New Zealand has had its first death linked to Covid-19.

The patient, a woman in her 70s on the West Coast, was admitted to hospital with what was thought to be influenza complicated by underlying health conditions.

She was later diagnosed with Covid-19.

The woman’s family has asked for privacy as they grieve, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. Staff who treated the woman before her diagnosis did not wear protective equipment sufficient to guard against Covid-19, so the 21 who were exposed will self-isolate until 14 days after their last unprotected contact with the patient.

Bloomfield also said that the number of new Covid-19 cases in the country had dropped for the second straight day, down to 63 from yesterday’s 83. There have now been 514 confirmed or probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, 56 of which have recovered.

“We’ve had discussion over what it is our case numbers might be telling us at present,” Jacinda Ardern said of the decrease in new cases.

“None of us are willing to draw any conclusions at this early stage. We must remember that there is a considerable lag time in any of our results. We all need to be vigilant, no one can be complacent and no one’s willing to draw any conclusions yet.”

There are currently nine cases in hospital and one in intensive care. Bloomfield was unable to say how many cases of community transmission there now are in New Zealand but said he expected the number to have risen above the previously-reported four cases.

Another cluster was also added to the previously-reported six clusters of Covid-19 – the Waikato town of Matamata, which now has nine confirmed cases. Three eateries in Matamata have shut after staff members tested positive for Covid-19. The largest cluster, Auckland’s Marist College, is now linked to 31 confirmed cases and five probable ones. 

“I know the thoughts of everyone from around the country are with the family of this person,” Ardern said.

“Today’s death is a reminder of the fight we have on our hands.”

Ardern also said she was disappointed by isolated instances of non-compliance with the lockdown rules and social media comments denigrating people who have Covid-19. A new online form will allow New Zealanders to report non-compliance directly to the police.

Less than an hour after the form was announced, police said they were experiencing “very heavy traffic” on the website and asked Kiwis to be patient.

Although magazines and community newspapers have been classed as non-essential, Ardern said Communications Minister Kris Faafoi had been in contact with publishers to work out a deal that would allow them to continue printing and distributing safely.

“Kris Faafoi, as our minister with responsibility over broadcasting and communication, is in contact with some of those different producers of, particularly, community newspapers, to ask if they are able to utilise existing distribution – such as New Zealand Post or dairies – and can guarantee that there will be public health measures around close contacts used within the printing element,” she said.

“If they can satisfy all of those tests, then there might be some opportunity there. But, again, we apply the same principle we also have: We have to guarantee the safety of the workforce.”

When asked about reports that some vulnerable New Zealanders – over 70 years old or with an underlying health condition – weren’t listening to their loved ones about the need to stay home, Ardern took up the mantle herself.

“I’ve had a number of people who have said to me that they have not been able to convince their parents to listen to their advice. In lieu of, anyone out there who’s over 70 or who has underlying health conditions, who is not listening to their children, please listen to me: You must stay at home,” the Prime Minister said.

“It’s devastating to lose anyone. It’s devastating to lose a parent. I don’t want that to happen to your children. Please stay at home.”

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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