Ashley Bloomfield addresses media on the return of an evacuation flight from Wuhan on February 5, 2020 (Photo: Michael Ng/Getty Images)

‘Nothing changes’: An update on New Zealand’s Covid-19 response

In light of Covid-19’s new pandemic status, the Ministry of Health gave an update this afternoon on New Zealand’s status and measures being taken.

For the fifth consecutive day, there have been no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. The numbers remain at five confirmed and two probable. Director-general at the Ministry of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, today confirmed that although the number of tests conducted is increasing each day the number of infected has not.

Yesterday, 100 tests were administered and all came back negative. “At the moment our labs can do over 500 tests on a regular day between them, and there is the possibility of scaling that up,” he said.

He pointed to self-isolation as one of the most effective measures that can be taken against Covid-19. “Other countries have been successful in stopping sometimes quite wide community outbreaks, and one of the key actions that helps is effective self-isolation.”

In New Zealand, there is a high rate of compliance with isolation recommendations, and Bloomfield stated he had not heard of any cases of non-compliance among those under monitored self-isolation. “We are operating in an environment where it’s high-trust. I think there’s a high degree of acceptability and social expectation that people will self-isolate.”

Monitoring is done via a daily phone call. Those currently self-isolating include close and casual contacts of the infected, as well as those who have recently entered the country. The latter group is not subjected to the same close monitoring.

“We are seeking advice about other options on how we can enforce self-isolation more vigorously if we need to,” he said. 

According to the Ministry of Health, there are 252 close contacts of the confirmed cases being monitored daily by health staff. “The evidence suggests that to be successful in stopping further transmission, we need to be able to find and isolate 80% of close contacts,” added Bloomfield. “Casual contacts are at very low risk of being infected.” 

Around the world, young people are still faring the best with no-one under 10 having died of the disease. For those between 10 and 18, there’s a fatality rate of 0.2% of those infected. Schools in New Zealand are preparing to move online should further isolation be required, but Bloomfield remains sure measures taken will prove adequate.

“We still have a small number of cases in this country. We’ve applied quite assertive measures early: our border restrictions, our measures at the border to ensure everyone has information, and our requirement that quite large numbers of people travelling from overseas go into self-isolation.”

When asked whether we might see the boom in infected persons that other countries have experienced, he said every country was different. “There’s a big contrast with Iran and Italy compared with even South Korea, and then certainly with Taiwan and Singapore.”

“New Zealand, right from the start, has acted quite early and decisively on travel restrictions and requiring people to go into self-isolation when they’re coming back. Believe me, this is under very active consideration.”

DHBs are working closely with primary care facilities to cope with Covid-19 testing and treatment, and measures taken in future could include dedicated areas for testing or nurses venturing out into the field to conduct in-home tests.

Those who required hospital care in the first cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand are now recovering at home, and the majority of North Shore hospital staff who came in close contact with an infected patient are back at work. 

“New Zealand has been taking measures as though it’s facing a pandemic for weeks now, and will continue to do so,” said Bloomfield. “Nothing changes in terms of what we do.”

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