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    COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) update – 3 June, 2020

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    Welcome to Red Bee Media's Live Remote Broadcasting Service >> Kia ora

    Thank you for attending today's briefing Once again there are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand Our 12th consecutive day with no new cases So our total number remains at 1,154 We also have some probably cases so the total combined in probably cases remains also at the same number – 1,504

    There is still the one active case which you're aware of No-one in New Zealand is requiring hospital-level care for COVID-19 and yesterday our laboratories completed 1,262 tests Our grand total now being 283,525 An update on the New Zealand COVID tracer app Now recorded 487,000 registrations

    I'd like to continue to encourage as many people as possible to download the app that will continue to support our contact tracing efforts including when we move to Alert Level 1 Also want to acknowledge again the work being done by businesses to register for and download the QR code to support people signing in to their businesses and the latest figure is that there are just over 29,000 posters having been created, representing more than 17,000 businesses and organisations And to date, people using the app have downloaded the codes just over 496,000 times So scans are being done each day and that continues to increase which I'm very pleased about and just on businesses, the process for registering for a New Zealand business number and then going through the process of getting a QR code was a slightly lengthy process We now have a much quicker workaround

    There is a link on the COVID-19 website or enby website which takes you to another process which is much bigger and the Ministry of Health will generate a PDF of the QR code and send that out to you There are two ways that can be done now – a second more recent one being much more expeditious Just a word on testing – you will have noted the number of tests have dropped over the long weekend We have seen this in the past during holiday periods like Easter or long weekends As we look at the move potentially from Alert Level 2 to one

    We're also looking at the focus of how our testing will look And since January, as I said, we have done around 282,000 tests primarily on people with symptoms And also on close contacts to rule them out whether they have infection Now, as we move from alert level 3 to 2, we expended the testing to include asymptomatic people across New Zealand as part of our efforts to identify if there were any hidden pockets of infection and over 30,000 such tests were undertaken between the end of April and the end of May in addition to testing of symptomatic people And that testing only found one positive result and that was a worker at Auckland Airport and seems probable that that infection – this person was asymptomatic and seems probably the infection was linked to overseas travel some weeks earlier

    So we're at the tail-end of that wider asymptomatic testing now, although there are five DHBs that have continued that testing over the last week including the three in the Greater Wellington region, Lakes and Bay of Plenty and then this week Mid Central DHB is finishing off some asymptomatic testing So the results of that testing are wrapped up and included in our overall public reporting But overcoming weeks as we move into winter and with the possible move to Alert Level 1, the focus remains very much on testing of people with respiratory symptoms So encourage anybody who has respiratory symptoms to seek advice early from Healthline or from your GP or after-hours clinic of getting a test and testing is free There will also continue to be some targeted surveillance testing and this will be largely focused on the border and other places too where indicated

    So testing the remains a fundamental pillar of our overall elimination strategy along with our strong border measures and obviously our case isolation and our rapid contact tracing and isolation of any close contacts Just a reminder though – even though we are in this very favourable position in New Zealand with 12 days of no new cases, there are record numbers of cases being reported globally each day where over 100,000 cases each day, this pandemic continues apace outside of our borders and we cannot afford to let our guard down I had some correspondence from people who have had COVID infections and feel that now that even though they are fully recovered they are sort of having trouble being accepted as if they are recovered and no longer infectious I want to reiterate if people are recovered, they have got over the infection, they are – can go about their daily lives including attending appointments and going to work and to other places, they are no longer a risk to others So please do be kind, make them feel part of our society

    There is no stigma around having COVID-19 and we're very fortunate in this country, of course, we kept our numbers low and also we had very, very high recovery rates So I just want to commend to everybody that if you come across people who have had COVID-19 infection, please be inclusive Just an update on flu vaccination A million doses of flu have now been – are recorded as having been administered on our national immunisation register That's over 200,000 – around 200,000 more than at the same time last season

    We have distributed all of our 1744 million doses in the Southern Hemisphere vaccine and started to distribute the Northern Hemisphere vaccine that we bought to vaccinate people who may not have yet been able to get the vaccine and in particular for people who are not publicly funded and we are very keen to continue to see as many people as possible to be vaccinated particularly those who at high risk of complications of influenza, that is over 65, pregnant women, people with pre-existing conditions and children with chronic health conditions, especially respiratory conditions Finally – I was thrilled to see 19 people who work in the health sector formally acknowledged in the Queen's Birthday Honours list and I like to shout out to all those people, many of whom I know and that well deserving of the honours they received I do want to particularly recognise Dr Karen Petazi who has been awarded dame companion of the New Zealand order of merit for services to education and the state And whilst Dame Karen's honour was destowed for services to education in the state, she was also spent 10 years as Director-General of Health in the Ministry of Health between 1995 and 2006 and she continues in health as the current commissioner at Waikato District Health Board and in my role, I fully appreciate all those who have gone before and I'm still in regular contact with Dame Karen in her current role and enjoy working with her very much

