Coronavirus wrap: The day’s key developments in NZ and globally

This story was originally published on RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission.

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We’ll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they’re responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

It remains unclear if community transmission of Covid-19 is occurring in New Zealand as 14 new cases of the illness were confirmed today, bringing the total to 66.

Clockwise from top left for copyright

Clockwise from top left: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, a DOC hut, director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield and lab testing for Covid-19. Photo: AFP / DOC / RNZ / 123RF

Some Auckland schools announced they were shutting immediately or investigating possible action, after either having cases confirmed or establishing links to confirmed cases.

All residents at an Auckland rest home in contact with a staff member who tested positive for Covid-19 have been isolated as a precaution.

Heritage Lifecare Group said the person at Ellerslie Gardens Lifecare facility worked two night shifts, the week after returning from overseas travel on 10 March. They had no symptoms at the time.

GPs are planning to do most of their consultations online or over the phone from tomorrow.

And in Wellington a doctor who has set up a petition gained support for his call for the country to move immediately to Alert Level 4 – the new four-level alert system that was announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday.

In Australia, non-essential services will begin to close in New South Wales and Victoria over the next 48 hours, as Australia desperately attempts to slow the growth of the deadly disease before tens of thousands die from it.

Meanwhile, despite a two-week lockdown the death toll in Italy increased by 793 to 4825 – by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged in that country a month ago.

In the US, nearly one in four Americans are now under orders to stay at home, as lawmakers in Washington neared a deal that could pump a record $US1 trillion ($NZ1.76 trillion) into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

Fourteen new cases

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Ashley Bloomfield Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Work on determining whether there is community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand is still ongoing after 14 new cases of illness were confirmed today.

Ministry of Health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield said five of the new cases were in Auckland, one in Northland, one in Canterbury, two in New Plymouth, two in Waikato, one in Tauranga, one in Coromandel and one in Dunedin. It brings the total number to 66.

They are all in self-isolation and their close contacts have also been identified and told to self-isolate.

Eleven have a history of international travel, while one is a close contact of a confirmed case.

Two attended the World Hereford Conference in Queenstown from March 9-13 and the cases were being linked with international travel, and not due to community transmission.

Just over 1200 tests were carried out yesterday, bringing the total to 6000.

Yesterday, 13 new cases were confirmed, two of which could not be immediately linked with international travel. Dr Bloomfield said work was still ongoing to determine whether these should be classified as cases of community transmission.

GPs to consult patients online, over the phone

Many clinics were preparing for the shift to “virtual” consultations over the weekend.

It is part of a plan to limit the number of people sitting together in a waiting room as the government warns that people should limit their contact with each other.

Those who need to be physically seen by a GP will still be able to go to their clinic but in many cases will talk to their doctor over the phone first.

Call for government to move to Alert Level 4

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition created by a Wellington urgent care physician calling for the government to ramp up its Covid-19 response.

Petition author Dr Kelvin Ward said New Zealand needs to do everything possible to avoid the situations currently facing other countries.

“Being a doctor at this time is like standing on the shore and watching the tide go out with a tsunami coming in and that’s sort of how it feels when you know what’s happening overseas as to the potential impact of what could happen in New Zealand,” he told RNZ.

Schools in Auckland affected

Marist College in Mt Albert has been contacting parents this evening to let them know the school will be closed for a deep clean for the next three days, after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.

And the primary school next door, Marist Primary School, is closing as a precaution.

Auckland’s Glendowie College is also closing for three days after one of its students tested positive for coronavirus.

A parent of a student from Auckland’s Mt Roskill Grammar has tested positive for Covid-19.

The man who tested positive arrived in Auckland from Europe on 12 March, and attended a cultural event at the school for about an hour that evening.

Mt Roskill Grammar principal Greg Watson said it is not considered the wider school community is at risk, however, further advice is being sought from the government.

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Marist College in Mt Albert. Photo: Marist College

Rest home worker tests positive

All residents at an Auckland rest home in contact with a Covid-19-positive staff member have been isolated as a precaution.

Heritage Lifecare Group said the person at Ellerslie Gardens Lifecare facility worked two night shifts, the week after returning from overseas travel on 10 March. They had no symptoms at the time.

Tests for Covid-19 came back positive yesterday and the person is recovering at home.

Staff who had close contact with the individual have also been isolated and will be tested.

NSW, Vic order lockdowns

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaks

Gladys Berejiklian Photo: AFP

The governments of New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT will proceed to a more comprehensive shutdown of non-essential services over the next 48 hours in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies, convenience stores, freight and logistics, and home delivery will be among the many services that will remain open.

Schools in all three states will remain open tomorrow, but in Victoria school holidays will be brought forward to start on Tuesday.

Victoria and NSW were planning to push for lockdowns at tonight’s National Cabinet meeting, but NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made clear that their states would be pursuing these more drastic measures.

The AFL immediately suspended its season in response to the coronavirus outbreak, following announcements by state and federal governments to restrict non-essential travel in Australia.

Dire death total in one day in Italy

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Italy leapt by 793 to 4825 – by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged in that country a month ago.

The new deaths represent an increase of 19.6 percent. On Friday, Italy overtook China as the country to register most deaths from the highly-contagious virus.

The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remains in a critical situation, with 3095 deaths and 25,515 cases.

DOC announces hut closures, cancellation of track bookings

The Department of Conservation is closing its visitor centres to the public from today, and from tomorrow will cancel all hut and campsite bookings, said director-general Lou Sanson.

The cancellation includes all Great Walks bookings for the rest of the season (up to 30 June 2020). People will receive a full refund.

Rangers will visit tracks and facilities, alerting people about the changes and checking people are complying.

Alpha Hut

Alpha Hut Photo: DOC

Financial boost for Māori communities, businesses

The government has announced more than $56 million to support Māori communities and businesses respond to Covid-19.

The majority – $40m – comes from targeted health funding which was included in the government’s $12.1 billion Covid-19 economic package, announced on 17 March.

Another $16m has been reallocated from other sources across government.

Last week there was criticism from iwi and other Māori leaders about the government’s lack of response or targeted funding for Māori in the face of Covid-19.

First Pacific death

Guam’s government says a 68-year-old woman died of Covid-19 early today, the first coronavirus-related death in the Pacific.

Dr Mike Cruz, the government official leading the coronavirus response, said the woman was a relative of a person who recently returned to the territory with Covid-19.

He said the woman had “multiple co-morbidities”, including end-stage renal disease, which compromised her immune system.

84m Americans told to stay home

Nearly one in four Americans are under orders to close up shop and stay at home, as lawmakers in Washington neared a deal that could pump a record $US1 trillion ($NZ1.76 trillion) into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus.

New Jersey’s governor followed four other states – California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut – that have imposed unprecedented restrictions to slow the spread of infections, which have risen exponentially.

As of midday Saturday (US time), 289 deaths and nearly 23,000 cases had been reported.

Life will not return to normal any time soon, officials warned.

“I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I believe it is going to be a matter of months,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.

Federal authorities briefly stopped flights arriving at New York City-area airports after a trainee at an air traffic control centre tested positive.

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