COVID-19 media update, 27 May

News article

27 May 2020

The Ministry of Health provided an update on the COVID-19 response at 1.00 pm today.

Speaker:

  • Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield

View the livestream video below.


Summary

For a fifth consecutive day, there are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand. 

Question from journalists:

  • Would Dr Ashley Bloomfield be comfortable with the country moving to Level 1 earlier?
  • Why do we have to remain in Alert Level 2 for so long?
  • Would a trans-Tasman bubbled be workable at the moment?
  • Is there a review on wearing masks?
  • Is it safe to have students coming into New Zealand?
  • What Alert Level will be required to create a trans-Tasman bubble?
  • Is this the first time no one has been in hospital since lockdown started?
  • Does the Ministry of Health sign off on all exemptions?
  • Is there room for quarantining overseas before coming to New Zealand?
  • Is Dr Ashley Bloomfield happy with testing numbers?
  • Will New Zealand’s success with COVID-19 mean a delay in access to a vaccine?
  • Could we see more people coming through the borders?
  • What are the benefits of mask use?
  • The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until 2021, should they go ahead?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Kia ora. Welcome to today's briefing.

For the fifth consecutive day, there are no new cases of COVID-19 cases in New Zealand.

 It remains at 1,754. And the total of confirmed and probable cases is 1,404.

There is one additional recovered case and this total is now 1,462 and there are just 21 remaining active cases of COVID-19.

There are no additional deaths to report.

And, currently, there is nobody in hospital with COVID-19 following the discharge of a person from Middlemore Hospital.

Yesterday, our laboratories processed 4,279 tests. So our grand total of tests undertaken to date in New Zealand is 267,435.

Just an update on the NZ COVID Tracer app, there are now 422,000 registrations on that - an increase of 17,000 since yesterday.

Just to remind people, that even registering, which provides your up-to-date contact details with the Ministry of Health is incredibly helpful for both you and for us and our wider efforts. So I continue to encourage to download that app.

 There are now over 17,000 QR posters available in businesses around New Zealand, representing that unique New Zealand business number and those are the ones that work with the NZ COVID Tracer app.

We're launching another app today called Āwhina for health care and professional staff. It provides them with access to information on the updated case definition, on local clinical pathways, and on guidance around use of personal protective equipment amongst other things. We're very pleased to be able to provide that information to our health professional workforce so it's available on their mobile device and it is updated as it is updated on our website. We've worked on that app with feedback and input from people across the system.

Finally, on another important topic, back in alert level 4, I certainly noticed, and you may well have, there were many people out walking or cycling to get some fresh air and physical activity to break the monotony of being inside. With less traffic on the roads, I have to say, it was both easy and very enjoyable.

Now there is obviously more traffic on the road under alert level 2, but I would encourage people to still try and build in some physical activity into your days. I know it's getting more difficult with shorter and colder days, especially those mornings, but if you can retain that physical activity and build it into your day, perhaps for local trips - whether it's school, work or to the shops - that will help you stay well over winter.

What you may notice is your local councils providing more space for walking and cycling to make it easier. I commend the councils for doing this. I strongly encourage people to make the most of that. So we'll cooperate - continue to work, as we have been, with the Ministry of Transport, around the benefits of walking and cycling where there is COVID-19 or not.

Questions?

Media: Would you be comfortable with the country moving to level 1 earlier than a month away?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: The advice we've given, and this was the basis for the Cabinet discussion, and their decision on Monday was to first of all to move the group side up to 100 and then -- size up to 100 and then remain in full alert level 2 for a period of two weeks before moving to alert level 1. But I'm also aware as the Prime Minister said on Monday they will be reconsidering the aLe letter level set -- alert level settings on June 2. The ultimate decision remains with cabinet.

Media: What why do we need to say in alert level 2 for so long?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: The main thing is we need to be certain that the cumulative result of activities means our border procedures are safe and secure especially as contemplate to a possible move to a bubble with Australia and/or more people coming into the country.