    Other top honours were distinguished Professor Jane Elizabeth Harding who was also awarded dame companion of the New Zealand order of merit for services to neotology And Professor Robert Bob Elliott, awarded knight companion of the New Zealand order of merit for services to medical research I'm happy to take questions >> Conducted in the last 24 hours, and how concerned do you find the lower number of tests over the weekend, granted we are looking at that big move to level 1 next week? >> Sure, the number for yesterday was 1,262 We do see a drop-off over weekends and particularly on long weekends

    I'm not concerned about this because one of the things that's still very clear is that if you look and you can see on the website they have a dashboard around COVID-19 and it shows as part of that the influenza-like illness, ILI, rate which is are still incredibly low across our community, not surprisingly because of – not surprising because of the lockdown and if you compare that with where we were at in the last two years, much higher rates by now we would see of people with influenza-like symptoms and they are the people who would be turning up for testing Secondly – as I said, we have had quite a lot of additional testing being done over the last four weeks or so across the country as part of our surveillance testing just to see if there were any undetected pockets of COVID-19 We haven't found any which is encouraging That testing is tailing off as we now move into our sort of winter testing I expect the number of tests to start increasing again as people do get respiratory symptoms and again just to encourage everybody seek advice early about getting a test

    We want to be testing people It's free And we will also be doing some quite rigorous testing around the border of incoming travellers and also of people working at our borders >> When will that testing start? >> It starts from next week Two aspects to that

    First of all, a move to – we're proposing a move to testing everybody coming in to the country who is travelling here – that is New Zealanders returning, not just those going into quarantine And we're just finalising advice about whether we will test them twice and on which days So we'd really, really want to make sure our border is watertight Secondly – we will be testing people who work at the border who are clearly at higher risk than the general population of coming into contact with someone who has COVID-19 infection That will be more a pattern of sort of surveillance testing just to make sure there isn't any undetected infection at the border

    >> After 12 days of no new cases, why can't we move to alert level 1 today? >> So the decision about a move to alert level 1 is one for Cabinet to make, as you know they're considering that on Monday And there's been plenty of commentary about whether that decision will be made on Monday I can't speculate on that But I will be giving my advice that will be taken into account when they make that decision Monday >> Do you think we're ready? >> I think it's very encouraging to have had the 12 days in a row of no cases

    And clearly that's what we would be wanting to happen and so I'll be – when we first went into alert level 2, my advice was that we spend a full 28 days, that two incubation periods at alert level 2 Given what seen so far — seen so far, I'll be giving updated advice to cabinet I cant — I think all the signs are good >> Off the back of your ruling yesterday that the people who attended the protest in Auckland Wellington don't need to self-isolate for 14 days >> Does that not make a mockery at staying alert at level 2 if people can gather in crowds of 2,000 and don't have to protect themselves afterwards? >> I don't think my certain ruling makes a mockery of it What I would say is we are at alert level 2

    There are restrictions on gathering size for good reason We are moving down faster and sooner than every other country and we don't want to, you know, lose the advantage we have here So the restrictions remain The maximum gathering size is 100 and nobody should be organising or participating in a gathering that is more than 100 people >> Photos have emerged of – or a photo has emerged of you with what appears to be a lack of social distancing while visiting a restaurant

    Are you following your own rules? >> Yes, I am actually And don't think it's emerged, actually been there for a couple of weeks This is at level 2 and I visited a restaurant with a group of friends We were a group of 10 Actually one couple didn't come because one of them was unwell, which was the most important thing

    Secondly – at the restaurant, all the right processes were in place including checking in, single service seated and so on Right at the end of the visit I was asked to very momentarily participate in a photograph which is what I did We all used hand sanitiser and we'd already registered and signed out and a >> Isn't the advice to stay two metres away from strangers? >> Well, I could say by the end of the dinner these people were no longer strangers, but it was very fleeting an it was similar to the photographs we participated in at Government House last week with the Governor-General Again, very strict protocols followed through out the evening momentarily group came together for a quick photo >> At the border Interested in the elimination definition When that last active case comes off the active list, is the disease eliminated in New Zealand >> A good opportunity for me to reiterate, elimination has been an ongoing process and an effort and it has these pillar which is include strict border measures, the widely available testing, rapid case isolation and quick contact tracing Elimination is not a point in time and I know there has been speculation on when we might be able to say, "Here is the point we have eliminated COVID-19" It may well be – it may well be there is no domestic transmission or domestic onshore infections of COVID-19

