27 Mar 2020

Covid-19 lockdown day 2: More cases and demand for protective clothing

7:10 pm on 27 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.

As the number of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand increases, daily demand for protective clothing for medical workers has come under pressure.

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Protective gowns for doctors and nurses are in demand, couriers say NZ Post is not doing enough to make them feel safe, two German tourists wait for a flight home and Jacinda Ardern praises the work being done by medical lab scientists. Photo: 123RF / Susi Vormvald

On the second day of the country's lockdown, the number of New Zealand's Covid-19 cases has jumped by 85, with a man in his 70s who has underlying health conditions in Nelson Hospital's intensive care unit on a ventilator.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told the media this afternoon that of the 85 new cases in New Zealand over the last 24 hours, 76 were confirmed cases, while nine were probable cases.

There have now been 368 Covid-19 cases in New Zealand and eight people are in hospital.

Two inmates at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison are also in isolation amidst fears they may have contracted the coronavirus - but one is refusing to be tested.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has praised the country's medical lab scientists for their role in the tracking, tracing and elimination of Covid-19.

An average of 1479 Covid-19 tests a day are being processed, she said at a media conference this afternoon.

Ardern said 1823 scientists at eight labs across the country are processing incoming tests 24 hours a day "to get the job done."

Dr Bloomfield said more than 2500 retired health care workers, who are no longer practising, have offered to come back and join the fight against Covid-19.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Meanwhile, the government has asked suppliers to urgently find 500,000 protective gowns for doctors and nurses battling the pandemic because supply from China is disrupted, but companies say they will not be able to meet the demand.

One of the country's major suppliers - which asked not to be named - said it could not find a factory to make them and there would be no plane to fly them to New Zealand.

The thinktank, McGuinness Institute in Wellington, wants the country's hospitals to release their full stocktake of all protective equipment, including items such as gowns and oxygen tanks.

Dr Bloomfield later said they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are replenished and new processes are being established to ensure community workers and pharmacies are protected and provided with PPE.

The senior doctors union, the Association of Salaried Medical Staff, said that vital supplies of the protective equipment are going missing from hospitals. Its director Sarah Dalton said that thefts and hoarding of masks, scrubs and hand sanitiser was putting the safety of frontline health workers at risk.

Life during lockdown

Courier drivers for New Zealand Post in Wellington say the company is not doing enough to make them feel safe as they work through the lockdown.

Some workers said they were not given the option of not working and they had only been given a pair of gloves and a small bottle of hand sanitiser, and up to 100 people are being forced to share a few, dirty toilets.

The family of an essential worker at the Wellington harbour are worried he will bring Covid-19 home, and they are calling for more information about how to keep their bubble safe.

Maria Sainsbury said her husband is a harbour pilot in Wellington, where he must board foreign vessels and deal with the crew. He works away for five days and then returns home for four days. She said the government needed to release more guidelines to help protect families in her position.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

The mortgage holiday scheme for those hit financially by Covid-19 is up and running and banks can now offer to defer mortgage payments of principal and interest for up to six months.

While from 4pm the sick leave and wage subsidy scheme were merged together.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the change will stop double dipping. He said provisions will also be added to the sick leave requirements for essential workers over the age of 70 or those with compromised immunity.

Robertson said the names of companies receiving the wage subsidy will be released publicly and he wants to hear from any workers whose employer has received the subsidy but not passed on the full amount.

So far $2.7 billion in wage subsidies has been paid out, and the scheme is expected to now cost between $8b to $12b.

Stranded in New Zealand - or overseas

Some people still want to return to, leave or even get around the country as New Zealand and many other countries lock down in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19.

German tourists Susi Vormvald and Alina Stamm are waiting to fly out of Auckland after the German government announced that it would evacuate nearly 80,000 of its citizens who are stranded abroad.

But a group of performers from the Pacific who had travelled to New Zealand are stranded and do not know how they will pay for accommodation or access medication during the nationwide lockdown.

While with no mercy flights to bring New Zealanders home, a Palmerston North mother has had to make the tough decision to keep her teenage daughter in Northern Italy.

And New Zealanders stuck in Peru are pinning their hopes of escape on commercial charter flights organised by an Australian travel company.

The deadline for domestic travel to allow New Zealanders to get home due to the lockdown was extended from Wednesday to midnight tonight. As the deadline loomed this afternoon, airports and ferry terminals were quieter than usual.

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