18 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Coronavirus developments on 18 April

8:53 pm on 18 April 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.

Thirteen new Covid-19 cases were confirmed today, 20 people are reported to be in hospital and a record number of tests for the virus were carried out yesterday.

3D model design of the novel coronavirus virion

The Ministry of Health reported there were 13 new cases of Covid-19 today. Photo: Supplied

The total number of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is now 1422.

There are now 867 reported cases of Covid-19 who have recovered - an increase of 51 on yesterday.

The government did not hold its usual media conference today, instead issuing a written statement with the latest update.

It also confirmed there are no further deaths to report, but that 20 people are in hospital with Covid-19. Three people are still in intensive care units - one each in Middlemore, Dunedin and North Shore hospitals.

There are still 16 significant clusters which is no change from yesterday, the ministry statement said.

Yesterday a record 4677 Covid-19 tests were processed.

The average daily number of tests over the past week is 2905 and there have been just over 79,000 tests carried out in total.

Of the community testing that has been carried out in Waikato, Canterbury and Queenstown, all results have come back negative so far.

Testing also began at two Auckland supermarkets this morning.

Work visa rules relaxed during lockdown

The government has eased visa rules to allow businesses to make greater use of immigrant labour during alert levels 3 and 4.

The changes mean some immigrants can start new jobs.

Until now, only health, supermarket and aged care workers had been allowed to change their roles or hours.

Employers and immigrants have been told that has now been extended to other essential sectors, which according to the Covid-19 website include utilities, education, financial services, construction and accommodation providers.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said the changes that could be requested include:

  • Any staff who are student visa holders to work full time for that employer
  • Any staff who are employer-specific work visa holders to work for that same employer in any occupation
  • Any staff who are work visa holders to work for a different employer in the same region in the same occupation as they are currently employed.

The changes will be allowed to extend up to six weeks after the country moves to alert level 2.

Immigration New Zealand said the changes are aimed at helping employers maintain their labour pool as hiring would be very difficult at alert level 3 or 4.

An email to immigrants also tells them about help they can receive if they are in financial hardship, including emergency accommodation and supplies.

  • 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

Ministry of Education clarifies rules under alert level 3

The Ministry of Education has advised schools that if parents or caregivers are able to remain at home when the country moves to alert level 3, then children must also stay at home.

The update clarifies earlier information from the prime minister about some children returning to schools, once the country enters alert level 3.

Generic child image.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Schools and early childhood centres that do reopen will have appropriate measures in place to try to stop any transmission of Covid-19.

This includes limiting pupils to 10 in a group, or 'school bubble', which could then be increased to 20 once all processes are running smoothly.

The ministry advice includes ensuring that children in early childhood centres have at least 3 metres per child of indoor space, while schools are advised to have hand sanitiser available upon entry to bathrooms and classrooms and contact tracing registers set up.

The advice also directs schools to make children sit in the same seats every day, so that contact tracing is made easier.

The president of the Principals Federation, Perry Rush, said the emphasis on students remaining home if possible is sensible and schools now understand what needs to be done and will need to undertake planning of their own to find out just which children will be turning up.

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

However the Early Childhood Council has said there are still significant questions left unanswered by the Ministry of Education around alert level 3.

The council's chief executive officer, Peter Reynolds, said while it is positive that ideas like staggered pick-up times and social distancing have been abandoned, there are still questions over funding and staffing.

Man sentenced to prison for lockdown breaches

A Whanganui man has been sentenced to one month in prison for repeatedly breaching the alert level 4 lockdown restrictions.

The man, 38, had been verbally warned on five separate occasions, according to Central District Commander Superintendent Chris de Wattignar.

He was caught breaching the restrictions for a sixth time when he was discovered to have travelled some distance from his home via a vehicle.

Prison bars

A 38-year-old man has been imprisoned for one month for repeatedly breaching alert level 4 restrictions. Photo: RNZ

Gap in medical testing regulations could cost lives - medics

There is a gap in regulations covering medical testing outside laboratories, and it could cost lives, the New Zealand Medical Association says.

They are calling for greater regulation of the testing of samples outside of laboratories, including Covid-19 tests, and many more medical tests performed in a range of clinical settings.

The practice (known as point-of-care testing) has significantly increased, and the association said now, during a pandemic, is the right time to put in place national regulations.

The testing and analysis of samples with point-of-care testing kits is done in places such as emergency departments, GP surgeries, pharmacies, and could be done at the newly-established community based assessment centres.

The chair of the association, Dr Kate Baddock, said they need to have greater regulations at the national level, so they can ensure the tests and therefore the results, can be trusted.

Hard to eliminate Covid-19 due to asymptomatic cases - virologist

It will be very difficult to eliminate Covid-19 completely from circulation in New Zealand when so many cases are believed to be asymptomatic, a leading UK virologist says.

Dr Chris Smith, consultant clinical virologist at Cambridge University and one of BBC Radio 5 Live's Naked Scientists, said he has been talking to lots of virologists and vaccine experts in the last few weeks and they are very sceptical.

He said it has a high prospect of becoming another circulating coronavirus which causes seasonal infections and cold symptoms or in rare cases more severe outbreaks.

"By the time that presumably happens the vast majority of us will have become immune to it either because a vaccine has been invented or because we've become naturally infected with it," he said.

But he believes it will take an extended time before a vaccine is ready and in the meantime many countries will not be able to sustain lockdown measures, and the disease will resurge as a result.

It will be particularly difficult for poorer nations to keep imposing restrictions and sustain social distancing, he told Kim Hill on Saturday Morning.

What's happening overseas?

* Africa could become the next epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation has warned. The past week has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in Africa and UN officials also say it is likely the pandemic will kill at least 300,000 people in Africa and push nearly 30 million into poverty. - BBC

* US President Donald Trump has appeared to endorse protests against stringent lockdown measures in several states. In a series of tweets, he said: "LIBERATE MINNESOTA", "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" and then "LIBERATE VIRGINIA". Protesters say the severe economic restrictions are hurting citizens, but health officials warn lifting them could spread infection. - BBC

* The Cook Islands has been declared free of Covid-19, allowing churches to reopen this weekend. Prime Minister Henry Puna said hundreds of Covid-19 tests taken in the Cook Islands had come back negative, and the country can officially be confirmed as a Covid-free zone - one of the first nations in the world to do so. - Cook Islands News

* The number of deaths worldwide linked to Covid-19 has passed 150,000, according to tallies kept by both Reuters news agency, and the widely- referred to dashboard run by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre. It took 83 days for the first 50,000 deaths to be recorded, eight more for the toll to climb to 100,000, and another eight days to reach 150,000 dead worldwide. - Reuters

Health workers fill out documents before performing tests for Covid-19 on other health workers at a hospital in Johannesburg,

Health workers fill out documents before performing tests for Covid-19 on other health workers at a hospital in Johannesburg, Photo: AFP or licensors

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