COVID-19 media update, 1 July

News article

01 July 2020

The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, provided an update to the media today at 1.00 pm.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Kia ora koutou katoa. Welcome to the Ministry of Health and today's update.

You will notice there is no sign language interpreter today, but the stand-up has been captioned in real time on our live stream on the Ministry of Health website.

Again today there are no new cases of COVID-19 to report.

So our number of active cases remains at 22, and all of those cases have recently returned from overseas and are or were in managed isolation. There is one person who remains in hospital stable on a ward. That is in Auckland City Hospital.

Just to reiterate, no cases of community transmission.

So our total of confirmed cases of COVID-19 remains at 1,178, the number we will continue to report to the World Health Organization.

Yesterday our labs completed 4,530 tests and we have now surpassed over 400,000 tests with 402,000 tests having been processed since we started testing for COVID-19 back at the beginning of February. And just to put those case numbers in context, you will have heard overnight, the Antony Fauci from the USA talking about the possibility of 100,000 new cases per day in the US that will be the equivalent in New Zealand of around 1500 new cases per day, which is more than the total number of cases we have had since the start of this pandemic.

So world wide the number of cases continues to increase and we are seeing of course resurgences in some countries, where controls, including lock down controls have been relaxed and yesterday's developments in Victoria and Australia, particularly in the suburbs in Melbourne, where they have reimposed some conditions around people's movements, are a reminder that community transmission and the future is a real possibility and we may here need to take measures to local measures to counter act community transmission if it occurs again.

We will be watching carefully and continue to work on a daily basis with our Australian colleagues to see what's happening there.

A key takeout for us all we need to remain vigilant.

Things feel very much back to normal here in New Zealand, we are almost unique in the world in that respect. However we do not want to give us our hard-won efforts and the opportunities afforded by being an alert level one and our ability to have our domestic economy and how we can live our daily lives compromised at all.

So I just want to reinforce those key public health measures. They remain fundamental to our success now and in the future.

Most importantly, if you are sick or your child is sick please stay at home or keep your child home. Do not go to work and don't go out visiting or socialising. If you have symptoms of cold or flu-like illness, ring your doctor or Healthline to get advice about guesting a test. I will come back to that. Good hand hygiene remain as I simple and effective tool not just for preventing COVID-19 but many other communicable diseases. Respiratory and beyond.

Please keep track of where you have been.

The easiest way to do that is to have downloaded the COVID tracer app and use it. Many, many premises now have the QR code which you can quite easily scan and please make sure your contact details with your GP or on the app are up to date.

And as I have said before, even having the app and registered means having your updated contact details which should we need to call you make it much easier to do so and increase our likelihood of doing so quickly.

Just one other point I would like to make before I go on to an update on the managed isolation context. I have talked right since the start of the outbreak about showing compassion for people who may have COVID-19. It is relatively rare in this country. We are fortunate in that regard. There is no stigma associated with having the infection. We have seen it can affect people from all walks of life across all demographic and ethnic groups.

I met with Air New Zealand's chief executive, Greg Foran, yesterday and he commented to me some of his staff and crew members, particularly those flying international routes, have been facing some hostility and suspicion in their local communities. Again, this could be your friend, or a family member. Please do show tolerance and support them. Remember that they - it is in that I very best interests to make sure they are keeping themselves and their families and their communities safe. They do not want to create COVID-19 infections in New Zealand and I know they are working very hard and focused on ensuring that doesn't happen an update on the people who left managed isolation between the 9th and 16th.

Reminder first of all we had already some time followed up the 55 people who had non-completed 14 days for a range of reasons. Mostly compassionate reasons. We have closed off those people. All other people had been in managed isolation for two week period. And it has now been more than two weeks since the last of those people left. Around 60% of those people have not only been contacted, they have had a test either before they left, that was 800 of them, of the 2159, the balance have had a test since and there are 366 people who have been further contacted who have also been asked to get a test and we expect more testing to come in.

