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COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) update – 16 August, 2020 1pm | Ministry of Health NZ

you forgive us for being slightly uh late this afternoon i am aware of course the house is in session at the moment so as to avoid any crossover with the bells and to ensure that the press gallery have the chance to question any other mps as they enter the house so we'll try and look to wrap by at least 22 just to forewarn everyone we're now a week into our covert resurgence plan and halfway through our precautionary move of auckland to alert level three and the arrest of the country to alert level two today i'm going to set out a number of decisions the government has taken to strengthen the ongoing delivery of testing at our borders and managed isolation facilities and continue in an ongoing process of improvement as we have always done through covert to continue to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus first though i will hand over to dr bloomfield to provide the latest numbers thank you prime minister kiyora kotokartoa so there are six new cases of covert 19 to report in aotearoa new zealand today one case is an important case it's a woman in her 50s who arrived in new zealand from qatar via sydney on the 14th of august and she has been in managed isolation at the sadima hotel in rotorua and will now be moved to quarantine facility in auckland the other five cases are in the community and they have all been linked to the current auckland outbreak so there are now 125 people in the community who have been moved into the auckland quarantine facility and that includes 61 people who have tested positive and household contacts there are five people receiving hospital level care for covert 19 one in auckland city and four in middlemore hospital the six new confirmed cases reported today bring our total number of confirmed cases of covert 19 to 1299 and just to note on the people who have been cared for in hospital with covert 19 they are isolated and are being very carefully managed separately from other patients so anyone who needs to visit one of those facilities for medical care whether it's acute or non-acute can be very highly assured that there are safe processes in place to keep you safe and please do seek a care if you need it at hospital yesterday our labs processed 23 038 tests for covert 19 bringing our total number of tests completed to date to 639 415 and on testing just a reminder people should only present for testing if they are symptomatic are connected to a case in which case they will have been asked to do so or are concerned they may have come into contact uh the only asymptomatic people being tested are those being tested at managed isolation facilities or at our border at the moment uh since the 11th of august we've identified 1983 close contacts of our existing cases and we have traced 1861 of those people who are self-isolating will have been tested or awaiting testing we will include in our update some information around the latest on our genomic testing and the use of serology testing which we have been using as part of our ongoing work on this outbreak just on the pack and save glenn innis which i mentioned yesterday is a site that had been visited by a shopper who was a confirmed case of covert 19 the investigation continued further yesterday and the scoping suggests that person in fact only visited the supermarket once while infectious and that was on the 12th of august and apologies to pack and save cleaners and foodstuffs if that longer period that was indicated yesterday has caused any issues the person is considered to be low risk and employees and other shoppers also therefore at low risk the total number of nz covert tracer app registered users is now one million five hundred and fifty six thousand one hundred and thirty eight uh it's great to see people using the app and of course businesses displaying the qr code and just a plea to businesses remember the qr code needs to be accessible to people who may be in wheelchairs so please make sure that there is a code that is no longer than no higher than 130 centimeters above the ground and finally a word on the exemptions process so there is advice on travel into and out of auckland on the all of government covert 19 website uh travel of course is restricted under the current alert levels there are a limited number of personal exemptions being granted as well as exemptions for work purposes there is an application process that needs to be followed that is on the ministry of health's website and there are a number of people who have been granted exemptions as i outlined yesterday and travel in and out of the level three two alert level two or in either direction is not permitted some people may leave alert level three after consideration for specific exemptions i recognize this can be particularly challenging for families who are in mourning or who are wanting to visit our dying loved ones and we will consider any applications on a case-by-case basis thank you prime minister thank you dr bloomfield as you heard today's results are encouraging at this stage we are not seeing a surge in community cases we have not seen any new cases outside of that identified auckland cluster and there are no additional cases relating to the ridges maintenance worker that we talked about yesterday the perimeter of the virus is not expanding exponentially and risks like daily doubling of cases as we saw during the first outbreak has not occurred over the past week so far the rollout of our resurgence plan is working as we intended however as has been discussed in recent