36 new virus cases; spread in community

New Zealand has 36 new confirmed cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total number to 102.

More than half were directly related to overseas travel, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

"So these are people who have returned to New Zealand recently and have become symptomatic, been tested and confirmed as cases of Covid-19.

"Most of the remaining cases are close contacts of a previously confirmed case or are associated with an event where there were confirmed cases already, for example, the Hereford Cattle conference in Queenstown."

There were still two cases - in the Wairarapa and Auckland - that could not be linked to overseas travel and were being treated as community transmission.

More than 7400 tests have been carried out so far and there were 1100-1500 tests being done every day.

Contacting tracing efforts were being ramped up and the ministry was expecting more cases, Dr Bloomfield said.

"I would expect to see more cases each day." 

There were 1100-1500 tests being done each day. About 1-2 percent of those were coming back positive - which was comparatively low compared to other countries, suggesting our rate of testing is reasonably high, he said.

Some DHBs have opened drive-through clinics for people to get tested. That doesn't mean people should turn up to get swabbed if they feel like it - they will not automatically be tested.

Over half of today's 36 new cases were directly linked to overseas travel - people who have returned to New Zealand recently.

Most of the remainder are close contacts of previously concerned cases or associated with events where there were confirmed cases.

There still remain two where it's not clear where the infection came from.

The Prime Minister will update the alert level later today.

Contact tracing for all cases is ongoing.

Bloomfield said authorities were expecting to find these cases because so many people were returning from around the world from places where Covid-19 was common.

Just over 1200 lab tests were carried out yesterday - bringing the total to more than 7400.

While most cases are still people who have come from overseas, an increasing number of cases were close contacts of those people, Bloomfield said.

He added that hygiene practices, physical distancing and staying home if you are unwell are becoming increasingly important.

The two cases of suspected community transmission are in Auckland and Wairarapa. The Auckland case is a different one from that discussed on Friday - Friday's case has since been linked to that person's partner.

Healthline's capacity is continuing to increase - the average waiting time yesterday was 30 minutes, Bloomfield said. More staff have been brought on board and other government helplines have also been linked in.

Healthline should only be used to ask about your health. If you have an urgent medical issue, call your GP and get advice there, Bloomfield stressed.

DHBs have plans in place on how to scale down activity - especially elective operations and outpatient appointments - to free up capacity and staff if more people need hospital level care.

That doesn't mean people won't be seen if they need care - but many outpatient appointments could be done via phone calls rather than face to face.

Most hospitals are also restricting visitors, he said.

Bloomfield said a stocktake of NZ's ICU capacity will show how many beds the country has - it also shows the country can triple the number of beds available. The information will be published on the ministry's website shortly.

Regarding the latest modelling from Auckland University, which shows many thousands of people could die without containment of the virus, Bloomfield said: "We have acted very strongly on a whole range of measures and will continue to ... with the express purpose of avoiding that worst-case scenario."

New Zealand was looking closely at different testing options, including new technology which could speed up the time to get a diagnosis.

"Nothing is off the table," Bloomfield said.

 - additional reporting RNZ

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