Grey district's mayor says the first coronavirus-related death has come as a "big shock" to the community.

The Ministry of Health today announced a woman in her 70s died in the early hours of this morning in Grey Base Hospital after testing positive for Covid-19.

The woman was initially admitted to hospital with suspected influenza, but a coronavirus test came back positive on Friday.

The woman had an underlying chronic health condition.

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As a precautionary approach, the West Coast DHB has placed 21 staff in self-isolation for 14 days from their last involvement in the patient's care.

Mayor Tania Gibson said the death was "heartbreaking".

"It's come as a big shock to our community," she told the Herald.

"Our thoughts do go out to the family."

The death has also pushed the "key message" that people need to stay home during the lockdown period.

Gibson had heard stories of people who weren't following the rules, and were increasing the sizes of their isolation bubbles.

"Now more than ever" people needed to obey the rules, she said.

She also thought the death might spark further concern among members of the community, but stressed everyone should remain level-headed.

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"It's brought it all home to everybody that this is very serious.

"I still think on the West Coast we're still in the best place in the world to fight this."

She reminded everyone to stay calm.

West Coast DHB chief executive David Meates said the woman was one of three confirmed coronavirus cases on the West Coast so far.

"We express our deepest sympathies to the woman's family and ask that their request for privacy is respected," he said.

"Staff followed protocols and procedures and did everything they could to help this patient, and to protect themselves.

"West Coast DHB has worked to ensure appropriate staffing arrangements are in place to replace these team members and ensure that we can continue to provide health services to the West Coast community."

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University of Otago department of psychological medicine's Dr Christopher Gale said people would "naturally be sad" and "share in the grief of the family of the first person who has died of Covid-19 in New Zealand".

"From other countries, we are aware that there is a death rate, and that the older population are the people we should protect most. A certain amount of gentleness and consideration has to be given to her family and friends, who will be grieving, and may be mourning from a distance," he said.

"What we need to do at the moment is care for and comfort each other. This is not a time to amplify worry. There will be enough already. Any group that can set up things that will allow people to talk over distance will be useful.

"If you are worried and concerned and fearful, this is normal, inevitable and part of being human. It is those who are not worried and have no fear that are more of a concern.

"If you are very worried, calling 1737 or lifeline would be a good start: your local doctors and mental health services are there in addition."

Victoria University of Wellington clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland said the news was a "sobering statistic" for those who may have believed New Zealand could avoid coronavirus deaths.

"The fact that the death occurred on the West Coast may further underline the crisis we face. If the death was in Auckland then some may have been able to dismiss it as being related to 'others' and not 'us'. But this woman was 'us'. Not a foreign tourist nor someone returning from overseas. Covid-19 is here and it is real," he said.

"Whilst some level of fear and anxiety is warranted, as it can serve to keep us safe, high levels provoke us to respond irrationally. To counter this it's important for us to acknowledge when we're feeling afraid – notice the pit in your stomach, your tense shoulder, your racing thoughts, your urge to yell at someone. Then pause, breathe deeply several times, and focus on what you can do to keep yourself and your bubble safe. Direct your attention away from attacking others to protecting yourself as, ultimately, this will protect us all."

Massey University clinical psychologist Dr Ian de Terte said some Kiwis will be concerned their older loved ones would be at risk.

"That is true and older relatives and friends have always been at risk and continue to be at risk with this virus. However, there are two important messages that I want to convey. Provide support for those in the community who are at risk and follow the advice of health professionals and stay at home. Most of our community is doing that."

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