    It will be great if we reach that point and it's increasingly looking like we are But our elimination strategy is ongoing because we clearly still have our measures at the border and a desire to open up the border in a safe way >> Can I quote part of the website of the Ministry of Health website It says elimit nation does not mean eradicating the virus permanently (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) in our community for at least 28 days And can effectively contain any future cases (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY)

    Previously Michael Baker and others are suggesting you need to provide a clarity on when that 28 days start Does it start when that last active case was in the community? When does it start when they lose the virus? Can you provide that clarity? >> Yes, we're doing some work on that at the moment I was talking with the team this morning I just want to reiterate, we will reach a date and then we have achieved elimination and all is well and got Elimination is a sustained effort

    We will have achieved that point where we have – where we have – we are confident we have eliminated the chain of transmission in our community Our ongoing effort remains ensuring we can detect any infections that pop up and strict border measures >> When will you finish that work, though? Your own website says there is a date You just haven't provided how to understand that date I understand there's public health messaging you want to get out there, but there is a date

    >> There will be a date when it's 28 days that we're confident it's the last community transmission >> Netball — (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) >> When the case is considered to be recovered Yes >> At the border, you have spoken quite a bit about needing to get that border tight

    With this new testing are you confident that needs to be done or other measures you're looking at? >> The testing is supplementary to the ongoing requirement for the 14 days isolation Either in quarantine if someone is symptomatic or in a managed isolation facility I guess it's at belt and braces aspect of making sure we got really good controls at the border so no other – none of our existing border measures will be relaxed In fact, we're also in discussions with Air New Zealand about the possibility of testing of some of their international aircrew, particularly the ones coming in from the USA which our crew are travelling to >> You spoke about them quite a bit before

    Are you getting push back from any Quarantining them Why that day since America has been such a hot spot? >> So no pushback happening

    It's a conversation I dare say two things Probably taking a little time, first of all, you're aware there was some significant developments in Air New Zealand last week with a number of lay-offs So that's been a particular focus for both the airline and the unions with woman we are engaging Secondly – we're confident in the measures that are already in place for airline crew

    Air New Zealand internationally airline crew We're just wanting to look at what other measures including the role of testing and/or a period of self-isolation for an airline crew as part of our overall border measures It's a conversation, it's not us dictating to them what will be >> Shouldn't you be dictating to them? It's a significant public health risk and probably the biggest health risk that we have when we got such a low number of cases is the airline staff coming in not being quarantined and not being tested? >> Sure We can be very clear around what our expectations are but of course the important thing is that it's implemented effectively and so it's working through how it can be implemented

    At the moment we can say we're confident with the measures already in place, they have been worked through very thoroughly with Air New Zealand The current guidelines apply and we're updating them just as we are with our testing protocols an at the border around anyone coming into the country >> Two quick questions about the border Are the tests that you're going to be using going to be regular PCR tests? And the – another concern raised around workers on cargo ships that are (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) What are the restrictions around those workers? Are they able to come up to New Zealand soil and should they be tested as in the same way

    >> On the first matter, yes, it's the PCR test which is very – is sensitive It's not an antibody test So we'll be testing everyone and looking at testing them twice at two different times during the 14-day period In terms of cargo workers or ships' crews, we're actually reviewing the current arrangements today We're having another look at that and working with our customs colleagues

    There are particular matters to go through around international conventions to make sure we're consistent with those But we're also looking at making sure we are watertight around our – the border in terms of ships' crews coming on shore >> The Ministry of Health admits it's contact tracing data for individual Public Health Units before April 13 just hasn't been reliable And it may be revised at a later date Is the ministry confident or are you confident that the data being provided by those units is reliable at the moment and is meeting your gold standard? >> Yes, I'm confident the data is reliable and going to be more reliable because we're moving them all on to a single information system or actually nine of the 12 and the other three will need to their existing information systems will need to communicate with the national one

    So we will have better quality and more immediately-available data In terms of the gold standard, there are two metrics that we really focused on One of those is the time that it takes for a test result to be notified and the second is the time it then takes us to identify and isolate close contacts and the latter one is particularly important and that's aimed to get 80% within the two days, and, yes, we are across the units are getting that – achieve that result So I'm very confident in that And that's why we put so much work into improving that

