The number of Covid-19 cases in Whanganui remains low and officials leading the local response say the power is in the hands of residents to keep it that way.

Whanganui District Health Board chief executive Russell Simpson said the district was likely to see numbers peak in the next 7-10 days and the lockdown was crucial in keeping numbers low.

"Currently if we're sitting on seven cases, our only way to do that is eliminate community spread of Covid-19," he said.

"If we can achieve that as a district, we'll be back on our feet and able to run a lot quicker than many of the urban environments where community transmission is already apparent."

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As of Monday, 894 people had been assessed with 250 tested for Covid-19 in the DHB catchment.

Only seven cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Whanganui Region and community officials want to remind the community they can keep case numbers low. Photo / Bevan Conley
Only seven cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the Whanganui Region and community officials want to remind the community they can keep case numbers low. Photo / Bevan Conley

"If we have community transmission, [the health sector] will be really stretched. If we can't contact trace all the individuals that have been in contact with the one person, then it's on health," Simpson said.

"Health cannot save the number of lives that our community can save if they stay at home."

Incident Controller for the Whanganui District Health Board-led Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), Stuart Hylton, said it had been blessed in terms of the number of cases it had in Whanganui but realised the area was surrounded by five other DHB regions that had a high number of cases.

"So our philosophy is, if we can control the border, then we can protect our community," he said.

Meanwhile, Simpson said an eighth case which had been reported by the Ministry of Health as a Whanganui case was a male in his 20s living in Auckland who has not lived in nor visited Whanganui for a long time.

On Tuesday afternoon this case was reallocated to Auckland.

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Whanganui Hospital's capacity

Simpson said it was business as usual for acute and emergency services at Whanganui Hospital which was operating at 56 per cent of its capacity.

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"This means we've got sufficient capacity to manage additional number with Covid," he said.

Simpson said there was a dedicated 35-bed ward vacant and ready to go for Covid-19 patients.

All cancer patients, dialysis patients and renal patients were still being seen by DHB staff and getting treatment.

Cardiac patients are also still being transferred to Wellington by the Air Ambulance.

"I would really encourage the community that, if they have an acute or emergency issue, that we are still open and not to defer treatment for that, because the problem may become worse if they don't seek medical care," Simpson said

Māori health

The DHB Māori health directory has been working closely with many Kaupapa Maori services and Iwi providers.

Out of the Government funds allocated to help protect Māori wellbeing and to support Māori health providers, the DHB will receive $112,566.

They will also receive $168,849 to help support Māori health and disability providers.

Chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, Gerrard Albert, said the organisation had been mobilised since the week of March 16 as it anticipated it would need to provide advice and leadership for its people.

He said most of the work they have done so far has been parallel to the Emergency Operations Centre.

"We're currently involved in providing information through a hub and support for our iwi people and ensuring that communications are coming via reputable sources and that's the reason why now we're looking at coming a lot closer to EOC," Albert said.

None of the Whanganui cases have been identified as Māori ethnicity.

Top cops says no arrest but some common breaches

Whanganui-Ruapehu area commander Nigel Allan said it had been impressive to see how the community had changed its behaviour to be more compliant with the restrictions.

There have been no arrests made in relation to the breach of guidelines in Whanganui.

However, common breaches have occurred such as gatherings at beaches or people working night shift driving to a service station to buy milk or a fizzy drink.

"It's difficult for me to see how that would be essential travel so we are seeing people in community stretching the definition and we really encourage people to take responsibility," Allan said.

By late last week, the police had stopped 276 vehicles and, out of those, only seven could be seen to be out of the restrictions.

"We'll continue focusing our resources there as it's a strong way of keeping the community safe and the work we've done in that area actually gives us a degree of confidence that, largely, people are getting the message."

Whanganui-Ruapehu area commander, Nigel Allen and Whanganui DHB chief executive have been working together alongside other agencies for a community-wide response. Photo / Bevan Conley
Whanganui-Ruapehu area commander, Nigel Allen and Whanganui DHB chief executive have been working together alongside other agencies for a community-wide response. Photo / Bevan Conley

Allan said the crime profile had changed a lot over the last two weeks with a reduction of burglaries and dishonesty offending.

However, they have seen a slight increase in the reporting of family harm and Allan said that was expected "in the context of current restrictions".

Allan said the family harm team was interacting with families at risk and they have connected with other agencies through a virtual environment to provide the best support to families.

"In uncertain times, what we're seeing is what we expected but overall the picture is good."

As Easter approaches, Allan wanted to remind the community the rules were not going to change and recognised it may create a bit more angst for some people in the community.

"A lot of practices have changed already and Easter will be another challenge but we need to meet the challenge but again with the same principles."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website