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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard


The Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.



COVID-19—New Zealand’s Second Confirmed Case

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): I wish to make a ministerial statement about COVID-19. Earlier today the Director-General of Health announced that New Zealand now has its second case of COVID-19. The appropriate steps have been taken to limit the potential risk of further cases. We’ve taken strong action at the border, including travel restrictions and a heightened presence of health staff. We have active public health measures, including supporting people in self-isolation through the dedicated COVID-19 Healthline. We have a comprehensive pandemic plan which has guided our response since January. Our public health staff are highly skilled and know how to respond to infectious diseases. This is one of their core duties.

The second case of COVID-19 will not be the last we see in New Zealand—we are likely to see further sporadic cases. I do not intend to deliver a ministerial statement each time we have a confirmed case. However, given the ongoing public interest, I feel it is important to clearly set out the facts around this case. The individual with COVID-19 is a New Zealand citizen in her 30s. She lives in Auckland and arrived back in New Zealand from Italy on 26 February. On Monday, the Government acted to ensure all people who have been in Italy in the previous 14 days place themselves in self-isolation. But, of course, New Zealand citizens are always entitled to travel home. Like most people internationally with COVID-19, I’m advised the individual is not particularly unwell. She is exhibiting mild-to-moderate symptoms and does not require hospital treatment. She is currently in self-isolation. This is important to emphasise. The vast majority of cases of COVID-19 are manageable by isolation and bed rest and do not require hospital treatment. Obviously, health staff are staying in close contact to monitor her progress and support her recovery.

Members will be aware that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in New Zealand had very limited contact with anyone outside the flight they arrived on and their family, who had gone into self-isolation. In this new case, prior to any diagnosis, the individual has been more active in the community. We know she flew into New Zealand from Singapore on NZ0283, departing on 25 February. Contact tracing is already under way. We know she flew return to Palmerston North from Auckland on Monday, 2 March on NZ5013 and NZ8114. Work is already under way to trace those contacts, people on board seated nearby, and indeed all passengers on board as a precaution. We also know her children, who did not travel to Italy, have attended school at Westlake Boys High and Westlake Girls High. The principals at both schools are fully aware of the situation and parents are being supplied information.

I want to stress that the two students have not displayed any symptoms of the disease and that the best international evidence is that COVID-19 is not transmitted while people are asymptomatic. Young people are also far less vulnerable to COVID-19. Just 2.4 percent of cases in China have occurred in people under the age of 19, so I am advised that there is almost no risk to students, staff, or others at the school.

None the less, I know there will be some concern within those school communities. I want to ensure the House that public health staff are available and are providing support and reassurance to the schools in question. I understand the Ministry of Education is also putting in place support to help those schools respond.

This is how a well-prepared health service and, indeed, a well-prepared education system and wider Government respond to an emerging infectious disease. This is exactly why we have a long-standing and comprehensive New Zealand pandemic plan, which we have been working from since January. We remain committed to keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand wherever possible and stamping it out when and where it does sporadically occur.

I want to take the opportunity to remind the public that they can take simple steps to limit the spread of this and other viruses: washing their hands with soap and sneezing into their elbows are two of the most effective health precautions that people can take. While simple, these behaviours can make a huge difference to controlling viral transmission.