NZ hailed for ‘winning battle’ over covid-19 – but the war isn’t over

Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ... "I can just clarify we haven't eliminated it, and we haven't eradicated it.'' Image: RNZ/Pool/NZME

By Jo Moir, political reporter of RNZ News

New Zealand’s Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has had to walk back comments made by himself and the Prime Minister yesterday about the country having achieved “elimination”.

New Zealand has been hailed in international media, including The New York Times and the Sydney Daily Telegraph, as having won the battle in eliminating covid-19 coronavirus.

While elimination has been achieved at alert level four – giving Dr Bloomfield the confidence to move the country into level three – the war has not been won.

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At yesterday’s daily press conference Dr Bloomfield was asked whether New Zealand had achieved elimination.

It was his answer that “we’ve achieved [elimination] through alert level 4” – and the Prime Minister chipping in that New Zealand “currently” had eliminated the virus – that resulted in yesterday’s confusion.

Realising the waters had been muddied, Dr Bloomfield arrived at Parliament today armed with a clarification.

Asked whether he accepted yesterday’s remarks had given the country and the rest of the world a false impression, and whether he was concerned New Zealanders would be breathing a sigh of relief at a time they should still be vigilant, Dr Bloomfield did not mince his words.

‘I can just clarify …’
“I can just clarify we haven’t eliminated it, and we haven’t eradicated it.”

He said elimination is about having a low number of cases, and a knowledge of where they are coming from and identifying people early.

Then it’s a case of stamping out the virus and continuing to maintain strict border restrictions to be sure no new cases are being imported.

Elimination is by no means eradication and the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this was a situation of entering into the world of epidemioligist-speak.

“And they know well what each of these terms mean in a health sense, but of course in an everyday sense they mean, often, something different.

“Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases… we will have to keep stamping covid out until there’s a vaccine,” she said.

National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said Dr Bloomfield probably felt the need to clarify on behalf of the Prime Minister.

‘Plain English’
“This underscores the importance of talking in plain English. The public are not epidemioligists, they don’t have the same information the Prime Minister has and it’s really important they get on the same page, talk in English, and make it clear to New Zealanders where we’re at and how we’ve got to stay there.”

Dr Bloomfield finished today’s media conference doing his best to unmuddy the waters.

“Well I hope my explanation today has helped to clarify – if there was mud yesterday, the water is clearer today – and I hope you all have a good understanding of that and New Zealanders do.”

Like many people today, Dr Bloomfield said he too enjoyed a take-away coffee but he warned how important it was not to undo the good work that had already been done.

And that means not congregating with friends outside cafes or restaurants.

Three new cases
In the latest New Zealand briefing, there were reported two new confirmed cases of covid-19 reported in New Zealand, and one new probable case, with no further deaths.

Dr Bloomfield said the two confirmed cases had been traced to a known source – one has been linked to the Marist cluster in Auckland, and the other linked to the Gladys Mary Care Home in Hawke’s Bay.

The probable case – which is in South Canterbury – is still being investigated.

There are nine people in hospital with the coronavirus, with one in intensive care.

The new national total of confirmed and probable cases is 1472.

The number of confirmed cases, which is reported to the World Health Organisation, is 1124.

Today’s covid-19 news briefing. Video: RNZ News
  • 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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