days there are constantly things that we can and should be improving with our covert response as we have done all the way through cabinet signed off a good solid testing plan for border and managed isolation workers drafted by the ministry of health in late june but as has been discussed it has not been executed at the scale and speed necessary as i've said as with our response on all things with covert when we've identified gaps or issues we have moved at speed to fill them and we do so now again there's three key measures that i wish to talk you through today to assist with that first i can announce that we are appointing a small team to support health to stand up the comprehensive testing strategy that we set out in june and that was approved by cabinet in june heather simpson who undertook the recent review into the new zealand health system will co-chair that small team alongside sir brian roche who led the review of ppe use and who has been leading the government's work to strengthen our contact tracing system the improvements of which we have seen have paid dividends in this outbreak the rest of the team will be announced on friday by the minister of health the wider team will bring together a range of public sector management and health expertise as well as knowledge of the operation of our health and border systems and the management of infectious diseases key here i think to recall is that we are implementing here a strategy that cuts across multiple government agencies health is deeply embedded with our resurgence plan us roll out and we do need to support them as we implement a system that does need to cut across multiple government agencies secondly today so brian roche is currently in auckland working alongside the public health unit to ensure that they have all of the support they need as they do that key work to manage the cluster we currently have his recent work on improving the contact racing system has proven its worth in the past week and his presence on the ground will add to the expertise and assurance that we're providing that public health unit with all the support they need so brian will be reporting back to dr bloomfield uh on how uh the public health unit is fearing currently finally the government will be deploying around 500 extra defense force personnel into the managed isolation and quarantine system and maritime border to further bolster protections against covert 19 spreading into the community that will bring the total defence force personnel supporting the covert 19 response to around 1 1200. this is work that the minister in charge of these facilities minister megan woods has been working on for some time this boost and staff will be progressively rolled out over the next six weeks and we'll see the number in each managed isolation facility of defense first force personnel increased to 19 per facility and also see around 80 extra personnel stationed at the maritime border to assist customs by scaling up our defense force staff we'll be able to reduce our reliance on private security guards especially in the highest risk facilities our intention is to stop using private security contractors particularly in the riskiest places such as entry and exit points in public areas and replace them with defence for staff where we are using security guards we're looking to directly employ them by mb who will train and pay a living wage this will raise accountability and give more central control over procedures while the current community cluster has not been sourced to a managed isolation and quarantine facility strengthening security is always an important step and as i say this is something that minister woods has been working on for some time that we are announcing today the auckland cluster demonstrates how tricky covert 19 is as a virus and while events of the last week represent a setback to some with further modifications and strengthening of our border arrangements we can limit the risk of future spread we must always be looking to improve as we go on that point i do wish to emphasize the word limit no system is foolproof and in a global pandemic there are no absolutes in any notion that a border system that is so far involved forty thousand returning new zealanders thousands of border hotel air crew truck drivers and port staff to name just some of those who have interactions with returnees and goods entering our country that a border system will be absolutely perfect is unrealistic that is why we have additional controls in place ppe infection prevention health checks and testing that is why we are also prepared for reappearance and had a plan to stamp it out going hard and early was central to that plan a plan that had level three restrictions in place in auckland in under 24 hours with a handful of cases compared to victoria's level 3 lockdown with more than 3 000 cases a plan that is so far delivered 136 000 tests in a week a plan that has now seen the vast majority of auckland miq staff tested a plan that has seen contract tracing consistently at the standard we intended this past week to quickly show there are no more cases in tokurawa taupo or an important point is these were the key areas outside of auckland to check due to people's movements a plan that has seen new zealanders lift their actions to donning masks and face coverings businesses putting up their qr code posters and people keeping a record of where they have been as well as maintaining physical distance and good hygiene like washing hands and staying home when sick the extraordinary agility that is the core of our response has kept us at the leading edge of global responses to this global pandemic and i