Media: Have you seen Winston Peters this morning said we should be in level 1 already and have a Trans-Tasman bubble arranged? Would that be a workable possibility at the moment?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I can't speak for the Deputy Prime Minister's comments. What I can say is that we are working hard on what alert level 1 will look like. And also separately, but obviously linked very hard with the airline industry, airports, foreign affairs and of course our counterparts in Australia, on what would need to be in place to allow a Trans-Tasman bubble, the key thing is that would require both countries have confidence in the arrangement.

Media: That would be a no right now, from today, tomorrow, immediate future?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: As I say, it is work actively under way but it would require decisions of cabinets of both countries before a Trans-Tasman bubble could go ahead. Our job is to provide really good advice on what needs to be in place both in terms of the pattern of cases in each country but also at the border and on flights to help make sure there was no risk of transmission of any cases between countries.

Media: I understand that that mask-wearing has been completed. Is that the case? When was an announcement made?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: There was a review of the scientific evidence and literature a couple of weeks ago, which is the one on our website. We have asked for further advice from our different technical advisory groups, including our overall technical advisory group. There is not a unanimous view on any of those groups but the weight of the rue is still that our current policy, which is not to either recommend or require widespread use of masks, is the right one at this point in time. But we're just finising -- finalising that. We will make an updated statement available in the next day or two.

Media: Have you changed your position on wearing masks in places like public transport?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: No, we're not. The use of masks needs to be put in the context of the situation we're in right now, alert level 2 going to alert level 1 with a record fifth day in-a-row with no new cases and no evidence of community transmission. That's the evidence that will keep people safe along with physical distancing.

Media: Some say they would like to see international students who want to study at the University of Auckland's Medical School to be able to enter the country. Do you think it's safe to have some students come in if they're paying to stay at hostels?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: This is a piece of work under way, discussions are happening, we're involved in them, led by our education colleagues. The key thing is, any group coming into the country - there's been publicity about some particular people with particular skills who've come in over the last few weeks under a special exemptions policy, anyone who comes into the country needs to do so in a way that complies with that 14-day self or managed isolation, except in very rare circumstances we can be very confident the risk is low. Yes, that does open up the option of international students coming into the country and we would need to make sure that all the arrangements were in place to do so safely.

Media: What alert level will the country have to be at for you to feel comfortable to establish a Trans-Tasman bubble?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I think that's depend on both governments deciding the risks are able to be managed within an appropriate process. I think the said this on Monday - it is not dependent on us being in alert level 1 but dependent on decision-makers in both countries agreeing to it.

Media: Going back to allowing people back into the country, would you still recommend they stay at hotels in Christchurch or Auckland or could you envisage a time they could self-isolate at home as we did before?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: At this point in time, because the border is so important for us to keep the infection out of the country, we're maintaining the position that it requires, either, quarantine or supervised isolation at one of the facilities that are setup in Auckland or Christchurch.

Media: Is is this the first time -- is this the first time there's been no-one in hospital for COVID-19 since the pandemic lockdown began?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I think it is, absolutely, yes, we've had a number of people in hospital. Never a big number but I think this is the first time in a couple of months we haven't had someone in hospital. That's another good position to be in.

Media: Yesterday you spoke a bit about exemptions you signed off on. Do you sign off on them all? How many have you signed off on for people in the screen industry?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: The ones in screen industry I don't sign-off on. They're signed off by Minister Twyford and they're related to specific commercial ventures. The very small number I sign off on are around workers with very particular skills, like there were some engineers in Europe what came to fix the so-called "poo" pipe here in Wellington. And one I mentioned yesterday who is here to repair X-ray machines. The ones about commercial ventures are not something I sign off on. However, they have to comply with the very strict public health measures in place for earn else. They -- everyone else. They require the 14-day quarantine period.

Media: Do you know how many have been signed off on?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: In the latter category? REPORTER: In both.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I've signed off on in a handful. I should say those are people who don't need to do the 14-day quarantine, assuming they've fulfilled a number of requirements. In the case of the other group, it's somewhere between one and 200 but Minister Twyford is the person who will know the exact numbers there.

