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A West Coast woman became New Zealand’s first death in the global Covid-19 pandemic yesterday, as cases across the southern region continued to increase.
A further 31 cases were identified in the Southern District Health Board region at the weekend, taking the regional total to 70 — second only nationwide to Auckland.
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On a per head of population basis, the South is hardest hit by Covid-19.
There are 21.2 cases per 100,000 in the southern region; the second-highest rate is in Wellington’s Capital and Coast which has 15.4 cases per 100,000.
Data released by the SDHB yesterday of the 69 confirmed cases revealed the spread of Covid-19 in the region.
Dunedin had the most cases (25), followed by Queenstown Lakes (24).
The remaining confirmed cases were in Invercargill (8), Central Otago (5), Clutha (3), Southland (2), Waimate (1) and Gore (1), and there was one probable case.
Health Minister David Clark said he expected the number of cases of Covid-19, which across New Zealand yesterday stood at 514, to continue to rise no matter how many precautions people took.
"New Zealand is not immune to Covid-19.
"We have had a lot of travellers return home from hot-spot areas, and the vast majority of our cases can be connected back to people travelling or their close contacts.
"We expect to see case numbers continue to rise for a period of time, and if the strategy we have in place works that will happen for another 10 days or so."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the death of the West Coast woman, aged in her 70s with a serious underlying health condition, devastating.
"This is a very sad day, but it also brings home exactly why we are taking such strong measures to stop the spread of this virus.
"Left unchecked it runs the risk of taking the lives of many more people."
Worldwide, almost 30,000 people have died after contracting Covid-19, more than 10,000 of them in Italy alone.
Ms Ardern reiterated that more New Zealanders would fall ill with the disease due to the length of time it took for symptoms to become apparent.
"Our older New Zealanders and those with underlying health risks are by far the most at risk, and it is critical that we all stay at home to give our older New Zealanders protection."
The West Coast woman died early on Sunday morning in Grey Base Hospital. She was initially admitted with suspected influenza, and treated for that before she tested positive to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, a veterinary clinic in Ranfurly has shut after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.
VetEnt said on social media last night the staff member had attended the World Hereford Conference, linked to more than 20 cases of the disease, earlier this month. Customers and staff who may have been at risk had been contacted by the Ministry of Health.
Nationwide, 56 people have recovered from Covid-19.
Nine people are in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care.
One of the nine patients was in a designated Covid-19 ward in Dunedin Hospital.
Most southern cases are directly linked to international travel through the World Hereford Conference and the Wanaka A&P Show.
About 400 people from 18 countries attended the World Hereford Conference in Queenstown and some travelled to other parts of New Zealand afterwards.
Seventeen confirmed and two probable cases of Covid-19 have been linked to the conference.
Another 840 close contacts have been identified, of which almost 600 have been traced and spoken to by authorities.
Nationally, an average of 1786 Covid-19 tests were being carried out every day, and Dr Clark said he had been assured New Zealand had enough testing capacity.
While there was worldwide demand for the reagent chemicals needed for testing, Dr Clark said supply lines for New Zealand were in place.
"I am sure that we have sufficient to continue on with what we are doing now."
The SDHB told clinicians at the weekend it had sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
A new stockpile had been built up alongside an existing dedicated pandemic supply, a spokeswoman said.
"To maintain visibility of supplies and enable us to allocate our resources to where it is most required, we are now holding our stocks centrally."
Staff were being trained to use the equipment appropriately and correctly to minimise wastage, and measures, including cameras and security staff, were being used to prevent pilfering.
"Maintaining our supplies is taken very seriously, and we are working closely with other DHBs and the Ministry of Health to co-ordinate our efforts to replenish stock on a timely basis."
Dr Clark said New Zealand had sufficient stocks of PPE .
"It’s a matter of making sure it is in the right place at the right time, that everyone who should have some does, and making sure that people understand what the guidelines are for their particular workforce and tasks."