credit our agencies community our health workforce and others with that agility however we need to do all we can to limit the risk and the actions i've announced today just the latest iterations in our overall planner response that has delivered the longest sustained period without community transmission of any country in the world at 102 days one of the most open economies in the world and low infection and death rates i once again thank the police our testers our lab workers our border staff and all new zealanders for their extraordinary efforts while there is no playbook that constant ongoing improvement by everyone is the key to our success and will continue to be happy to take questions why did you decide to bring in um heather simpson and brian roach now was it the testing bot chat that prompted you to bring in these these people we have a testing strategy and plan drafted by the ministry of health which is very robust what we need to do is assure ourselves that it's being implemented across a range of sites in a really comprehensive way health of course are at the front uh end and leading our resurgence response we want to make sure they've got extra support for a job that cuts across port authorities borders and of course a range of facilities we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to get that comprehensive system in place what prompted you to bring in this extra support now why not earlier on in the piece was it because of this lockdown and look of course as i've already talked about um you can see that as the plan was implemented we then started getting in data that demonstrated we needed ongoing improvement and while we were working to that of course we need to escalate that and make sure it's much much faster and much more comprehensive health as i've said are leading the charge on our resurgence plan i don't think we should leave it to them alone to implement testing and surveillance testing that is across such a range of agencies without having that extra support to do it confirmation though isn't it that health wasn't properly resourced or delivering to an adequate standard no it's a confirmation that this is a very logistically complex operation at the time that we announced that testing uh strategy which was drafted by the ministry of health we did put in extra funding to deploy it but we do have to acknowledge this is a significant logistical exercise it's multiple agencies multiple sites this extra support should give that added confidence that we're supporting the ministry of health to undertake what is a significant job elaborate on what that level 1.5 could look like could it be level one with masks and perhaps a ban on on mass gatherings but first whether you rolled out a move to level four no intention as we've always said no intention to move to level four and no need to you can see from the cases reported today where we're seeing the perimeter of the cluster obviously a way to go yet um but they are early signs of the management of this of this cluster of course we will continue to see cases but no absolutely no intention to escalate nor any need to when it comes to wider issues with changing settings we have the framework um to be able to support a clear understanding of what different levels we're at and what's required we have added masks to that plan so i think that's something people accept and why we needed to do that but when it comes to any downgrade of our restrictions we'll be doing a check-in shortly and communicating what we see is necessary in the future oh just perhaps to pick up prime minister the comments i made the other day around the 1.5 i i mean that's it's basically that we did well in being able to get back to level one and we spent quite a lot of time in level one and what we want to do is to maintain the sorts of the wide range of activities we were able to do in elite level one when we go back down and that may include us accepting that there was some will be some things we have to routinely do even at alert level one that we weren't doing before one of course which is using the app regularly but also it may mean use of masks in some settings and it may be some uh maintaining some physical distancing um measures when we're in situations where we're with people we don't know do you see that as a boat of no confidence in you can you start the standing up of this support team do you see that as a vote of no confidence in you did you drop the ball on testing i didn't see it as a vote of no confidence in fact i welcome it because as the prime minister has outlined in addition to our community testing uh which the health system is is responsible for the addition of testing at a range of settings including airports maritime ports and across miff settings right across the country is actually logistically complex i've said that a number of times and it involves not just health but a range of private and public sector workforces so actually welcome help with helping us make sure we have a plan that is both doing aligning the health part of that which is ensuring the testing capacity is there but also ensuring that the workforces are regularly um brought through for that testing so i welcome the support did the testing at those isolation facilities we heard from the prime minister the plan was signed off by cabinet and your team failed to execute that plan we were in the process of executing as i have said we were rolling it out and even if we think say about the ridges hotel there was testing in there on the 23rd and 25th of july it then went in again uh on the uh 13th of august as part of our um broader testing of every of every work part of the workforce