    It will be particularly important when we move to alert level 1 to make sure our contact tracing, our testing is very timely and our contact tracing very timely as well >> (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) running any simulations or anything to make sure it's all up to scratch if there is a comeback of this virus? >> Not right at the moment But that is something we'll do In other words, stress test the new system >> Would you be comfortable with flights to the Cook Islands and back starting under level 1? >> That's something we will definitely look at

    I think, you know, I have said it before – I think the Pacific, two or three of the Pacific countries which have cases clear by because their economy is dependent on tourism, I think there's benefits both ways for us to be looking at opening up a bubble with a number of Pacific Islands and that's work we're focused – we're focused on Australia at the moment, but the Pacific, in particular the Cooks, with that direct relationship we have with them as a country And >> Easier to open up the bubble with the Cooks? >> It may be, but the focus is on Australia at the moment

    >> If Cabinet decided to meet earlier than Monday and sign off, have an emergency meeting as they did during the pandemic, and sign-off on level 1, would you be comfortable with us moving there as of tomorrow or the next day? >> Well, see, I haven't had any word they were planning to meet earlier, but I'm asking for rapid advice, we'll get that together But we're working on it remembering that the advice will be – has to date be updated right up until the morning of the Cabinet meeting looking at all the resultsen in the preceding 24 hours as well >> (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) lingering effects in people who have been cleared as recoveried including respiratory or vascular symptoms? >> We haven't asked them specifically but I know they will be be alert to this I haven't – I haven't read any – any reports on ongoing symptoms that people are having At this point in time I haven't had any reporting hear in New Zealand

    Remembering also because of our relatively low number of infections, a lot of the reports of longer – longer term effects are happening in countries that have had a much larger number of infections so they're much more likely to see this But I know our GPC will be very alert – looking for any residual symptoms particularly respiratory or haematology blood related one or cardiac ones >> (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) how many of them are those high traffic (SPEAKS INDISTINCTLY) >> Look, I'm sorry, I don't know that, but we'll find that out and we can follow that up with you >> Digital council has publish add report today about our digital landscape post code 19

    In it they talk about the app saying that NZ could be caught on a slippery slope to mass state surveillance Do you think the right balance has been struck here in building this app? And are you confident that that's not going to be the case? >> I am confident and, yes, I do think we have struck the right balance First of all, we have involved the Privacy Commissioner right throughout this process from early on and taken on board his advice He's been involved in discussions, he and his office Secondly – we have been very clear that the information is only used for – will only be used for contact tracing purposes

    It's not available to other agencies So we're doing way less surveillance than most social media platforms are of New Zealand >> The council >> Did say they weren't consulted as they usually are with the Government Should they have been talked to about this? >> I don't have a view on that I'd be interested to see that comment from them and I can get advice from my team on that >> Council of trade unions is calling for sick leave of being doubled in New Zealand Do you think that would be a good idea? And what has COVID taught us about the need to stay home when you are sick? >> Well, just on the latter point – I think this has been a really key message right from the start

    If we got mild respiratory symptoms, we don't tend to stay home We tend to get out and about Including going to work I think this has been a wake-up call Most occupations, most roles in New Zealand, have good sick leaf provisions and I think that those have been supplemented in this COVID-19 situation where the Government has made it possible for people to take leave either because they are sick or they are a case or a close contact and need to take time off work and I think employers have supported that

    But I think it's a separate issue about longer term whether sick leave provisions should be increased >> From a health point of view, do you think five days is ample for a year of sick leave? >> Look, I don't have a particular view on that What I would say is that if I can speak for the Ministry of Health, we would look at people's individual circumstances and if they needed more than the five days or the 10 days, whatever they were entitled to, we'll always look favourably on what their situation might be Final question >> Just 12 days of no cases now

    How does it stand – feel to stand up there and announce that when the modelling show we could be in a much different position? >> Oh, look, it's hugely satisfying and just this morning I was participating on a, sort of, a video call organised by the World Bank and this was for a group of people to assembled to learn what happened in New Zealand It's nice to talk about and reflect on the experience here and also the position we find ourselves in And also just to reiterate as I was able to obviously – an organisation like the World Bank – that we believe that the action wes took were not just the best thing for the health of our people and our healthcare system pro-decting it from being overwhelmed but also for our economy Yes, we have taken significant hit in our economy, but it's very pleasing to see that we have been able to come – we're now able to come out of our restrictions faster and sooner than other countries and so I think that's just a really important because our future wellbeing as a country will depend on our ability to get our economy going again as quickly as possible So, yes, it's very please to be here and just another opportunity to acknowledge that the reason we're in this situation is everybody did what was asked of them during that lockdown and we're now able to reap the benefits of that

    Thank you very much for your time Thank you for using Red Bee Media's Live Remote Broadcasting Service

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