Public Health Notice accords wide powers to health officials

Public Health Notice accords wide powers to health officials

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 4, 2020

The New Zealand government has issued a Public Health Notice invoking special powers to officials to prevent the spread of Covid-19 as the number of cases rise to a total of 950.

These powers, specially those contained in Section 70 (1) (f) and (fa) of the New Zealand Health Act 1956, enable medical officers to  require persons, places, buildings, ships, vehicles, aircraft, animals, or things to be isolated, quarantined, or disinfected as he or she thinks fit; and if the spread of the disease would be a significant risk to the public, require people, places, buildings, ships, vehicles, aircraft, animals, or things to be tested as he or she thinks fit.

Expanded version

The Police later clarified the expanded version of the Notice.

  1. Everyone in New Zealand is to be isolated or quarantined at their current place of residence except as permitted for essential personal movement.
  2. Exercise is to be done in an outdoor place that can be readily accessed from home and two-metre physical distancing must be maintained.
  3. Recreation and exercise does not involve swimming, water-based activities (for example, surfing or boating), hunting, tramping, or other activities of a kind that expose participants to danger or may require search and rescue services.
  4. A child can leave the residence of one joint care-giver to visit or stay at the residence of another joint care-giver (and visit or stay at that residence) if there is a shared bubble arrangement.
  5. A person can leave their residence to visit or stay at another residence (and visit or stay at that residence) under a shared bubble arrangement if (a) One person lives alone in one, or both, of those residences; or (b) Everyone in one of those residences is a vulnerable person.

Single largest rise

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told the daily media conference that there were 52 new confirmed cases and 30 new probable cases of Covid-19, taking the total to 950. That was a rise of 82 cases in a single day.

He said that 127 persons have recovered from the virus. There are ten persons in New Zealand hospitals, including one person in ICU in Wellington.


Dr Bloomfield said that the number of tests continues to rise with the highest number (3631) recorded yesterday (April 3, 2020). The total number of lab tests conducted thus far is about 37,000, with the capacity  for 6271 tests per day.

“We are continuing to grow the supply of both swabs and the components used by labs to process tests. Altogether, we have more than 100,000 nasal and throat swabs in stock, and around 37,000 lab test kit componentry. There is high demand for nasal swabs and our local manufacturer is ramping up production, with 300,000 swabs due in the next three to four weeks,” he said.

Link to overseas travel

He said that the tests indicated that the cases registered have a strong link to overseas travel (47%), as well as links to confirmed cases within New Zealand (34%) and community transmission (1%). 

“Another 17% of cases continue to be investigated. We fully expect that some of those will transpire to be community transmission, once other alternatives such as overseas travel or link with a confirmed or probable case have been excluded,” Dr Bloomfield said.

Ten Clusters

According to him, New Zealand now has ten significant clusters (that is more than 10 persons infected from a single source). 

“To date, there has been a high level of compliance with self-isolation. We know that good compliance with these requirements will protect New Zealand from COVID-19 and we know that staying home saves lives. For a small number of people not following this guidance, we need to have appropriate processes in place to deal with that. The Health Act Notice gives Police clear guidance on managing those people those who are not doing what they are supposed to do,” Dr Bloomfield said.

Case definition updated

The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the government has updated the definition of a case of COVID-19 to separate respiratory symptoms from any travel history or known contact with a confirmed or probable case.

Testing will now be available to people with respiratory problems suggestive of COVID-19 regardless of travel history or contact with a confirmed or probable case, and fever is no longer a requirement. 

The TAG has also recommended that there need to be no change to the recovery definition – an individual with COVID-19 can be released from isolation when at least 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms and at least 48 hours of being symptom free. 

A negative test result is not required for an individual in isolation at home, although a test could be at the discretion of the clinician where the patient has been in hospital.

Face masks

Dr Bloomfield said that the Health Ministry is watching closely advice from the World Health Organisation and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention whether or not people should wear face masks in public to limit spread of the virus from people who are infected but not showing symptoms.

“The best current advice is that basic hygiene measures such as frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and sneeze and cough etiquette remain the mainstay in our defence against COVID-19. We know that there are ways in which wearing a mask could be helpful and also ways in which it could be harmful. In many countries, individuals who are unwell often wear a mask when they go out. There is evidence that can be good practice particularly for protecting others.

However, there is also some evidence that wearing a mask can also do harm such as when it leads to people touching their face more often due to discomfort. That can increase the risk of contamination from your hand and wearing a mask can give a false sense of security,” Dr Bloomfield said.

If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, please call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline anytime from anywhere in New Zealand on 0800-3585453 or on +64-09-3585453 (for international SIMs) or call your GP. Please do not show up at any medical centre.

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