A woman who lived in a West Auckland rest home has died of coronavirus, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says.
The announcement of the further death comes as Bloomfield revealed only five new Covid-19 cases – all of which are linked to existing cases.
The woman who died was in her 70s and lived at St Margaret’s rest home in Te Atatu, which is a coronavirus cluster.
She died yesterday and had underlying conditions, he said. It brings the Covid-19 death toll in New Zealand to 13.
Bloomfield said some staff of the rest home were in self-isolation because they had been in contact with confirmed cases, that had put strain on the staffing of the rest home.
Residents had been moved to hospitals, and were considered close contacts so were being monitored.
Three people remain in ICUs, none are in a critical condition.
As of 10am today 2038 people were in quarantine and managed isolation.
Children should stay home from school if they can – Minister
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said under Level three, most children would be expected to continue with distance learning.
Schools would be open only for students who needed to be there. Other students should all stay home. Residential and special schools would not be open early on in level three.
He said education for students in years 11-13 would continue remotely.
Students in university hostels, or flats coudl stay there, but those who had returned to their homes for the level lockdown could not return.
At schools, cleaners and other staff would be allowed back to tend to the properties before the teacher only day on April 28. he cautioned it could take some longer than others to be able to re-open for students who needed to be there.
He said the Ministry had kept in close contact with Early Education advisory group and that would continue.
More detailed advice would be released over the next week.
Hipkins said he was confident that schools would be able to operate at level three.
Asked if teachers could opt out of returning to work because they were concerned about their safety, he said he did expect teachers “to do their bit.”
He said those teachers who were in the vulnerable groups because of age or a condition, or lived with someone else in those groups, should talk to their schools about the situation.
Hipkins said keeping numbers at schools low was key. One of the elements being looked at to ensure the school bubbles remained tight was cleaning the bathrooms in between each group using them – a system of rostered toilet breaks.
Are children at risk of getting coronavirus?
Bloomfield was asked about his advice that children did not pass on the virus, and referred to a WHO report which found that in Wuhan – and other countries since – very few cases were in children and there were no cases in which a child had passed the virus on.
He said in New Zealand, the children who got the virus had got it from others in their household.
Bloomfield said if there were cases that got into an ECE, keeping children in ‘in-school bubbles should make it easy to trace contacts.
He said given the low numbers of new cases, and very low numbers of community transmission the chances of the virus getting through the school gate in the first time was very low.
Thousands of computers sent to homes
Hipkins said distance learning would be with us for some time and that 6,700 internet routers had been sent to households, prioritising NCEA students.
Thousands of computers had also been sent out.
Nearly 650,000 households tune into educational broadcast
Hipkins said 649,000 people had tuned in during the first three days of the televised learning sessions, led by Suzy Cato.
“To all of the parents out there, my message to you is be kind to yourself. We are not expecting parents to completely replace the learning environment at home.
He said the Government was doing its best to limit the impact on children’s learning.
He said about 400,000 more Kiwis would go back to work, but about one million people would still be at home. He urged parents to try to find other family arrangements to look after their children if that was an option – such as an aunt or relative.
He said if some schools could not meet the public health guidelines around distancing and hygiene, they would look at whether they could ‘spread the load’ to other schools or ECEs.
It was easier to preserve bubbles in some places than others. Early learning services would get support.
He said one of the reasons the public health guidance was out there was because of the difficulties in having children maintain physical distancing.
That would rely on keeping children within the same bubbles, and emphasising hygiene.
What about NCEA?
Asked about support for NCEA students to ensure their year was not impacted, Hipkins said guidance was being provided to schools for children who had to miss some internal assessment or exams.
It was possible students could play catch-up next year, such as by finishing some level one papers next year while they were doing level two.
Hipkins said students could do some work at home, although that was harder for courses with practical components such as science.
It was too early to assess what impact it would have on overall educational outcomes, but he said the Christchurch earthquake had little impact on that year’s outcomes.
GP funding and PPE probe
On GPs funding, Bloomfield said conversation was ongoing about the extra support for pirmary carers. He said he could not comment on whether a funding package had now been withheld from them.
Asked about the patients in ICU, Bloomfield said no new drugs were being used but pointed to Health Research Council work in that area. He said trials would only go ahead if case numbers increased, but New Zealand had had a low hospitalisation rate.
Bloomefield welcomed an Auditor General look at the Ministry of Health’s handling of PPE.
Bloomfield defended the handling on PPE, saying it had stood up a system to distribute PPE around the country, secured good supply lines and distributed it to groups that would not usually get the PPE.
He said if he heard of complaints about PPE he would contact the DHB head involved.
Kiwi’s death in Peru
Hipkins would not comment further on the Kiwi who died in Peru. The man’s family says he tested positive for Covid-19.
Hipkins said further repatriation flights would happen, including from India. “This is the largest consular effort around the world that NZ has ever taken.”
The next flight from India would be on 24 April, followed by flights from Delhi and Mumbai.
Parliment’s return: Will Winston Peters be back?
Asked if Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters should be able to return to Parliament given his age. Bloomfield said he had not given any advice on that.
“I would refer you back to when the PM was asked this question when lockdown began the deputy PM is considered an essential worker so under that category it is acceptable for him to return.”
Peters has spent lockdown at his home in Whananaki.
Asked if Peters should be leading by example given the advice to other over-70s, Hipkins suggested Peters be asked that question.
However, he said he would support Peters returning if that was what Peters wanted.
Hipkins said measures would be in place to keep people – including Peters – safe. Most ministers would be in their offices and the majority of their staff would be at home. Social distancing would be in place throughout the complex.
Hipkins said the Epidemic Response Committee would continue to operate after Parliament returned, but it was also likely to shift its attention to scrutinising Covid-19 related legislation that was required.
On the return of Parliament, Hipkins said ministers involved in the Covid-19 response would be expected back at Parliament but not all ministers. That was to allow distancing, as well as restrict travel.
Hipkins said MPs were not just sitting at home doing nothing, and where they could continue to work from home – such as select committee meetings by Zoom – there was no harm in it.
Some select committees have continued, such as that considering prisoner voting.
Hipkins said there was very clear guidelines around who could travel, and MPs were allowed to travel to get to Parliament. But that did not mean everybody could travel at level three and only MPs who needed to be in Wellington would be.
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The Government yesterday announced the country would be lifted out of lockdown and move into alert level 3 at 11.59pm on Monday, April 27.
Under alert level 3, schools and ECEs will open for children whose parents who need to return to work.
The Government is urging parents to continue to keep their children at home if they’re able.