There are 78 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today and four new possible clusters of the virus have been identified, Marc Daalder reports

The number of cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand has now stretched to 283, with the addition of 78 cases as of 9:30am Thursday morning.

In a joint press conference by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Police Commissioner Mike Bush, Bloomfield also said that four new clusters of the virus – transmission outside of a household but where the originator was known – are being investigated.

The potential new clusters join the World Hereford Conference in Queenstown and Marist College in Auckland, which have each been associated with at least five cases of Covid-19. A wedding in Wellington, a group trip to the United States, a rest home in Hamilton and various locations in Hawkes Bay visited by an infected passenger from the Ruby Princess cruise ship are the potential clusters.

Bloomfield said close contacts related to the first three clusters had been notified and were in self-isolation, while Ministry of Health staff were still investigating what areas might be included in the Hawkes Bay cluster. One known location in the Hawkes Bay cluster is a vineyard, although Bloomfield did not specify which one.

Cases will continue to rise

Since Wednesday, four more people have recovered from the virus and one more person is in hospital. There are three people in Wellington Regional Hospital, two in Nelson Hospital and one each in hospitals in the Waikato and Northland. There are no patients with Covid-19 in intensive care.

Bloomfield said the number of cases was expected to rise over the next 10 days and the peak “may be in the thousands”. He also announced a change to Pharmac guidelines on dispensing prescription medication: only one month’s supply of funded medicines would be distributed, with the exception of oral contraceptives which can be dispensed three months at a time.

These rules were due to stockpiling and hoarding of medication and did not represent a supply chain issue, Bloomfield said. Pharmacists would also have discretion to waive the rules on a case-by-case basis, as in situations where a patient has limited mobility and is unable to visit the pharmacy monthly.

Police prepared for lockdown

The entry of returning Kiwis into the country was a particular focus of Bush’s part of the briefing. Bush said that anyone displaying symptoms would be quarantined in a hotel near Auckland Airport for 14 days. Those who enter the country with a plan for where they will self-isolate for the required 14 days can be picked up by one person in their bubble or taken there by police.

Anyone entering the country who doesn’t have a realistic plan for where and how they will self-isolate for two weeks will be triaged by police and may be quarantined in one of the hotels. New Zealanders coming from overseas are at higher risk of carrying the virus than in previous weeks, as the number of global cases nears half a million.

Of the 360 people who arrived at Auckland Airport this morning, eight were quarantined with symptoms and 160 had no believable plan for self-isolation, Bush said.

Bush also highlighted the police approach to enforcing the lockdown, which would begin with an emphasis on “engagement, encouragement and education”.

“We did have people overnight who claimed they knew nothing about […] the requirement to stay home,” Bush said. They were informed and redirected to their homes.

When asked if he believed the people who claimed no knowledge of the lockdown orders, Bush smiled wryly and said, “We always take people at their word”.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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