31 Aug 2020

Nine new cases of Covid-19, five in the community - Ministry of Health

3:15 pm on 31 August 2020

Another five new cases of Covid-19 have been identified in the community today, all linked to the Auckland cluster. Four further cases have been found in isolation.

Missed the briefing? Watch it back here:

Health Minister Chris Hipkins and Deputy Director-General of Health Robyn Shearer have given today's official Covid-19 briefing. Director-General Ashley Bloomfield is on leave.

There are nine new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, Shearer says, five in the community and four in managed isolation.

All the new cases are epidemiologically linked to the Auckland cluster, she says, three linked to the Mt Roskill evangelical church and two are contacts of previously known cases.

Of the four imported cases, three females - one in her 30s, one in her 20s, and a child - arrived from India on 22 August returned positive tests after being retested as contacts of a previous case. They had initially returned negative test from around day three of their stay. The fourth person was a woman in her 30s who arrived from India on 27 August.

There are 11 people with Covid-19 in hospital; nine in a ward and two in intensive care. Total confirmed cases is 1387.

Some 128 people linked to the Auckland community cluster have been transferred to managed isolation facilities, including 85 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and there household contacts.

Labs yesterday processed 7219 tests, bringing the total to 758,027.

Of the previously reported cases, 15 are considered to have recovered today. New Zealand has 131 known active cases, of which 24 are imported cases and 107 are community cases.

The Ministry of Health has identified 28 close contacts of the Tokoroa health professional, currently in hospital. Sixteen of those have already been contacted and the remainder will be contacted today.

Since 11 August, the ministry's contract tracing team has identified 2621 close contacts of cases, of which 2505 have been contacted and are self-isolating. The remainder are in the process of being contacted.

Minister Hipkins says there are visible changes in Auckland, which moved to level 2 overnight. He said about nine in 10 passengers on buses and trains were wearing masks, and about 50 percent of people around streets in Auckland.

"Thank you to everybody in Auckland for playing their part."

Hipkins urges people to use the NZ Covid Tracer app, but said those who did not have a smartphone should make sure they are manually recording your detail of where they have been and who they have come in contact with.

The ministry is upgrading the app and an update is expected soon, he says.

To parents who might be concerned about sending children back to school, he says: "Do get your kids back in school. Their futures depend on this."

Shearer, who is Deputy Director-General for mental health but is stepping in for Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield - who is on leave - says she want to take the opportunity to mention mental well-being.

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Robyn Shearer, who is Deputy Director-General for mental health, is acting Director-General in Dr Ashley Bloomfield's absence today. Photo: RNZ Insight/Karen Brown

"There is significant pressure in many of our communities at this time and it's been really pleasing to see that people are making use of the supports we have available. We want people to know that there is help available if they need it - from face-to-face support, online and by phone.

"It is okay if you are not okay ... it's alright to not be okay. This is a time of pressure for all of us in New Zealand and reaching out and supporting is what we need to continue to do.

"There is lots of advice on the Ministry of Health website and there is also links to a number of practical tools such as apps and self help online sites and many of them have free data available."

Communication about tests 'could have been clearer' - Hipkins

About the communication bungle for South and West Auckland residents to get tested that came up yesterday, Hipkins said the issue was a matter of communication that was "lost in translation".

West and South Aucklanders had been advised they should all get tested, advice which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this weekend said had been an oversimplification that made her "incredibly angry".

"We have to be very clear in our communication, we have to be very direct in our asks," she said.

Hipkins today says he heard about the error about the same time as the prime minister did, on Sunday morning.

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Health Minister Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Contact tracing will identify areas where there is greater vulnerability - contacts of contacts, they will be getting in touch asking to get tests. If there are people who are concerned, they should be able to take a test too, he says.

"We are not saying to all of South and West Auckland that they should get a test," Hipkins says.

"I think it's clear some of those communications could have been clearer."

He would not say how the communication botch-up came about, but instead was focusing on fixing the problem and ensuring it would not be repeated.

"I'm not interested in pointing a finger."

He says when the number of cases begins to lower, he would want to see more asymptomatic testing where there are cases.

"We do want to see the asymptomatic testing coming up in those areas. Neither of us [him or the PM] saw the communications before they went out."

"Testing priorities will change depending on where we're at in the cycle," Hipkins says.

"At the beginning of the lockdown period ... our focus is on symptomatic people. Asymptomatic people with no known association aren't the priority."

There are 350 people working on contact tracing, Hipkins says, but that can be expanded to 500 people and with some further planning to 1000 people.

Hipkins says the cases are all linked epidemiologically or genomically. He says where there is not a link, people are informed, but over time the link usually appears.

Further details

Hipkins says he is open to the Health Select Committee meeting to scrutinise the government's Covid-19 response.

"I'm happy to front up and answer all and any questions I can."

He says rural GPs should follow the guidance of the Ministry of Health rather than their Public Health Organisation.

As Auckland moved to alert level 2 with extra restrictions this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said cases could be managed at that level despite some experts saying it could be too soon.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said she would have preferred a slightly longer level 3, and urged New Zealanders to wear masks and get tested if they had any symptoms that could be Covid-19.

National Māori Pandemic Group Co-leader professor Sue Crengle also wanted slightly more time at level 3 to make sure the Auckland cluster was contained.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said whether the virus is brought under control is in the hands of Aucklanders abiding by the rules, and getting tested and staying at home when they have cold or flu symptoms.

Yesterday there were two new community cases in New Zealand, one of them a doctor in Tokoroa.

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