in mathematics yeah as dr bloomfield has rightly pointed out actually the word testing in those facilities and what we also need to remember is testing alone will never be sufficient if you test even once weekly you have the chance that someone could be become infected in between times you have to have infection controls you have to have ppe use and even then you have to be prepared to have a rigorous contact racing system because the idea that you will never ever have a virus slip through all of those nets is simply unrealistic which is why we have that resurgence plan dr flimford did you or your team ever raised with cabinet that you were struggling to implement this strategy as quickly or as comprehensively as they would have liked uh well i don't get to raise with cabinet directly but we were providing reporting through i think that reporting showed progress um and i've as i've said here before it wasn't necessarily the pace and extent of progress that i would have liked nor that the pm and um and the minister would have liked but it was rolling out as quickly as we could were the concerns raised so did it take a sort of a publicized failure of testing for this extra support to come in or had it been raised earlier that there were struggles implementing the test we did have iterative conversations because of course you'll remember me saying that early on at our borders we were using voucher systems that didn't allow us all health to appropriately track the testing that's when health moved to on-site testing we then could see from those numbers that they weren't high enough but they did track quickly up from the 31st of july we had 211 border staff tester for instance so all the way through we were talking about what is it that means our numbers are low um can we ease that logistically for staff on site are we covering all our shifts so we did have those conversations but of course that's all part of our constant improvement to try and make sure we have the kind of rigor in our system we need keep in mind nothing to date has tracked the particular cluster we're dealing with back to our border but nonetheless we want that to be as tight as possible dr bloomfield have you gotten to the bottom of why your ministry told the health minister several weeks ago that there was weekly testing at the jet park hotel uh i haven't looked back further and to be honest i've been uh pretty busy with the current response and making sure we are getting the testing done that we need to actually contain this outbreak that is something we will look at but at the moment we're focused on this outbreak as you would expect us the red flag though isn't it because obviously that wasn't that thing so as we've already said we are here and now i'm making sure that those constant improvements and assurances for everyone the director general included around those decisions that are being made strategies made by the ministry of health are then being deployed within the complexity of a system that cuts agencies dhbs and so on none of that can be a distraction for getting this right on the ground so we're making sure that we're putting in the systems that can assure both of us that that is occurring you will also see in the cabinet decisions that is why we looked at mandating that so we had that extra assurance but making sure then that that was being deployed on the ground is something that you've rightly raised that we will continue a little bit more information about this um maintenance man in the us traveler there was obviously no physical contact there so have you got any more update on how they might have had that same strain and do you know yeah or is it possible to know if we had it first yes yes so what we do know is that the um the variation that the maintenance worker has means that he caught it from the person who was the case diagnosed in the managed isolation facility and who had traveled from the usa and so that matches there it's possible it could have been a direct infection or it's possible there could have been an intermediary that's what we know so far so we're now testing using both and because there wasn't physical contact was there uh that's right so there wasn't physical contact but it could have been a contaminated surface possible or there could have been infection of a person who then infected the maintenance worker clearly probably someone else who works in the facility so in fact all of those who work in the facility were tested last friday they've all been retested and this is a place where we will use serology as well just to see if those people who are close contacts who may have had contact with the person when the the person who was the resident in the hotel who was diagnosed on the 31st have got evidence even if they've got a negative pcr test if they have evidence of old infection that may help us uh make the link as well keep in mind that your transmission how realistic is that because who talks about 72 hours and when you look at the timeline it's a lot longer than that oh that's that's the that's the time from which someone became symptomatic not necessarily from the time in which it is we have been told by uh esr that it is possible but we're trying to rule out the alternative that there might have been an intermediary in between everyone's negative so far we're going back again a second time we're looking at serology to double check just to rule that out because we want to make sure that we've gotten everyone on the of defence force personnel at uh quarantine and managed isolation facilities what specifically prompted the decision um the desire to reduce the number of private security guards and