There is also a group of around about the same number actually, 367, as of yesterday, who we have made contact with on a number of occasions, including leaving phone messages and or texting, but who have yet to respond. And I have asked the team just to have a look why that might be. It may be there are language difficulties, and we want to make sure we are finding out why there is this group that isn't making contact.

Let me be clear, at this point in time they present a very, very low risk to the community. Recalling that they had ol of all completed the 14 days of managed isolation which has fundamental to our response since the 9 April.

So for those people who may have been contacted and haven't yet spoken with Healthline please do so on the number which is 09 302 0408.

And finally, on the NZ COVID tracer app to reiterate the point I made early on please continue to encourage people to download the app. The success of our response, if we get community transmission and you will have heard from Victoria, that even with a number of cases I think they had around 75 yesterday, their resources are stretched.

One of the things that makes their job of contact tracing easier and successful is if we have people's up to date contact details. And this is one of the key values of the NZ COVID tracer app. So please do download that.

Businesses, if you could put up your QR posters if you haven't already and register then that will mean we are good to go and in the habit of using that technology to assist our contact tracing efforts. I can assure you that the Ministry of Health remains working incredibly hard on all aspects of the response to make sure we are ready, not just to prevent cases coming in but should we get a case of community transmission, for whatever reason, or a community case that we can respond really quickly and stop any further transmission.

We must all continue to be vigilant and play our part, we certainly are and I would encourage all New Zealanders to continue to do so. We have got this far by acting together, we will continue to do well if we continue to act together.

I am open to questions.

Media: From a health perspective what would your response be to concerns about people reporting the sharing rooms or sharing bathrooms and managed to isolation. From a health perspective why is that a problem.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: If people are in the same family group or sort of small bubble within managed isolation that's fine. The reason in managed isolation we like each person or small family group to have their own bathroom is again just part of our managing the risk down to the lowest possible level. The reason we want to do that is of course the 14 days is the gold standard, if people have come in and may have been infected or brewing the infection they have team to have got over it and of course what the testing we are very likely to have detected it, but we don't want cross- infection within those facilities, hence the physical dancing requirements and very strict requirements around not shared bathrooms.

Media: We have had reports in that people are being forced to share communal bathrooms with strangers. That is pretty concerning.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: It would surprise me because of the nature of the accommodation they will have each hotel room will have its own ensuite facility. I will be interested to know the question maybe if they - if there has been people using some of the public toilets as well, again that would surprise me because people are in their own hotel suites with ensuites.

Media: How - sorry to follow up one more thing. Is there ever a situation where someone would have to share with a stranger? Like if there was say a double room with two beds would that ever be a requirement as part of the managed isolation. Is this an in theory question or is this something.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Someone said they are doing it and my understanding it wasn't happening. I would be very surprised. I will check with our all of government team, the Air Commodore Webber is leading that would surprise me if that's the case. That has been one of the strict criteria and in fact one of the reasons why we felt we couldn't approve the proposal that was being put forward by the universities to bring students in was because their accommodation arrangements included shared bathrooms. That was almost the main sticking point. So this is one of the areas we are very strict about.

Media: How are we managing our quarantine differently from Melbourne which mean we won't get transmission from hotel staff?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Well, I have seen some articles written about the Melbourne situation I think two hotels where they have had people working there and I think at least in one it was possibly security staff there who were externally contracted security staff. We have got really clear protocols and the staffing of our facilities is done by people who are working already in the public service, the wider public service and particularly you have seen that big increase in the use of defence force personnel for the security and some of those roles as well. So you know, this is - it's not straightforward running these facilities. And that's why we are - we did the review last week, we found some things that could be improved and we want to continuously do that to improve.

Media: I mean, what measures are in place in our facilities that will protect Kiwis in there from getting transmission from staff?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: From staff or transmitting to staff?