Media: On that point of allowing further people in, some of the arrangements that these people are quarantining overseas rather than quarantining when they get here?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Not at this point in time. But that is something we are looking at. You would need to be comfort in the quarantine arrangements in the - at the destination, where they're coming from - sorry, at the point of where they're coming from and be confident they were following the same strict public health measures we have in place here. It is something we're looking at a possibility.

Media: Is that something we could move to of sort of there being a visa or something requirement and proof that they have managed to self-isolate and/or quarantine in their country of residence before coming to New Zealand and then they could go straight into their role?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Yes, that's absolutely an option. Another option - we're seeing some countries do this - is requiring testing before people depart from their departure point in a timely way. Both those are options. But at this point in time, we're not using either of those options but they are options for the future.

Media: Note that the Government's response to PPE requests internationally is currently no, can you say which countries have asked for help with PPE?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: No, I don't know which countries have asked that but we can provide that information.

Media: You may have seen people wearing makeshift masks over the mouth, nose area. Does that offer any value for people taking those measures?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I'm not discouraging people from doing it. If you're going to use a mask or face covering, know how to do that safely. It makes it even more careful to use careful hand hygiene. Because that's where the potential for using face masks can be, with touching inanimate objects and then touching the face. We have done reviews where health care staff may have got infected from - on more than one occasion we believe it is from contaminated surfaces even though they were wearing full PPE. I can't overstate the importance of people using good hand hygiene whether using a face covering or not.

Media: Are you happy with where testing numbers are at? It's dropped off over the last couple of days. Is that to be expected?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: First of all, we always see a drop over the weekend and that tends to flow through into the Monday and Tuesday numbers. It's coming up again, I think, today. We were 4,279 tests processed yesterday. Yes, we will expect to see the numbers come down because - for two reasons. First of all, through the last couple of months we've been testing for people with symptoms. We continue to do that, and that is that the vast majority of the testing that's happening. Anyone who fits that case information on our website, which is very broad still. But secondly, we were doing a lot of testing to try and identify if there was any hidden virus out there in the community. Now that it's clear it's not, we'll be shifting the focus for that testing to the border because that's the area where we'll have the most risk. There is a very specific plan being developed around that which one it has been through cabinet and approved will become in operation from 8 June. It is testing people and looking for any breach at the border with more testing there.

Media: Because of our success in tackling COVID-19, is it going to affect our chances if there's a vaccine created internationally, will it affect our chances of getting the vaccine if we're a country as seen as doing well and doesn't need it as badly as other countries?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I shouldn't think so. It's still a long way off, for a start. Secondly, as you will have seen in the vaccine strategy that was publicised earlier in the week we have a number of irons in the fire there to make sure that we have access to a vaccine as soon as one's available, and also planning for making sure that we can vaccinate our population.

Media: Following on what you were saying there, new testing at the borders, does that mean we could see more people coming through the borders?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: Ah, regardless of whether we're seeing more people coming through the borders what we're looking at is whether we routinely test everyone coming through the border at some point during their quarantine period. But also, it's about testing of people who are working at the border, either at airports or ports, or in those quarantine facilities. So that will be where the  focus of our asymptomatic testing will be.

Media: Back to masks, where does the discrepancy lie at the moment?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: There are a range of views whether widespread mask use whether on public transport or in other public settings by the general public is worth doing from a sense of that the benefits outweigh the potential risks at this point in time. But it's just one of those things that's under active conversation.

Media: One question from our sports team. The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to the middle of next year. Do you think a vaccine would be ready by that time, and do you think the Olympics should go ahead if there isn't a vaccine and you are going to have thousands of athletes around?

Dr Ashley Bloomfield: I'm prepared to answer most questions but I don't think I can offer any sound insights into that particular issue. I'm sorry. OK. Thank you very much, everybody.