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New Zealanders suffering from cabin fever as they wake on day three of the lockdown will be looking to the end of the first week of April for any clues they could be house-bound for longer than four weeks.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern marked April 6 as the first day when there could be signs that the "chain of Covid-19 transmission" has been broken.

If the number of new cases starts to shrink from then, the lockdown could be eased, but if community transmission is continuing, or even becoming rampant, the lockdown will likely be extended.

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As New Zealand enters its third day of lockdown, the number of international cases of coronavirus continues to grow - more than 560,000 cases globally, with 25,500 deaths.

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More than 9000 people have died in Italy alone - it has recorded its highest daily rise in Covid-19 deaths, with 919 new fatalities. With more than 82,000 cases, Italy has also become the second country after the United States to surpass China in reported coronavirus cases.

There are major fears the United States, with more than 92,000 cases and more than 1000 deaths already, will become the next epicentre.

By April 6 in New Zealand, there are expected to be between 4000 and 5000 confirmed cases, based on the current infection rate, which has been consistent for the past 10 days.

With experts predicting a 1 per cent mortality rate, that means there could also be a number of fatalities.

That possibility was underlined yesterday as a patient, who has underlying health issues, was put on a ventilator and admitted to intensive care in Nelson Hospital.

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There were 85 new confirmed and probable cases announced yesterday, bringing the total to 368.

Eight of those were in hospitals, including the one in ICU in Nelson, six more who were stable, and one who was "less stable", Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

Ardern has already prepared the nation to expect "several thousand cases", and if the number of cases continues to grow at the rate it has since March 17, there would be about 4500 cases by April 6.

But the total number of cases should not be the focus, according to Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.

The Government was following in China's footsteps in trying to eradicate the disease and the critical factor was community transmission, he said.

"If community transmission gets established, that's a real challenge. The chain of transmission could go on for several generations."

And even if community transmission was halted, the success of the lockdown also depended on how well Kiwis returning from overseas were isolated, as well as their close contacts, he said.

Most of the cases in New Zealand are still linked to overseas travel, though there have been clusters of community transmission in Auckland, Queenstown, Wellington, Hamilton and Hawke's Bay.

There have been 83 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in New Zealand overnight. That brings the total number of cases to 451. 50 people have recovered but 12 people are in hospital.

Fatalities 'unfortunately inevitable'

Baker has contributed to research that shows about 30,000 people would die if the virus rips through communities, infecting about 60 per cent of the population.

That is less dire than the 80,000 deaths if Covid-19 was left unchecked, as predicted in modelling from researchers at the University of Auckland.

The number of deaths can be hugely curtailed if the Government's current "elimination" strategy succeeds, which Baker backs over other countries' strategies to "flatten the curve".

Even if the lockdown successfully eradicated Covid-19 from New Zealand, there will still likely be a few thousand cases and some fatalities.

"Once you get a certain number of cases, I think fatalities are unfortunately inevitable, though a big factor is the age group of people infected and underlying illness," Baker said.

The mortality rate was about 1 per cent, he said, but there were many contributing factors including how overwhelmed the health system might be.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there is sufficient supply of protective gear for frontline health workers. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says there is sufficient supply of protective gear for frontline health workers. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The exponential reach of the virus has been felt around the world, with the US yesterday overtaking China and Italy as the country with the most cases - more than 80,000, with a death toll topping 1000.

Globally more than half a million people now have Covid-19, and more than 24,000 have died.

Ardern said it was too early to say how the lockdown was going in terms of breaking the transmission chain.

She expected the infection rate to increase for at least 10 days - until April 6 - and then Kiwis would start to get a sense of whether the lockdown was working.

PM: Stay local

The lockdown period of four weeks was chosen because there was realistic chance that Covid-19 could be eliminated by then, she said - but the lockdown could be extended.

"It will all come down to whether or not people are paying attention to the rules and are following true self-isolation."

The backlog of people waiting for Cook Strait ferries and infrequent domestic flights had until midnight last night to get home.

While most New Zealanders continued to comply with lockdown rules on day two, a driver in Auckland was facing charges after being stopped for a second time for non-essential travel.

"The person was stopped last night and he was stopped the night before. He had no reason to be out there," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

Ardern sought to clarify the rules about leaving the house, saying people were allowed to get fresh air or exercise as long as they stayed "local".

But she said the last thing New Zealand needed were scenes similar to the thousands of beachgoers at Bondi in Australia, and she was blunt when told of young people congregating outside of their "bubbles" in Auckland.

"They are putting the health of all New Zealanders at risk and it must stop."

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

Finance Minister Grant Robertson tweaked the wage subsidy scheme in response to reports that employers were pocketing the subsidy and laying off workers. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Finance Minister Grant Robertson tweaked the wage subsidy scheme in response to reports that employers were pocketing the subsidy and laying off workers. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Government tweaked its wage subsidy scheme yesterday to ensure it was passed to workers, following reports of employers pocketing the lump sum and then laying off workers or forcing them to take their own sick leave.

The sick leave subsidy has now been folded into the wage subsidy to prevent employers from double-dipping, while employers were obliged to pass the subsidy to their workers and to keep them on the books.

Meanwhile Bloomfield sought to allay fears among frontline health workers that they weren't getting the protective gear they needed.

He released figures showing that Ministry of Health reserves and DHBs had 1.9 million aprons or gowns, 2.7 million pairs of gloves, 60,000 goggles and five million masks.

The ministry also had 18 million masks in its national supply, 640,000 of which were sent out to DHBs yesterday.

Echoing Ardern, Bloomfield said the current wave of transmission could peak in about 10 days "if everyone does their bit".

Baker expected it to take more than 10 days - at least two weeks - before the amount of testing data would show whether the lockdown was working.

And if sufficient testing capacity and contact tracing was in place and there were few cases of community transmission - preferably none - then "we can afford to relax".