19 Mar 2020

Covid-19: Key details and developments to know

6:46 am on 19 March 2020

The number of cases have soared, schools are preparing for a shutdown and Anzac Day services at Gallipoli are cancelled. Here's an update of the Covid-19 coronavirus situation in New Zealand.

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Photo: RNZ

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We'll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they're responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

There are now 20 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Zealand.

Schools are preparing for a shutdown, hospitals are gearing up and the New Zealand and Australian Anzac Day services at Gallipoli are cancelled.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is advising all people who returned to New Zealand in the past 14 days to quarantine.

New cases

There are eight new cases of Covid-19, all related to overseas travel, the Ministry of Health confirmed.

It brings the total of confirmed cases in New Zealand to 20.

Of the new cases, four are in Auckland, one in Christchurch, two in Waikato and one in Invercargill.

Some of the new cases have come from Europe, Australia and the USA.

Details for each of these cases, including flight information, will be revealed on the Ministry of Health website.

A Whangaparaoa College staff member is in self-isolation after their partner tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday.

About 150 pupils at Logan Park High School are being tested for the coronavirus after a fellow student yesterday became one of the confirmed cases.

A person who flew from Auckland to Samoa a week ago has been tested for Covid-19. The swab has to be sent to Australia and results will take 10 to 20 working days.

The person is being treated with suspected coronavirus at TTM Hospital Motootua after experiencing flu-like symptoms for two days.

Community testing centres

A hub for testing people who suspect they have Covid-19 has opened yesterday in Christchurch.

The community based testing centre is in a stand-alone building close to the Christchurch Hospital.

The centre will see people who are referred by a GP or the Emergency Department.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said in Auckland five such testing centres spread across the region would start seeing patients this weekend.

Similar testing centres are also planned for the Wellington region.

New Zealanders stuck abroad

Haydn Read of Whakatāne was in a queue with "a very long line" of other New Zealanders at London's Heathrow Airport who were all blocked from boarding an Air New Zealand flight home today.

He and his partner had cut short a six-week stay to get on the flight. But because it was via the US, which has banned all travel from the UK, Read couldn't board it.

He bought a business class ticket for an Emirates flight tomorrow via Asia. Not everyone at the airport was that lucky, he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said at least 80,000 New Zealanders were overseas and not all of them would get home before flights were completely halted.

"If you're travelling it's likely you're going to be cut off shortly, so if you can get home - get home now,'' Peters said.

Kiwi Jonathan McLeod has been backpacking through Europe for the past few months, outrunning coronavirus and border restrictions. He's worried whether he'll be able to make it home, but has flights booked. He said he'd be flying Macedonia -Serbia - Abu Dhabi - Brisbane - Auckland.

Hospitals plan to cancel operations

Hospitals are planning to cancel operations and convert theatres to intensive care units if needed to keep people alive in a Covid-19 outbreak.

There are 221 ventilators in the country - the machines that keep people breathing if they need help.

College of Intensive Care Medicine committee chair Andrew Stapleton said hospitals were tallying up how many operating theatres could be used to boost that number if needed.

"When elective operating stops, we suddenly have access to a large number of anaesthetic machines, which function as support machines or ventilators, plus the staff that would normally be using them."

If that happened it would be a scenario that was "way past business as usual" and like nothing that had ever been done before in New Zealand, Dr Stapleton said.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

E-learning arrangements

Schools are figuring out how to teach students from home if they are shut down because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

They say it is not easy to set up an online course and one Wellington school is having a practice run on Friday.

The Ministry of Education has been calling every school in the country to ask if they can teach over the internet, and public health expert Michael Baker has urged the government to close all schools now to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

However, the ministry has indicated the most likely scenario was individual school closures for one or two days if staff or students were linked to a case of the virus.

NZ, Australia Anzac services at Gallipoli cancelled

The joint New Zealand and Australian Anzac Day services at Gallipoli will be cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 risk and travel restrictions.

The cancellation covers the Anzac dawn service, the Australian Lone Pine service and the New Zealand service at Chunuk Bair.

No decisions have yet been made on Anzac Day commemorations around the country but any services will need to meet new guidelines including the ban on gatherings of more than 500 people.

The government would be discussing this further with the RSA in coming weeks.

Stock market rise and fall

The New Zealand stock market ran out of steam today after rising 6 percent in early trading, but still ending the day only just in positive territory.

The NZX Top 50 index opened strongly for the first time in nearly two weeks, but was dragged down by the sagging Australian market.

Meanwhile European stock index futures have fallen for the ninth time in ten days by more than 5 percent.

European markets say investors have been crushed by border lockdowns imposed because of Covid-19 with Italy's prime minister declaring them a "socio-economic tsunami".

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