A month on from the devastating Whakaari-White Island eruption two victims remain unaccounted for.

Seventeen people have died and 13 people are being cared for at four hospitals across New Zealand - four are still critically ill.

To date, a further 13 patients have been transferred to Australia for treatment.

Police say the search for two missing victims was suspended on December 24 but staff were available and ready to respond if any new information became available.


The Ministry of Health has today promised to "continue working hard in response", saying the health sector is continuing to contribute to the best possible outcomes for people injured.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said this tragedy - on December 9 - touched all New Zealanders, and also of course affected overseas visitors we had welcomed to our shores.

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"It also represented a significant challenge for the New Zealand health system, and there's been a huge amount of work going on in response.

"Our thoughts are with them and their families, as well as those people who lost loved ones, and other victims who're continuing to recover, but who have a lot of hard work still ahead."

The number of patients in New Zealand hospitals is:

• 8 patients being treated at Middlemore Hospital

• 2 patients being treated at Waikato Hospital


• 2 patients being treated at Hutt Valley Hospital

• 1 patient being treated at Christchurch Hospital

Bloomfield said from the first responders and hospital staff at Whakatāne who were in action within minutes of the explosion, to burns unit and hospital staff around New Zealand, so many people had played a part.

"Just recently, six Australian nurses and one Kiwi nurse arrived at Whakatāne Hospital. These nurses had, at short notice and over Christmas - New Year, volunteered to support their colleagues in whatever way they could.

"Their assistance meant some staff members caught up in the original event had been able to get some much-needed rest and support over the holiday period.

"There's a similar story from Middlemore, where Australian and a Canadian burns surgeon have been working with the local team to help treat the eight patients being cared for there."

He said District Health Boards, particularly in the greater Auckland area, had also been working closely together to ensure other patients could get acute and urgent surgeries.

"The Ministry also wants to acknowledge international assistance received, particularly from Australia, but also the UK, Canada and the United States.

Everyone has been working towards the best outcomes, and of course New Zealand is now part of international efforts to assist Australia as it copes with the impact of its devastating bushfires, Bloomfield said.

"Four weeks on, it's very good news that so many Whakaari - White Island burns patients are continuing to improve and that the system is coping so well.

"There continue to be challenges but its important to acknowledge the superb efforts of many people across the NZ health system to date."

A police spokesperson said police remained in close liaison with mana whenua, namely Ngati Awa and other coastal iwi from the Matatatua waka, and were also working closely with the key agencies involved since the disaster.

The police investigation on behalf of the Coroner is continuing, in parallel with the WorkSafe New Zealand investigation.

"Many of our staff involved worked long hours during the operation and we are ensuring they are receiving the appropriate wellbeing, support, and rest," the spokesperson said.

Authorities have not returned to the island since the recovery mission was completed.

A rahui placed on the island was lifted on December 29, and authorities are warning people not to eat kai moana taken within a 1km zone of the island's coast.