Media: From staff.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Well, I think what happened in Melbourne was that one of the staff security staff was infected by someone in a facility and that's how it got out to the community. Again the protocols are very clear, designed to stop guests infecting each other and also guests infecting staff members. So there is a whole range of measures in place, for example symptom checks on staff at the start of each day, we have tightened up or expanded the use of masks in the guests coming in and for staff who are working there. Just a reminder too the protocols have been in place and working effectively since the 9 April we have seen no cases come out of those facilities and the community either people who have been in managed isolation or staff who have worked there. And as part of our surveillance testing through alert level three and into two, we did quite wide testing of airport staff and staff working at the facilities and didn't find anyone who had evidence of infection.

Media: Jetstar resumed 60% of their domestic flights from today. Have you had any conversations with Jetstar yet?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: About domestic flights? Not specifically. But they will be aware of the protocols that are in place for domestic flights. I understand that Air New Zealand has moved to making masks available for people on domestic flights should they choose to use them. That's fine. There is no requirement to do that. Remembering that one of the things as we are in alert level one, that's why we are in room together, we don't need physical distancing, we don't need to be wearing masks. So no specific expectations or requirements on Jetstar for domestic flight.

Media: Would you encourage Jetstar to provide facial masks?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I think that would be up to them to do. There is no particular requirement and again face masks, and alert level one, not - we are not expecting or requiring. May well play a role as part of our avoiding going up alert levels in the future if we feel there is evidence of community transmission there could be a change.

Media: Those flowers where did you gift them from?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: They were on the desk, from the PA sits, she deserves them

Media:  What kind of flowers are they?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I'm not sure I'm not an expert on flowers I'm sorry.

Media: You mentioned the importance of the Anzac COVID tracer app, the documents released on Friday indicated the first version of the app would have allowed that content information upload should have been launched on April 20 instead of May 20 when it did eventually come out. What was behind that delay?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Two things there. First of all, we wanted to see if we could launch it with some other functionality. So that there was a sense that was creating more value than just simply registering. And the second was of course some April 20 we didn't feel it was quite as necessary, and because we were still going into alert level three, we were planning to be there for some weeks. And so it wasn't essential that we headed there. So the main reason was ensuring we could have some other functionalities both when it was released and coming on board again soon thereafter.

Media: And the app eventually came out about a week into level two and during that week where businesses were able to reopen but have that contact tracing requirement, we saw third party apps, cropping up. Do you think that one week delay there, led to lower uptake of the government app because people were confused by all the options or just didn't think it was necessary?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yes. It may well have. However I think we have given it - I give a pretty regular plug since and one of the things we did do early was to enable the developers of those other apps to use the QR code that is the one that we use on the COVID tracer app so they don't have to have a separate QR code. I think that will help a lot if there is just one QR code, I have head had family members and friends who say, I have got the app but the code didn't work for me. And there is a very specific code that works on the app. Ideally we can move to all the apps using just that single QR code.

Media: You mentioned at the start - you were talked about other local measures we might have to look at given what's happened in Melbourne. Can you maybe expand on what they are looking at?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: So I guess what I'm talking about here is part of our planning. In fact we raised this very early on was that one - there could be measures just in a locality or a town or a city or as we have seen in Melbourne in certain suburbs to help manage local outbreaks rather than requiring blanket measures right across the country or even across the region. So as part of our planning for what we are calling increase in infections, we are looking at what specific measures you could put in place. So I'm very interested to look and see what is happening in Melbourne and what the impact will be of trying to put those restrictions around movement in certain suburbs.

Media: Could we see face masks? Would you recommend that we - that might be something we might start to do in the future?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I think the important thing is to consider all the options. Exactly. And if you have a localised outbreak, yes you might provide and require masks to be used in that locality. The value being that the key value there being I think in Melbourne is restricting people's movements. That's the key intervention that will stop the infections spreading.

Media: Yourself and the ministry have the numbers of registrations of the COVID NZ app. Do you have the numbers of Kiwis actively using it and signing it into places across the country.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: We do give the number every day of the number of times it's being used. So we will update that in our media release today. I haven't got the number here with me. We will update in the media release the total number of apps, the total number of businesses who have registered and put up the QR code and the number of uses and compare that with yesterday.

