Production of new intensive care beds has been ramped up to treat Covid-19 sufferers at Christchurch Hospital's new Hagley building.
The Ministry of Health is working with the Canterbury DHB and contractor CPB to access the hospital's ED Radiology, intensive care unit (ICU) and associated spaces in the next fortnight.
Health Minister Dr David Clark said 36 ICU beds were being fast-tracked as part of continued efforts to halt the spread of the pandemic.
"As we expect the number of cases to continue to increase this week, it's vital our health services can respond effectively," he said.
"Intensive Care Unit [ICU] capacity is a priority area as part of our Covid-19 health response to ensure good care for our most critically affected New Zealanders."
There are 49 cases of coronavirus in Canterbury and seven in South Canterbury.
Twelve people with coronavirus are in hospital, with three expected to be discharged soon, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said yesterday.
One person was in intensive care on a ventilator.
Seventy-six new cases of coronavirus were announced on Monday, with the total now standing at 589.
Anne Guenole, 73, died from the coronavirus only days after she was tested.
The $500 million Christchurch hospital - the largest ever built in the country - houses 28 adult ICU spaces and eight child ICU spaces.
The completion of ED Radiology and associated areas was also prioritised as part of the emergency response planning for the coronavirus, Clark said.
"With over 300 workers on-site, including 120 workers brought in from other projects, good progress has been made. Ensuring high quality standards on the build remains a top priority.
"I'm pleased to confirm, the ministry handed over the ICU to Canterbury DHB earlier today and a blessing was held to mark the occasion. The DHB is working towards ICU being operational and available to take patients later next week."
It comes as South Auckland health authorities said they were preparing for a mass outbreak, the likes of which have been seen in New York City and Italy.
Counties Manukau District Health Board's chief medical officer Peter Watson said his staff were preparing for the worst-case scenario.
"If we are similar to other countries who have gone early and hard, we expect it certainly not to be as severe as in, for instance, Northern Italy or New York City," he said.
"But what we're planning for is, if we did get large, large numbers, how we would respond.
"We are planning for potentially those ... situations similar to the other countries, which are really under the pump ... and having those worst-case scenarios."
While he was not expecting the number of infected patients to overwhelm hospitals in New Zealand, Watson said staff were being deployed to ensure there were enough to share the load should doctors and nurses become ill.
"Understanding that if we get widespread community transmission, our staff will become sick, or our family members will become sick," Watson said.
"That will impact on us as well, but we've been doing a lot of work force planning around how we would continue our essential services."
He was confident Counties Manukau DHB could treat a number of patients inevitably infected with Covid-19.
"We've got significant capacity available, so we have many available beds on our wards and we're ready to receive people should we have to."
At Wellington Hospital, the speed at which engineers and local builders improved the ICU unit left staff stunned.
In just days, a new six-bed extension was converted into a large pressure negative room and two new air locks were built. The work would normally take months to complete.
White tents now stand outside North Shore Hospital, as people who may have Covid-19 are assessed there to contain the possible spread of infection.
Hospitals may solely be dedicated to treating those with the coronavirus, Clark earlier confirmed.
"Some countries facing more cases of Covid-19 are dedicating some hospitals to treating the disease, and keeping others clear for other medical care," he said.
"That approach could be used here as well, but no decisions have been taken at this stage.
"A huge amount of planning is going on across the health system for a range of possible scenarios."