need to do it in a location or a region.
[INAUDIBLE] is not able to give out further vaccinations
Sorry-- why aren't they able to [INAUDIBLE]??
And what are the normal restrictions on that?
Why shouldn't we be giving people the best protection
they can against influenza?
Yes, so actually, the flu vaccination campaign
we have brought forward, it usually
starts at the beginning of April.
And so vaccine is now going out to general practices.
And there'll be an announcement about the nature
of the campaign tomorrow.
But all I can say is it's very important this year that we
vaccinate as many of our vulnerable people
against influenza, because they are the ones who
are most likely to end up in hospital
and put pressure on the system.
So these are the people for whom flu vaccine is publicly
funded-- over 65s and under 65s with pre-existing conditions.
They are the same people who are at risk
of more serious infections from over COVID-19.
So actually, we're bringing forward the campaign.
But we are also asking that people
who are not in those groups defer getting their vaccination
for a few weeks so we can make sure we
are using all our capacity to vaccinate
those most vulnerable.
And I think many New Zealanders will understand
it's the right thing to do.
The younger man who developed symptoms on the flight.
Which flight was that that he developed the symptoms on?
The one into New Zealand or to Wellington?
Yes, on the international flight while he was traveling back
from the USA.
And were Ministry of Health officials in the airport
made aware that was experiencing symptoms
when he landed in Auckland?
I'm not sure, but what we have routinely done
is look at the journey of our cases through the airport--
in particular to check that no airport staff were
in interaction with someone for more than a 15
minute period to make sure they're not a close contact.
We'll be doing the same.
And of course, we look and just see and make sure
that the right health information was given
or the right interaction happened.
Were any other symptoms you've experiencing
at that time a fever?
No, I don't have that information.
Will we see confirmed COVID-19 cases spike now,
doctors have been directed to do more testing?
So yeah, I think what we want to do is find cases out there.
And at this stage, as we have found
with the three we're talking about today,
we will find more cases.
We want to find those cases, what
we are trying to do is find the cases,
minimize further transmission.
What I would say is that with the new border restrictions
in place and less people coming in from overseas, if we
can get on top of those individual sporadic cases
and isolate close contacts, we can successfully
prevent onward transmission to avoid the big spike that we've
seen in other countries.
Some of the events are limited to 500.
Some people are setting up events at 450 tickets.
What's your thoughts on that?
Is that a bit shaky?
Is it really pushing the boat out
on what is acceptable in times when we
should be taking precautions?
So we've got further advice coming around mass events.
And that will be available in the next day or two.
But I would say also, I think people
will understand what the purpose of the 500 number
is-- it's not a bright line.
It's to ensure that people are doing the right thing.
And I'm not sure that organizers would be taking the approach.
If I organized 450, I don't need to worry about it.
It's their responsibility not just to protect
the people attending the event, but actually to contribute
to a wider response.
And I'm sure they'll take that seriously.
Is enough testing taking place?
Has enough testing being taken place?
Yes, so what we've seen over this last week or so
is an increase a ramping up of the testing.
And over the last few days, it's been somewhere
around 100 or just over 100.
And we're seeing today, I think, around 500 tests
being processed around the country.
Where are you testing that you might already [INAUDIBLE]??
In terms of which laboratory is doing the testing?
No, like what people are you testing that you
weren't testing before?
Ah, so what we've seen as people with symptoms--
and because our areas of concern has now
broadened to be basically traveled from anywhere,
then that is the major contributor
to the increase in testing.
And also, because the symptom cluster
can be fever or the respiratory symptoms with or without fever.
[INAUDIBLE] saying that we should be doing
a thousand or more tests a day.
Is that number feasible?
Can we do that in the next couple of days?
We have the capacity to do up to 1,500 tests a day.
Well, actually, we can do between 750 and 1,000
if we need.
To go from 750 to 1,000, that just
means doing an extra shift of laboratory staff.
Again, we don't want to run our laboratory
staff into the ground.
So what's most important is that we test the right people
and we rapidly identify the positives there are tested
there, and we act accordingly.
One more question.
[INAUDIBLE] been raised with us where an employer required
that someone undergo a test for COVID-19,
but because they didn't meet the [INAUDIBLE],,
they would be unable to get it, so they
were left between a rock and a hard place.
What is your rights in that situation?
What does someone in that situation do?
So in that situation, I would imagine
the employer needs to be really clear about why we are testing
just symptomatic people and people
who fit the case definition.
And that is because the testing is there for our overall COVID
response-- not to just meet the needs of an individual employer
or an individual.
So you know I think most employers and others will
be aware of why do we test people who we think
might have COVID-19-- to rule it in or out.
And I imagine that employers will
be very understanding and supportive of it.
I know there are lots more questions, but please,
I do have other commitments.
And I just want to thank you very much.
And we will see you in the next media update.