Returning New Zealanders may carry the Covid-19 risk

Returning New Zealanders may carry the Covid-19 risk

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 6, 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the media conference 

Almost two weeks into the national lockdown, New Zealand is perhaps experiencing a decrease in the number of people being affected by Coronavirus (Covid-19) but health and law enforcing authorities have a huge challenge on hand- a large number of New Zealanders returning home.

The number of our citizens and permanent residents coming back from various parts of the world is not yet known –hundreds of them- but many of them could be carriers of the virus.

A majority of cases reported thus far has been travel-related and hence the need for caution.

There is no plan to quarantine them, and even if they did, there is no certainty of having eliminated the possibility as symptoms can appear much later.

No hurry to exit

All of which tell the government that it should be careful in moving out of Alert 4 lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not mince words at her media conference this afternoon.

“There is no plan for New Zealand to lift the alert level four lockdown early – and there is science informing that decision. Because of the time lag it took for Covid-19 to rear its head, four weeks was the minimum time needed to ensure the chain of transmission was stopped,” she said.

She mentioned that the virus could take up to 14 days to show signs, and hence cases being seen now could have had the virus prior to the lockdown, but were then asymptomatic.

“So we can expect to see these close contacts coming through now and next week as well. And of course those people could have passed it onto others in their bubble or their essential workplace as well,” Ms Ardern said.

Community transmission

She said that health officials are studying the cases of community transmission and that they should be certain that there is no wider presence of the virus in the community, no more than what is already known, especially in areas with low case numbers before lockdown could lift.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We need to be absolutely sure we are not missing a silent outbreak. That is why surveillance testing would be so important and this would get underway soon. Let me be really clear, I don’t want New Zealand to be at Alert Level 4 a minute longer than needed, but equally there is no plan to move from level four early,” Ms Ardern said.

Today’s statistics

Earlier in the afternoon, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced 39 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 28 new probable cases. There were no additional deaths to report and 176 persons had recovered.

“Testing continued over the weekend. From our lab numbers, we can report a day rolling average of tests at 2846 per day. The total of lab tests to date is 39,918 and 3709 tests were carried out yesterday. This is a new record number of tests for one day, as our capacity to test continues to increase. For our community based testing numbers, as of today we have 65 Community based Assessment Centres and 48 designated swabbing centres,” he said.

Interest in Clusters

Dr Bloomfield said that there is ongoing interest in clusters (a cluster is where there are a group of COVID-19 cases linked together because they’ve been in the same place together).

“We currently have 12 significant clusters. The clusters with the highest number of associated cases remains the same as yesterday: a wedding in Bluff (62), an event in Matamata (58) and a school cluster in Auckland (72). There is now further information available around a new cluster in Christchurch involving the Rosewood Rest Home,” he said.

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