21 Mar 2020

Coronavirus wrap: What happened on 21 March

9:52 pm on 21 March 2020

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.

New Zealand has stepped up its response to Covid-19 by telling people over 70 and those with compromised immunity to stay home and advising against non-essential domestic travel.

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Jacinda Ardern announced a four level alert system, new rules for the hospitality sector and encouraged people to work from home, while Te Papa warned that some cruise ship passengers who went there on 14 March have since tested positive for Covid-19. Photo: RNZ / 123RF

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation at midday, informing the public of a new Covid-19 alert system.

Earlier, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said there were 14 new cases, but that was later revised to 13, taking the total to 52.

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

The system has four levels, and Ardern said New Zealand was currently at Level Two. That meant the risk of community transmission was growing, so new measures needed to be put in place to slow it down.

"Today we are asking people over 70 years of age, or people who have compromised immunity or have underlying respiratory conditions to stay at home as much as they can.

"That means we need friends, family and neighbours to support our older New Zealanders and people who may be in this group by doing simple things like keeping in contact and dropping off food or other supplies. And when you do, make sure you are not sick, that you are using good handwashing practices, and keeping your distance."

Grey Power Nelson president Christine Tuffnell said the government's latest advice for the elderly was no cause for panic, but she was more concerned that some were not getting the message as many elderly did not have the internet.

Ardern said people also needed to start working from home if possible. In cases where that wasn't possible, workplaces would need to implement staggered meal breaks or shifts.

People were also asked to avoid any non-essential domestic travel, as any unnecessary movement gave the virus a chance to spread.

At alert level two, schools would only be closed if there was a case that affected a school.

"Sending children home at this stage though, doesn't necessarily reduce transmission in the community, but I can assure you we are constantly monitoring these settings to keep children safe," Ardern said. "As a mum, I can assure you that is my key consideration."

Thirteen new cases

There are 13 new cases in New Zealand and the Ministry of Health cannot rule out community transmission.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said most of the cases were travel-related but two were not.

"We always knew that cases apparently not linked to travel would happen and we are prepared for that."

The locations of the new cases are; four in the Wellington region, three in Auckland, one in Waikato, one in Taupō, one in Manawatū and two in Nelson.

The two cases not linked to travel were in Auckland and Wairarapa. The Wairarapa case has been revealed as someone who works at the Carterton District Council.

Three of the new cases were in hospital and all were in a stable condition.

New alert system introduced

The Covid-19 alert system could apply to the whole country or certain towns or cities. New Zealand was currently at Alert Level 2.

Ardern said at every level there would be things New Zealanders would need to do, and things the government would need to do.

  • Alert Level 1 was where Covid-19 was here, but contained.
  • Alert Level 2 was where the disease was contained but the risks were growing as cases grew. At this stage people would need to reduce contact with others. There would be increased border measures and events would be cancelled.
  • Alert Level 3 was where the disease was increasingly difficult to contain. Public venues and non-essential businesses would need to close.
  • Alert Level 4 was when there was sustained transmission. Essential services would continue, but everyone would be asked to stay at home.

Ardern said that at every level access to supermarkets and essential services would continue so people should shop normally.

Read more on the alert system here

People told to work from home

The government is encouraging alternative ways of working, saying people should work from home if possible.

If people cannot work remotely then employers should allow for shift work, physical distancing within the workplace, staggered meal breaks and flexible leave arrangements.

"We know not everyone can do this," Ardern said.

"We need and will continue to have health and emergency professionals, transport and delivery staff, supermarket and food production workers, and other essential people continuing on at their place of work.

"And there are some sectors where work from home is impossible. There are steps these workplaces should take all the same, like additional cleaning, and physical distancing as much as possible."

Man working from home and taking care of baby

People are being told to work from home if possible. Photo: 123rf

Testing ramped up

Dr Bloomfield said testing had increased as practitioners had identified more people who needed testing. Yesterday, 1500 people were tested.

Dr Bloomfield said it was now more important than ever that health workers continued to track and trace individuals who may have been in contact with confirmed Covid-19 cases and get those people in self-isolation.

Physical distancing was fundamental to our collective response, he said.

He reminded people that gatherings larger than 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors should not be taking place.

New rules for hospitality sector

The government has issued new guidelines for the hospitality sector, developed alongside the sector.

People going to bars, restaurants and casinos will be expected to stay at least a metre away from each other, and venues will have to do head counts to make sure there are no more than 100 people indoors.

A register of guest details will also have to be kept for four weeks, including full name, address and contact phone and email details.

Councils close facilities

Councils around the country are closing community facilities because of the pandemic.

Wellington is shutting down swimming pools, libraries, recreation centres, community centres, the City Gallery, museums and venues.

Wellington's mayor, Andy Foster, said the city council's emergency welfare team is working with other organisations to ensure food banks can continue if the situation worsens.

Porirua, Lower Hutt and Christchurch are among the councils taking similar steps.

Invercargill, Bluff and Gore libraries and Invercargill's swimming pool are also closing today.

Wellington City Gallery is one of the community facilities that is closing due to Covid-19.

Wellington City Gallery is one of the community facilities that is closing due to Covid-19. Photo: CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Rachel.healy

Te Papa visitors might be at risk

People who visited Te Papa in Wellington last weekend are being urged to self isolate, due to infected cruise passengers.

Four people from the Ruby Princess, which had docked in the capital on Saturday 14 March, have tested positive for Covid-19.

Te Papa says anyone on its introduction tour at 10.15am or 11am, or who was within one metre of a Te Papa visitor for 15 minutes or more that day, should seek advice and consider isolating themselves.

Several Te Papa staff and all tour guides working that day will also have to self-isolate.The national museum is now closed to visitors.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

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