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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand seems to have avoided the exponential growth in Covid-19 cases that has hit countries overseas, but is urging people not to risk the success so far and continue to abide by lockdown rules.

And she said those who continued to flout those rules were "idiots", including the Christchurch man who filmed himself coughing on people - but she still maintained confidence in Health Minister David Clark despite him driving two kilometres to go mountain biking.

Her comments come as Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield revealed there were 89 new cases of coronavirus in New Zealand since yesterday - 48 confirmed cases and 41 probable cases.

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It brings the total number of cases in New Zealand to 1039.

There are 15 people in hospital, including three in ICU; one in Wellington and two in Auckland, with two in a critical condition.

The total number of lab tests so far is 36,209, 3093 of which were processed yesterday.

Bloomfield said 45 per cent have a clear international travel link, 36 per cent were contacts of known cases, and 1 per cent were community transmission; 18 per cent are still being investigated, and Bloomfield said a large proportion of those were likely to be community transmission.

But that proportion did not appear to be increasing.

Ardern thanked the country this afternoon for their efforts during the lockdown, which began at 11.59pm on March 25.

Reason for optimism, but compliance must remain tight - PM

Ardern said she didn't want to draw "too many conclusions" but the number of cases had not grown exponentially like in other countries.

"That is a good thing."

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Other countries had shown a low number of positive cases while the true number was exploding, but Bloomfield said testing in New Zealand had been thorough enough to suggest there wasn't a level of unknown cases here.

Ardern said the lockdown measures had made an impact - even though more new cases continued to crop up.

Modelling provided by Rodney Jones, principal of Wigram Capital Advisors, had predicted about 4000 cases by this weekend at the start of the lockdown.

"The fact we only have 1000 is a big win. We have moved the curve lower," Jones told Q+A this morning.

"We should think about this as a rugby game. We are playing into the wind in the first half. This match is four weeks long. By the time we get to the last two weeks, the wind will be behind us."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving an update on the Covid-19 national response at 1pm. Photo / Getty
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving an update on the Covid-19 national response at 1pm. Photo / Getty

Ardern said the number of cases being lower than previously predicted was a reason for optimism.

"We have made a good start and the decisions we've made to date have made a difference."

Observing the trajectories overseas had helped the Government to decide to "go hard and go early," Ardern said.

"Be proud of your efforts that you have all made. It is making a difference. Now is the time though to remain focused, to not let up.

"It improves our chances of getting out of this alert level."

She also pointed to Google data that showed "impressively high levels of compliance" by New Zealanders in lockdown.

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Retail and recreation movements had fallen 91 per cent, while visits to essential services had dropped by 50 per cent and going to parks had fallen by 80 per cent.

PM stands by Health Minister as enforcement ramps up

The Prime Minister said efforts to go after those breaking the lockdown rules would ensure the country could move out of lockdown as soon as possible.

Over Friday and Saturday, Ardern said police had done 795 prevention patrols and 990 reassurance checks at essential services such as at supermarkets.

There are "still some people I would charitably describe as idiots", she said, citing the man in Christchurch who filmed himself coughing on people.

There were reports this morning of people surfing on the west coast of Auckland, even though surfing and water sports had been strictly banned in an update of the lockdown rules last night.

She said she was "very disappointed" in the Health Minister for driving to go mountain biking, but she would not be drawn on whether she considered him an "idiot".

She said she still had confidence in him, and there was nothing to read into Clark not fronting on Q+A this morning, adding that Clark continued to be in lockdown in Dunedin.

"He continues to do his job."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell

No decision made about extending lockdown

Ardern said she expected to be transparent around the lockdown exit criteria, and this week Ministers would flesh out the kind of evidence that was needed to show that lockdown could be eased.

No decisions had been made about extending the lockdown, she added, but ongoing compliance made it more likely that the lockdown would not be extended.

"We're not at a point yet where we can see the full impacts of alert level 4."

The framework for alert level 3 was already published, but the education and business sector should start working on how to operate at that level, including how to continually help with contact-tracing.

Contact-tracing capacity would need to continue for some months to come, and a better gauge of community transmission - including filling in any data black spots in different regions - was also needed.

Ardern said level 4 was "as tight as it gets" and there were no plans for more stringent restrictions.

No one wanted to see curfews, for example, Ardern said.

The breakdown of cases by ethnicity is 74 per cent European, 8.3 per cent Asian, 7.6 per cent Maori and 3.3 per cent Pacific.

Bloomfield said the ethnicity breakdown and the age breakdown of cases reflected that many positive cases had returned from overseas. He said more community transmission would likely lead to more Maori and Pasifika cases.

Over the next week, he said he would signal mental health and well-being initiatives supporting people in self-isolation - part of a $15m package that's been previously announced.

Mental health services - including the 1737 help line - were still available but a range of new online services would be announced, he said.

Asked about confusion over the rules for those self-isolating who had returned to New Zealand from overseas, Bloomfield said they needed to self-isolate from their household members. They were able to leave the house, but only by themselves.

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

More data on community transmission needed

This morning Otago University epidemiologist Dr Ayesha Verrall said there needed to be more data about community transmission before the success of the lockdown can be ascertained.

"I'm still waiting to be more reassured by the numbers actually coming down, which I hope would happen as the numbers of people returning from overseas and places where there are outbreaks reduces," she told Q+A.

The number of overseas arrivals dropped to 300 or fewer from Wednesday last week.

Verrall said data about community transmissions over time was still missing, but with testing capacity rising to 6000 a day, that data hole could be filled in the coming days.

She added that people with mild symptoms should be tested, but testing those with no symptoms had little value.

A key factor to moving out of lockdown would be the ability to isolate confirmed cases and to trace close contacts quickly, she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is updating New Zealand on the latest number of coronavirus cases.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is updating New Zealand on the latest number of coronavirus cases.

The contact-tracing ability of public health units has been under scrutiny, with expert epidemiologists including Sir David Skegg and Professor Michael Baker saying repeatedly that New Zealand's contact-tracing capacity needs to be ramped up.

Verrall said when the country went into lockdown, public health units were contact-tracing about 50 people a day, but that needed to increase to 1000, she said.

This morning the Ministry of Health said it was tracing about 700 close contacts a day.

"As of Saturday, 4909 close contacts had been traced by the National Close Contact Service since it was stood up on March 24, with 702 contacts traced in a single day on Thursday," Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said in a statement.

"Originally it was making 760 calls a day - now that's more than 2000."

But there was still no sign of the use of bluetooth technology, which researchers have said is vital because manual contact-tracing cannot keep pace with how rapidly Covid-19 spreads.

Last night the Government revealed rules of a new Health Notice announced this weekend banning fishing, swimming, surfing, hunting and tramping.

Kiwis had previously been advised not to take part in these activities during the Covid-19 lockdown but the ban was made official in fresh laws released on the Government's Covid-19 website.