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Eleven Southland Hospital staff are in self-isolation after operating on and caring for a patient who later tested positive to Covid-19, it was revealed yesterday.
The patient had symptoms of the disease but did not tell anyone, the Southern District Health Board said.
Two people who shared a room with the patient have subsequently tested negative to Covid-19.
Of the 13 staff who dealt with the patient, two were considered casual contacts and at low risk of contracting the disease; the other 11 were in self-isolation, Southland Hospital emergency operations centre controller Jo McLeod said.
"Our thoughts are with the patient and we understand this has been a very difficult situation," she said.
"We just want to reinforce that it is very important for patients to disclose any symptoms that they may have, even if they don’t seem serious or significant at the time.
"This means that we can ensure that they are cared for in the right place, with the right equipment, protecting them, their families and our staff."
In a statement today an SDHB spokeswoman said: "We want to emphasise there is no suggestion the individual was aware they had Covid-19 or intentionally put people at risk, hence the importance of disclosing all symptoms, no matter how minor."
In other developments yesterday, health authorities said they would combine forces to try to establish how widespread community transmission of Covid-19 was in the southern region.
With 177 confirmed cases, the South is still by far the district health region with the highest number of Covid-19 patients.
While most cases are linked either to overseas travel or close contact with known Covid-19 patients, community transmission is suspected of having spread the disease in the Queenstown Lakes region which, with 68 cases, remains the place in the region with the highest number of cases.
Ministry of Health officials and the Southern District Health Board would work together this week in an attempt to clarify just how widespread community transmission of the pandemic disease is in the South, director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.
There would be a particular focus on cases of Covid-19 where the cause of the patient contracting the disease had not been established.
"We are going to be working with them over the next day or two to look at each of those cases that is under investigation to determine whether they can or should be classified as community transmission."
The Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions were imposed to try to stamp out community transmission of the potentially lethal disease and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday re-emphasised they would remain in place nationally for four weeks, and that Level 4 restrictions could remain in place after that in particular areas.
"The director-general and myself talk frequently about the importance of getting regionalised data because we may end up in a position down the track where we have some regions that are dealing with outbreaks but other parts of the country that aren’t," Ms Ardern said.
‘"We need the flexibility to be able to move New Zealanders to different levels if that is the best way for us to cope with that outbreak."
Two of the 12 significant clusters of Covid-19 cases are in the South: a Bluff wedding was linked with four new cases yesterday, for a total of 62 confirmed cases stemming from that gathering.
No further positive tests have been linked to the World Hereford Conference in Queenstown, an event responsible for 32 cases.
Seventeen more cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the southern region yesterday; of the 1106 cases in New Zealand, the southern region remains most affected by the disease with 177; Waitemata is 20 behind with 157, while Waikato has 147.
SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming yesterday urged southerners to stay at home during the Easter weekend.
"The transmission of this disease is aided by the movement of people," he said.
"So even though you may be going from one residence to another, with no intention of interacting with other people, you do increase the risk of transmitting the infection to a whole new community."
Ms Ardern also announced that a new mental health awareness campaign would be launched by the Government, with a particular focus on the stresses caused by the Level 4 lockdown.
- Confirmed cases in NZ - 911 (39 in last 24hrs)
- Probable cases in NZ- 195 (28 in last 24hrs)
- Total = 1106 (67 in last 24hrs)
- Cases in hospital - 13
- Recovered cases - 176 (20 in last 24hrs)
- Deaths - 1
* A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the two people who shared a room with the infected patient tested positive for the virus as well.