Practice English Speaking&Listening with: COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) update – 17 March, 2020

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[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,

if relevant.

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

health officials.

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

clinical advice.

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

for self-isolation.

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

through COVID-19?

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.

I'm sorry.

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.

Thanks again.

The Description of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) update – 17 March, 2020