Media: With those flight attendants you gave that information that not to sort of worry too much about them can you explain to the public why they shouldn't be nervous. You can understand if they are dropping a kid off daycare or dropping into the supermarket, people might feel nervous they are exposed.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I understand why people might feel nervous. I'm reminding everybody, first of all even if they are nervous, being hostile or exclusionary to people is of no benefit. The second thing is, I just reminding people that we have been - Air New Zealand star have been using protocols they developed and internationally tested and they developed for their very first flight out of Wuhan. They were volunteers the crew that did that in the sense they put their hand up to do that very first flight. So they continue to take all the measures to protect themselves and then of course their families and their communities and I think I want to reassure people that we are working daily really with Air New Zealand about looking at any additional things that could be done and they obviously keenly interested and protecting their crew and their families and communities as much as we are and protecting the wider public. And just you know, reminding people that Air New Zealand staff see themselves very much as part of that effort.

Media: And in terms of reflection we are now six months on from where the WHO first got the report about the first cluster of pneumonia-like illness. Six months on can you reflect, is it too early for you to look back and reflect how much has changed in New Zealand and the world? Have you had time to pause over the last few weeks and months to do that?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Well, I haven't had much time to pause I might say. But I am being invited to sort of reflect on some aspects of the response to date and really what's changed over that time. And maybe we could - I am planning a bit of holiday next week if that's alright. But when we come back we could maybe do a little bit of reflection on some of it. Some of the key events that have happened over that time. But just to reiterate, it is clear that - and as Director General Tedross from the WHO said a couple of days ago, we are by no means even near the end of the beginning of this thing. It's a long way still to go. We keep doing well if we keep learning and adapting and acting collectively. That's the thing that really sticks in my mind. We have had to be flexible and adapt and address issues and challenges and problems as they have arisen and that's the key to our success.

Media: What's going to happen with the 367 people you are trying to make contact with. Are you just going to keep standing here calling them out every day or are they just going to disappear and that will be the end of them?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yes. What I would like to do is close that off this week so I think the final task for my team is to say again, this is a learning exercise here. All these people were 14 days in managed isolation, it is now more than 14 days. We have done very wide testing across the community. A couple of record days of testing at the end of last week. We haven't seen any evidence of community infection. So the key learning here will now be what have been the barriers to getting to those people and it may reflect the people coming back - may not have been in New Zealand for some time, there may be language barriers. Many of them I think don't have - when they arrive and go into managed isolation they don't have a New Zealand SIM card. They get that subsequently. We need a process to make sure we can contact them. I think we would like to close that off during this week, but what I can say is we have closed off the 55 who are the ones who hadn't done the 14 days of the 60% of the others who have been tested they were all negative. And I think the balance is quite clear, presented very low risk to the community. Because they had completed their 14 days.

Any final questions?

Media: 367 is about a sixth of the total number of people. How does that line up with the number of people who didn't respond to contact tracers prior to the past few weeks in terms of over the course of the pandemic? Has there been lots of non-response like this or is this atypical?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: There is always I think the metric is 80% within two days. To go higher than that does require a lot of effort. This is where the app may be useful just to get even each percentage above 80% is helpful. But there is a group of people who just as very, very hard to get hold of. Even if you manage to contact them, or leave a message, they don't necessarily respond. I think that's key. Key thing I want people to take away today, is contact tracing requires two parties. We can contact, but people need to either ring back or do what is asked of them.

Media: So that 80% figure to clarify, it doesn't count people who don't call back. It only counts people who do call back or are able to......

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: It counts everybody. So that's 80% of the total potential close contacts remember. The people that we were contacted here were not even contacts of a case. They were just - we were following them up to see first of all how many we could get and how many we could get a test on. All the close - there is a different process for following up the close contacts of the cases there have been in managed isolation over the last couple of weeks and we can give an update what the progress with that as well. Recalling that virtually all of those people will be in managed isolation but from either the flight or in the hotel suite. Thank you very much.