NZ lockdown – day 19: Health Ministry ‘looking at visit rules’ after fifth death

Dr Ashley Bloomfield on FB
NZ's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield ... Q+A on the Health Ministry's Facebook channel. Image: Minustry of Health screenshot/PMC

By RNZ News

New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield today confirmed the Health Ministry is “actively looking” at the rules around people visiting dying family members in the Ciovid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Bloomfield confirmed this in a Q+A session on Facebook this afternoon to talk about masks, bubbles, testing and clusters.

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

READ MORE: Al Jazeera coronavirus live updates – France’s death toll nears 14,400

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

Masks need changing
“In general, if people want to wear a mask … there’s no specific harm in doing so if you are using it appropriately,” he said.

But he added 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 said 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.”

Swabs taking cells
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 would not 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.”

Deferred surgery catch-up
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 was now 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.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

  • 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.
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