1 Apr 2020

Covid-19 developments in New Zealand for 1 April

8:38 pm on 1 April 2020

Nearly a full week into lockdown, testing criteria were broadened, more ventilators were found and help was found for those with nowhere to go.

Hutt Hospital Covid-19 ICU ventilator

A Hutt Hospital worker with a ventilator. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

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 were 61 new confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 discovered today in New Zealand, with 82 people now recovered.

There have now been a total of 708 cases in New Zealand, including one death, and 860,000 around the world, with more than 42,000 deaths globally.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

Testing to increase

A new guideline revealed today means anyone with respiratory symptoms consistent with the disease should be considered for testing.

Previously, testing was largely targeted at people who have been overseas or in contact with a confirmed case, although doctors had discretion to test anyway if the virus was suspected.

  • 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

It is likely the new definition will lead to more testing, and will help authorities decide how long to keep the country in lockdown for, Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker says.

But many health workers are still calling for clinicians to be able to do the tests themselves, instead of sending people to testing stations.

This week just over 1800 tests were done a day, on average, across the country, which is about half the current capacity.

However, by the end of next week two more laboratories will join the eight processing the tests, which is hoped to raise testing capacity by almost 50 percent, giving the ability to carry out 5000 tests a day.

In the Far North, Māori have been carrying out border patrols, operating checkpoints and flagging down tourists to stop people entering the region.

Tai Tokerau border control leader Hone Harawira said he was surprised at the number of people still heading into the area, including tourists, and Aucklanders looking for a place to hunker down.

The group does not have authority to stop people continuing, but are working with police to identify people breaking the rules.

New Zealand sources more ventilators

Another 200 ventilators are expected to arrive and be up and running by the end of April, after healthcare workers went to great lengths to obtain them amid massive global demand.

Once available for use, the new breathing assistance machines will bring the number of fully staffed ventilator beds to 983, in both public and private hospitals.

New Zealand has a relatively low number ratio of the machines available per person - with 4.7 intensive care beds per 100,000 people, compared to 35 per 100,000 in the United States and 29 in Germany.

Learn more about the process for training to use the ventilators, and "donning and doffing" personal protective equipment (PPE) here.

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital.

Hutt Hospital workers undertaking intensive care training for Covid-19. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Lockdown struggles

There have been more than 75,000 calls to Work and Income to find help with the unemployment benefit, emergency food grants and wage subsidies.

Some people are finding it hard to get through or have their applications processed quickly, and are struggling with empty pantries.

In central Wellington, 38 self-contained units have been set up to house homeless people during the lockdown. They will be operated by the City Mission.

From today, beneficiaries get an extra $25 a day, and Winter Energy Payments double, as part of the government's Covid-19 response.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said he expects more than $5 billion in wage subsidy payments will have been handed out by the end of today.

He said wages and rent were the biggest costs for small and medium business, and the government was now working on this and expected to give more information in the coming days.

Treasury Secretary Dr Caralee McLiesh said she expected the increase to the unemployment rate would range from "a little over 5 percent, to well into the double digits".

The head of ANZ bank said about 7000 customers had applied to defer their mortgage payments during the Covid-19 response.

Mediaworks asked staff to take a 15 percent pay cut, or the company would be forced to make widespread redundancies.

So far 866 people have complained about possible instances of price gouging to the (pricewatch@mbie.govt.nz) email report centre.

Age Concern said the elderly should ask for help getting groceries or medication delivered, through a volunteer network it is running, rather than going themselves.


Better internet connections are being rolled out to up to 50,000 homes. Photo: RNZ

As many as 50,000 homes that do not have broadband internet connections could be hooked up in the next few weeks as part of efforts by the Ministry of Education and telecommunications company Chorus.

A 'skills army' of volunteers who can help with accounting, legal advice, IT and even therapy are among professionals offering free assistance to families and small businesses struggling with the Covid-19 lockdown.

Some lower skilled healthcare workers from overseas have been allowed to extend their stay here for another year, under new immigration rules starting from August.

Clusters still a focus

The Ministry of Health is continuing to focus tracing and testing efforts on clusters, which it now defines as a group of more than 10 cases from the same place.

The largest is at a small Auckland Catholic school, Marist College, where 50 people have found to have the disease.

Those from a St Patrick's Day party in Matamata climbed to 37, the World Hereford Conference in Queenstown to 27, and a Southland wedding increased to 22 cases.

An employee wearing protective clothing does testings for the coronavirus at a laboratory as the spread of the disease continues, in Arkhangelsk, Russia.

Testing for coronavirus. Photo: AFP

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