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A frontline doctor has described his and colleagues' frustration over the lack of testing for Covid-19 - and says the Government may now need to move to some form of community surveillance.

And his views have been backed by National leader Simon Bridges - chair of the Epidemic Response Committee - who told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that the number of daily tests had fallen to 900 last Sunday.

"We have been frustrated over the level of testing. Doctors on the frontline can only really test patients who walk through our door," said Wellington urgent care doctor Dr Kelvin Ward.

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"That testing is opportunistic to a certain degree. If testing is going to be widened to the extent the government is talking about, the government may need to do community surveillance of certain groups."

The Government has said tests will increase to 5000 a day - 1300 more than the current 3750 daily testing limit.

While testing rates had now improved, as case definition widened, it had been frustrating that the response to so many health experts' pushing for more testing had been so slow, said Ward.

"We see testing levels that don't just seem enough."

Bridges said he was pleased with the committee's first week of work, with the likes of
Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg calling for quarantining and more testing.

"It's quite clear that when doctors now say someone needs a test, it seems like they are going to get a test," said Bridges. "Don't get me wrong, we need to do thousands and thousands more."

Bridges said while average number of tests were being presented by the likes of Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern at daily press conferences, the committee had drilled into the number of actual tests each day.

"From the middle of last week they are going down, down, down. And on Sunday they were at 900. One of the important roles of this committee is to get that openness. We should see the number of tests every day - that sunlight is very important."

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He said Mike Bush was also transparent in front of the committee. "Our borders are still open," said Bridges. "We are not doing the things we need to do. We need to quarantine."

EARLIER

Any hopes that transmission of Covid-19 cases in New Zealand was under control were dashed yesterday when the largest increase in a single day was posted by the Ministry of Health – 89 confirmed and probable cases.

That takes the total to 797, with 92 of those deemed to have recovered.

As testing increases to near 5000 a day before long, confirmed cases are expected to increase as well for at least 10 days.

The Government is working on the specific triggers that might bring the country or parts of the country out the lockdown which started eight days ago.

LISTEN LIVE TO NEWSTALK ZB'S CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE
7.10am: Simon Bridges; 7.35am: Winston Peters; 7.50am: The Chase's Shaun Wallace

"What we are looking at are signs that we have transmission back under control," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.

"So we will be building and thinking around the number of cases we have, also the level of community transmission, what's happening with our clusters. It will be multiple factors.

"Alert level 4 was all about wresting back that control, making sure that we are back on track for ultimately stamping out Covid-19."

Global cases of Covid-19 are set to pass the one million mark, with the total number of deaths approaching 50,000 according to data from John Hopkins University. However the real number of cases and deaths is almost certain to be higher.

It comes as Italy, Spain and the UK approach the peak of their infection curve, with warnings the US is on track to become the next Italy.


READ MORE:
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In New Zealand, alert level 4 means all but essential services are closed or its staff working from home.

People are urged to stay at home to break the chain of transmission of the highly contagious virus while health professionals test, identify and isolate confirmed cases.

Top officials including Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield met yesterday to further discuss the triggers that could relax the lockdown.

Announcing the latest figures, Bloomfield said that of the 89, 76 were confirmed and 13 were probable.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters in his Beehive office during a stint as Acting Prime Minister. Photo / Supplied
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters in his Beehive office during a stint as Acting Prime Minister. Photo / Supplied

The increases for the previous seven days, starting last Thursday were 78, followed by 85, 83, 63, 76, 58, 61 and then yesterday's 89.

Across the country 13 people were in hospital, including two in intensive care. There has still been only one death.

Asked if New Zealand was flattening the curve, Bloomfield said: "Not yet."

"It is on the up and we expect it to keep rising. You won't see any impact until another week at least of the measures that are currently in place."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson estimated the cost of the new leave scheme to be about $100 million. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Finance Minister Grant Robertson estimated the cost of the new leave scheme to be about $100 million. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Finance Minister Grant Robertson yesterday announced a plan to fund leave required by essential workers who were susceptible to Covid 19 at an estimated cost of $100 million for 12 weeks.

No essential worker should feel pressured into working if they were vulnerable, sick or otherwise unable to work, Ardern said.

The Government yesterday also announced the conditions under which foreign nationals could begin to leave New Zealand during the lockdown which is set to last at least another three weeks.

An estimated 10,000 British visitors and 12,000 German visitors are in lockdown around the country.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said they would need to have a confirmed international flight, a commercially scheduled one or charter flight, and would a have a 24-hour window to travel domestically to that flight, by car or plane. Their domestic travel would be deemed "essential travel".

The first group could be leaving as early as last night, Peters told Newstalk ZB last night. He said he had never ruled out the possibility of mercy flights for Kiwis stranded around the world.

But Ardern pointed out at her press conference that while there were thousands of visitors stranded here, New Zealanders were dotted around the globe.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts welcomes the move, saying the plight of those stranded was threatening to harm New Zealand's international reputation.

The Epidemic Response parliamentary committee met for the third day running yesterday and police monitoring the self-isolation regime was the issue of contention.

Mike Bush gave evidence to the Epidemic Response committee on his last day as Police Commissioner. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mike Bush gave evidence to the Epidemic Response committee on his last day as Police Commissioner. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Police Commissioner Mike Bush admitted that police had been unable to check on every person who had promised to self-isolate but had now developed a technique to do so using cellphone location services – with the person's consent.

Bush revealed there were:

• 116 symptomatic people in quarantine.
• 1573 in hotels under "managed" self-isolation under a 24/7 watch of police and other security.
• 4068 who had been sent home to self-isolate but it's unclear what timeframe this relates to.

Bridges, leader of the Opposition, said to Bush: "I suppose I am putting it to you squarely Commissioner, one, that it is not good enough and, two, that you've got your priorities wrong because given that most cases of Covid-19 have come in internationally, it would be much better to focus on that, than who is on the beach or what neighbourhood someone is in."

However, the most scathing criticism of the day was by the Prime Minister who reacted to Bauer Media's decision to shut up shop in New Zealand, abandoning publications such as the Listener, the Woman's Weekly, North and South, and Metro. She said she was gutted by the decision.

"They didn't enter a conversation about becoming an essential service. They didn't seek to continue to operate in lockdown ... and they didn't want to use the Government support to keep their doors open.

"So I just reject any suggestion that Covid-19 and our response to it has caused them to shut their printing press but I deeply regret that they have.

"In my view, they should have taken it up and they should have kept going."

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