what's with the timing is this decision that was made some time ago some time ago so as you can see imagine oh you'll recall that we were having some issues raised around questions of the use of private security contractors whether or not there were issues with some of their practices on the job that was sufficient for minister woods to begin the work to scale up the use of government agents within our managed isolation facilities and where we are needing to bolster with a bit of extra support from security staff to move to directly employ them through mb and make sure they're paid a living wage and part of that is ensuring we then limit the risk of anyone working in any other role that may mean they have contacts in other work places so she started working on that as you can imagine when some of those issues were being raised some time ago and we're setting that out here today well some of some of course won't necessarily be the same people but we are looking where we need to bolster the government agency support uh we are looking to directly employed on decent wages additional personnel who will be trained and managed directly by government agencies and we our viewers that will improve accountability improve the support for regular testing improve the training and give us assurance and not working in other sites i can't tell you specifically though but obviously we are increasing the number of defense force personnel on every side as do you think of the well that the himalayan pacific community is now paying a price for low-level uh surveillance random testing during july between may and july community testing declined by 100 000 from 165 000 in may for 65 000 in july on some days testing was as low as uh 500 to 600 do you think that if you have maintained a high level of surveillance random testing that they would have that you would have detected the auckland cluster a lot sooner i i don't think there's necessarily any evidence to suggest we necessarily would have however it is fair to say there was a constant piece of work to try and lift our community surveillance you would have heard both dr bluefield and i stand on this podium many many times and employ people who are symptomatic to get tested over time while we were covered through free we saw a decline in people meant i'm going forward to our community testing stations and our gps for testing so that is something we will need to keep maintaining we want that surveillance so that no one pays the price of resurgence but we also want to get to the bottom of what has happened here so we can constantly improve our system prime minister um on the spreading of rumors and misinformation people are calling it um are you concerned that it's eroding the government's covert fighting efforts or or trust in the resurgence plan and do you think google and facebook are doing enough to stop them spreading through i think everyone has a role to play and i i don't think any particular platform or publisher as they actually are should say that they don't have a role to play new zealand's not alone this is an issue everywhere i see our job as making sure that we're utterly consistent that we're providing as much information as possible we're being as transparent as possible to try and counter what we see happening on some of those platforms i'd like to see in the future as part of the work that the independent work that the who is part of that we do look into what has happened in the periphery of the health response that may have hampered the health response because it's a digital age and it seems common sense to me to involve some of that twitter for example is stopping people from retweeting clearly wrong information facebook and youtube are not going to the extent of removing it or stopping people from sharing it or liking it and their algorithms are designed to put that extreme misinformation into people's news feeds what do you think those platforms could do to stop the infidel well i wouldn't want to speak to technically what they may be able to do but i do i've constantly been impressed with their ability to use technological solutions they do have teams that work very hard for instance where they're not able to automate the way this works to deal with more manual systems when we're dealing with for instance violence extreme violence online i know they constantly try and walk the line of freedom of speech issues and other but we do have to worry about whether or not misinformation tips into creating a public health risk for people and so that's why i'd like to see some of those global institutions like the who have a think about the role that's played in threatening people's public health regarding the bridges we've had reports from returnees of maintenance workers entering their rooms while occupied without ppe are you aware of that happening and yesterday you see the only empty rooms after they only entered empty rooms after they've been cleaned pick that up perhaps because that's something actually probably that from an operational perspective is for minister woods and um uh commodore webb um they are able to track um entry and exit from card use which is how they use that's what they do when they have cover positive cases and they use cctv footage so if you wouldn't mind providing a little details we can then cross check whether or not that has happened obviously you'll know from the amount of rigor we put in our systems we use every effort to keep absolute separation between those in isolation and workforce so i would like to go and look into those claims or sensible to have foreign air crews staying at the same hotels as the general public and they of course