13 Apr 2020

Health Ministry looking at rules around people visiting dying family members - Director-General

3:10 pm on 13 April 2020

Speaking in a live Q+A, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the Health Ministry is "actively looking" at the rules around people visiting dying family members.

Dr Bloomfield held the Q+A on Facebook this afternoon to talk about masks, bubbles, testing and clusters.

Watch the Q+A here:

Earlier this afternoon, Dr Bloomfield announced 19 new cases of Covid-19 including 15 confirmed cases and four probable.

A fifth person has died of the coronavirus, a man in his 80s, who was connected to the Rosewood Resthome in Christchurch.

During the Q+A, Dr Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was looking at the rules around people visiting dying family members, especially during a step down to level 3.

"I want to say we are very aware of this, we are actively looking at it."

Dr Bloomfield started the Q+A by addressing the ongoing debate around the use of cloth masks, and said "the jury is out".

"In general, if people want to wear a mask ... there's no specific harm in doing so if you are using it appropriately."

But he said they had to be changed and cleaned before re-use.

Asked about a new cluster in Auckland, Dr Bloomfield said the cluster had occurred at a private event and there was no further risk of spread to the wider public. He said the Ministry of Health was balancing privacy in deciding to not further identify the cluster.

On testing, Dr Bloomfield the Health Ministry was not currently planning on doing randomised testing.

"Our positivity rate is still only between 1 and 2 percent."

He said random testing would require a very large scale to identify even one or two cases. Instead, targeted testing would be conducted.

"Generally speaking for most people, two swabs are taken. Through the mouth ... (and) taken through the nose - that's a very important swab to take."

The swabs aim to take cells from the back of the throat or nose because that was where the virus was replicating and they needed to be tested.

Sometimes a swab may not get enough cells to properly test for the virus.

On today's results, he said they tried to turn around tests within 24 hours.

"It gives us a pretty good idea of what's happened in the past 24 or 48 hours."

Answering a question on what constituted a probable case, Dr Bloomfield said they were cases where someone who health officials felt had symptoms consistent with Covid-19, had a link to a confirmed case or cluster, or whom had a negative test, or whom had recovered but still had symptoms and the connection.

Dr Bloomfield was also asked what happened to somebody's bubble if they went to a hospital, and he said they could have a high level of confidence that they wouldn't be exposed to the virus due to the stringent measures put in place by DHBs.

"Hospitals will have worked out how to keep people safe who are coming for investigations or appointments."

He said the Health Ministry was working with DHBs for plans about how to provide as much care as possible and how to catch up on deferred outpatient and elective surgery - plus other - procedures.

However, "some may not happen as they might have in traditional circumstances", and more consultations could be done remotely, for example.

"They will be changing the way these appointments will happen."

Earlier, Dr Bloomfield said 546 people have recovered, up 75 on yesterday and there have now been 1349 cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand.

Fifteen people are in hospital, with four in ICU. One is in a critical condition in Dunedin.

There were 1660 tests carried out yesterday, with the Health Ministry expecting to see a drop off in testing over Easter. There have now been 62,827 tests carried out in total.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

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