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The South yesterday recorded its lowest number of new cases of Covid-19 since day 2 of the lockdown.
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And despite the South reaching 195 total cases - 26 more cases than the next hardest-hit region, Waitemata, with 169 — the eight new cases in the South marked just the third time the daily increase was not a double-digit increase in new cases since the Alert Level 4 lockdown restrictions came into effect on March 26.
On day 14, as 50 new cases were recorded nationally, bringing New Zealand’s total to 1210, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had "cautious optimism" the lockdown was working — and Southern District Health Board chairman Dave Cull yesterday said he shared her view at a local level.
"Southern has had the highest per capita rate of positive cases of any DHB region," Mr Cull said.
"In response Public Health South has conducted an exhaustive contact tracing and testing regime. If that has identified a high proportion of any cases in the community, it augurs well for the region. So, yes, I am cautiously optimistic, too."
Five of yesterday’s new cases were in Queenstown, bringing the Queenstown-Lakes district to 73 cases — 25 more than Dunedin (48), which increased by two cases.
Invercargill remained at 40 cases. Central Otago increased by one case to reach 17. Southland remained at nine cases, Clutha at five, Gore at two and Waitaki at one.
The largest age group affected remained 20 to 29-year-olds, who made up 57 of 195 cases; followed by 50 to 59-year-olds at 40; and 30 to 39-year-olds at 26.
Mr Cull — along with the region’s mayors — yesterday issued a plea to police for checkpoints on southern roads to restrict travel between districts by would-be Easter holiday-makers in the coming days.
"In particular, the implementation of checkpoints on the roads to keep would-be travellers in their own areas and out of the usual destinations, such as Queenstown and Central Otago, would be a significant assistance to us," he said.
"This would directly help us to stop the spread of Covid-19 beyond the bubbles and clusters that exist today. We thank you in advance for your support in this matter," Mr Cull said.
The Southern District Health Board confirmed last night that one of two patients in southern hospitals was in a critical, but stable, condition in Dunedin Hospital.
Lakes District Hospital, in Queenstown, also had one patient, who was in a stable condition, the health board’s daily media statement said.
The Bluff wedding cluster remained significant, increasing by eight. It was now linked to 81 cases, representing the second-largest single source of transmission behind Auckland’s Marist College’s cluster of 84.
And while the South continued to have the most cases nationally, the largest increases yesterday were recorded elsewhere — in Canterbury, with 15 new cases, followed by with Waitemata nine new cases.
The South’s eight new cases was the third-largest rise.
Ms Ardern yesterday refused to answer definitively whether the Government was considering extending the lockdown but Director-general of Health Ashley Bloomfield said "new data" from lab testing by region and looking at the "positivity rates in regions" would be major factors in a decision.
"Yes, we’ve certainly got some promising signs, but we want to be sure that there are not any community outbreaks of a small nature out there that we haven’t located," he said.
"We’re confident, but we’ll look at our testing over the next week or so to make sure we are identifying any if they are there."
Ms Ardern said the data Dr Bloomfield was referring to would inform the Government not only about how to ease the restrictions of Alert Level 4 but also ‘‘whether or not there may be certain regions that are in a better position than others’’.