four air crew have stand down periods and testing regimes and quite rigorous employment requirements um on them uh and that is part of their relationship obviously with their employer and as set out with the ministry of health again as part of our constant improvements you know we're very open to looking at whether or not more rigor needs to be put around that but keep in mind i had a conversation with the minister of health this morning some people are being tested significant numbers of time in their journeys as part of regimes not just in new zealand but in their destinations and return routes as well private security was obviously a major issue in the victorian outbreak and we know that you've spoken to daniel andrews that's fine i would like to detect there's nothing to suggest that that there's been any link there with anything we're experiencing currently but that's another signal to you that we've constantly looked to make improvements all the way through and you'll remember these are now defence force lead facilities we've then over time looked to bolster them we've tried trying now as you can see we're reducing down the use of that private um personnel and that's all been part of our constant systems improvement to protect against some of the issues that we have seen abroad but it hasn't come as a result of a specific conversation 1.5 moves or changes to level one right would it be right to suggest that mass gatherings sporting crowds that sort of stuff we should play down expectations they'll return or things like nightclubs which are the last things to return last year yeah i don't want anyone really any speculation on that it's very true to say that dr bloomfield and i have not had that conversation because we use the the data that we have and we even use what the cluster is telling us about regional inter-regional spread that's important for us in assessing what we do next with our loot levels so we will be giving an update shortly what are the penalties for businesses that don't have qr codes displayed prominently and what is being done to make sure that they're compliant so kevin had a discussion about this recently our hope is that we can use um business advisory services locally local government to help support businesses to get those qr codes up in terms of penalty my recollection is it's three or four hundred dollars for those who don't display and i believe that may be an instant fine but i would want to go and double check are any officials going to be going around and making sure that these posters are up obviously we generally do have even if it's a lower level enforcement rating we do have enforcement regimes available i imagine we would want to be able to use the public as well to report if there are issues um let me check with the relevant minister as to how they see that being deployed when the health minister said yesterday that all returning international air crew had to test and isolate high risk high risk returning okay he said that all of them yes he acknowledged the high risk returning crew and so those are protocols that have all been worked through with the ministry of health um and in new zealand based on questions around who they are exposed to whether or not they stop for pilots for instance i understand coming out of australia they don't leave their cockpit the entire time so that assessment has been done between health and in new zealand again as with our constant improvements i know the minister of health met with in new zealand this morning to talk about how we can continually beef up the regime that we have again nothing at this point to demonstrate that's been where we've had issue here can i ask about the um the reports that you're providing to the ministry from the ministry to the minister and then cabinet how is the data being sourced for those reports does it come from pulling out people's mhi details or does it come from the facilities themselves you know what is being coded and how for you to pull that data out and give to the minister so now we are able to pull out the data around where some what workforce or group someone who is tested is in so whether they're general public whether they are a worker at a myth whether they are at the airport or report because it's coded in the laboratory code previously until just the last week or two we've that has had to be a manual process so reporting um from each myth facility from the airports and the ports so it's been quite a manual process okay say that so that person gets tested and at the gp or a sea bag and they go back to the facility and they say look i have a test and that facility then manually says this person's had a test and not necessarily in iq we've had them done on site as well prime minister just quickly scott morrison has come out today and said that if they can get a vaccine they would look at making it mandatory is that that's something that we would consider here in new zealand and is it possible we haven't um done that to date because we've actually been able to get the kind of take-up we need to provide herd immunity to date and i have every expectation we will be able to do that in new zealand um without needing to mandate keep in mind people's freedoms are affected by covert it is in everyone's interest that we have a wide reaching comprehensive vaccination program for new zealanders and i have to say that once we have that vaccination available and out and then it is on everyone's individual risk if they choose not to they are putting their own health at risk um because uh we would of course remove other controls that have stopped the spread all right out of the everyone of the ordinary you