28 Mar 2020

Covid-19: Three days in lockdown

8:18 pm on 28 March 2020

New Zealand has another 78 confirmed Covid-19 cases, US doctors are pleading for more equipment, and the World Health Organisation says the world is "moving to an uncertain future". This is what happened on 28 March.

The train station at Ellerslie was mostly deserted as the country woke up to it's first day in lockdown.  Trains were mostly empty. One south-bound train picked up four people, no passangers for the three city bound trains that stopped at the platform.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Officials reported another 78 confirmed and five probable cases today, bringing the total to 451, with overseas travel and links to confirmed cases still being the most significant infection path.

Two people are in intensive care units, one is on a ventilator - both are in a critical condition.

Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black and the All of Government Controller John Ombler held a media briefing on the latest Covid-19 updates this afternoon.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield was notably absent, taking a well-deserved day off.

Stuart-Black said health officials expected to see an increase in Covid-19 cases in the coming days, despite today's number of cases being lower than yesterday's.

Hospitals have been ramping up to be able to cope with patients needing respiratory support, including intensive care beds, Stuart-Black said.

The Ministry of Health is adamant there is enough protective equipment in New Zealand, but medical professionals say it is not reaching front lines.

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Photo: Supplied

While the Nurses Organisation said it was satisfied with new national guidelines on personal protection equipment, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists said senior doctors believed the guidelines were lightweight.

Meanwhile, volunteers have made tens of thousands of face shields for health workers using 3D printers.

Eight Air NZ crew test positive for Covid-19

Eight Air New Zealand employees - who work on the airline's long haul fleet and operated sectors to Los Angeles or London - have tested positive for Covid-19.

One of the staff has now recovered.

Air New Zealand said it was unable to reveal when or where in the world the eight employees were tested for Covid-19, or if the infected staff came into contact with passengers.

But it said from a health perspective, all procedures were followed in each case including appropriate contact tracing by the Ministry of Health.

Global shortage of personal protective gear

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning of a global shortage of personal protective gear.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a Geneva news conference the UN agency was shipping supplies to poorer countries, which deserved the same protection as wealthier nations.

"The chronic global shortage of personal protective gear is now one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives," Tedros said.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

WHO top emergencies expert Dr Mike Ryan said the world was "moving to an uncertain future".

Some countries were just starting to be confronted by the epidemic, while others, such as Singapore and China were trying to ensure the disease did not re-emerge, he said.

US cases exceed 100,000

The number of cases in the United States rose by 18,000 in just one day, to a total of 103,000.

Dozens of Californian health care workers with Alameda Health System staged a protest to demand better working conditions and that proper personal protective equipment be provided.

Dozens of Californian health care workers with Alameda Health System staged a protest to demand better working conditions and that proper personal protective equipment be provided. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, doctors and nurses in the US are pleading for more drugs and protective gear, at times protesting outside hospitals in an attempt to get health officials to listen.

Some said they were having to buy protective gear on the black market, hide gear so it wasn't stolen and tell families they can't save their loved ones as there weren't enough ventilators.

Almost 1000 coronavirus deaths in Italy in 24 hours

In other world news, Italy has recorded 969 new coronavirus deaths, its highest daily figure in the outbreak so far.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating at his Downing Street residence.

And French Polynesia is imposing a curfew from tonight in the latest measure to stem the spread of Covid-19.

But it's not all bad news - new data confirms an improvement in air quality over Europe - a by-product of the coronavirus crisis.

NZ in unique position to eliminate Covid-19

University of Otago microbiology and immunology department associate professor James Ussher said New Zealand was at a different stage to other Western countries and had an opportunity to eliminate the disease.

"Because it is just an acute infection, where people get sick and then they clear the infection, there is only a limited window in which the virus can be passed on to other people.

"If we limit the opportunity for the virus to propagate, we can strangle it.

"We can eliminate it, but that relies on people following the guidelines and isolating and not trying to game the system," Ussher said.

Checks on those heading to smaller cities or towns

New Zealanders who have recently arrived from overseas will now have the chance to return to their home towns and cities via regional flights and by car.

Tougher border restrictions have meant those unable to travel home in isolation have had to be quarantined at an approved facility.

The All of Government Controller John Ombler said the regional flights for those New Zealanders would be specifically for their repatriation home.

Ombler said there will be no welcome home hugs and there will be strict home isolation, which will be checked

Residents face fee hike, tenants refuse to pay rent

While many councils around the country are looking at rates relief for those suffering financially due to the coronavirus, Selwyn District Council is asking Selwyn Huts' residents to pay for a multi-million dollar new sewage scheme.

The council voted for the fees to almost double this year, and continue to rise over the next three years, to $4618.

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Selwyn Huts Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

But residents said the increases should be delayed because of financial pressure many people faced due to Covid-19.

Meanwhile, some retail tenants are refusing to pay rent as many rental agreements had a clause that stipulated tenants did not have to pay rent if they did not have access to the premises.

Property Council chief executive Leonie Freeman urged landlords and tenants to work together, saying widespread non-payment would be crushing.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus: