The number of new Covid-19 cases reported on Tuesday was the lowest it has been in two weeks, Marc Daalder reports

There were just 54 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand as of Tuesday morning, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

This is the lowest figure in two weeks, since there were 50 new cases on March 24. This drop is a continuation of yesterday’s pattern, which saw a significant slump in the number of new cases after a period in which cases stagnated at around 80 a day.

“We do appear, at this early stage, to be on track,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

There are now 1160 cases in New Zealand, 241 of which have recovered. For the first time, there were more recoveries today than new cases. Another 12 patients are in hospital, four of whom are in intensive care. One of the patients in intensive care is in critical condition.

The proportion of cases linked to overseas travel continues to drop and is now down to 42 percent, with another 41 percent linked to other confirmed cases. Community transmission makes up just 2 percent of the total, with the remaining 15 percent still under investigation.

Of the day’s new cases, over half were linked to extant clusters of the virus, which have continued to grow. Clusters are community spread where the patient zero is known and are not considered community transmission. The largest cluster, around Auckland’s Marist College, is now at 77 cases while the next largest – connected to a wedding in Bluff – swelled by 11 cases to 73.

The news came as Health Minister David Clark found himself embroiled in a scandal of his own making. Clark told Ardern on Monday evening that he had violated the terms of the lockdown more than a week earlier when he drove his family 20 kilometres from his Dunedin home to the beach.

Ardern spent much of Tuesday afternoon’s press conference battling questions over why Clark wasn’t fired – she said it would disrupt the response to Covid-19 – and whether he would be sacked after the crisis abates. “Under different circumstances, he would have lost his job,” she said, but she declined to say what his fate would be after the lockdown lifts.

Despite this, Ardern and Bloomfield tried to centre the discussion on three issues New Zealand needed to focus on in order to effectively combat Covid-19: contact tracing, social isolation (including obeying the lockdown) and border restrictions.

Officials, including Ardern and Bloomfield, have repeatedly emphasised in recent days that while the pattern of daily case numbers have stagnated and started to slump may be indicative of the lockdown working, this isn’t a reason to quit complying early. The remaining weeks are required to ferret out any infections that have occurred during lockdown, and Ardern has made clear that the lockdown will not end early.

As Easter weekend approaches, Ardern and Bloomfield told Kiwis to stay home. “Have a staycation,” Bloomfield said.

Enforcement of the lockdown is also proceeding apace, Bloomfield said, with 291 breaches of the rules, 16 prosecutions, 263 warnings delivered and 10 youth referrals.

Ardern acknowledged that the Government was considering a mandatory quarantine for New Zealanders returning to the country after lockdown, as pressure mounts for stricter measures at the border. “I think you’ve seen, from every decision we have made at the border, that we see it as an ongoing point of risk,” she said.

“We want to make sure that we remove that risk as much as possible, that’s why we’ve only continued to ramp up. Quite frankly, regardless of the enforcement, I really want a water-tight system at our border, and I think we can do better on that.”

Newsroom first reported that epidemiologists were agitating for quarantine for all returnees in March. After the press conference, the National Party launched a petition for this quarantine policy to be implemented immediately. The petition will be presented to the Government on Wednesday, Simon Bridges said.

“New Zealanders are sacrificing a lot for this lockdown. Fathers have missed the births of their babies, funerals to farewell loved ones haven’t gone ahead and livelihoods have been destroyed. For this to have been worthwhile we need to ensure the virus has no further chance of spreading,” Bridges said.

Ardern said the wage subsidy scheme has now paid out $6.6 billion in support of 1.1 million jobs.

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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