Hospitals are being reconfigured to cope with an expected surge of Covid-19 patients, with one doctor warning: "We are waiting for the storm to break."

North Shore Hospital has repurposed a building, transforming its former Elective Surgery Centre into a coronavirus ward separate from other patients, doubling its intensive care capacity.

District health boards around the country have cleared their floors in anticipation of a potential influx, with most at around 50 per cent occupancy, and have used the lockdown to train staff in managing the needs of Covid-19 patients.

Capital and Coast DHB has created special spaces for Covid-19 with the ability to change bed numbers, depending on demand.

Advertisement

And Waikato Hospital's specialist emergency physician Jon Bonning said the emergency department had been divided into two parts in preparation for the expected surge.

"We are waiting for the storm to break."

Although hospitals overseas have been overwhelmed with critically ill admissions and deaths, Health Minister David Clark said he was confident the repurposing of hospitals meant the country was well prepared for any potential increase in Covid-19 patients .

READ MORE:
Coronavirus Covid-19: Global cases pass 1 million as London's epic pandemic response revealed
Covid 19 coronavirus: No quarantine for 3600 people returning to NZ from overseas
Coronavirus Covid 19: NZ in pilot plan to sample sewage for virus
Premium - Covid 19 coronavirus: Andrew Barnes calls for 'battlefield wills', e-signatures

North Shore Hospital has converted an entire elective surgery building into Covid-19 unit to best prepare for an outbreak and also manage those needing urgent or emergency medical care. Video / Supplied

But as the country entered its ninth day of lockdown yesterday, the Health Minister gave an example of what not to do after being caught driving to a mountain bike park for his daily exercise.

Clark later apologised to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for flouting his own Government's advice.

"It's my expectation that Ministers set the standards we are asking New Zealanders to follow," Ardern said in a statement.

The number of new Covid-19 cases yesterday was 71 bringing the total to 868 with 13 people in hospital and one in intensive care.

Advertisement

The numbers of infections in the country's three biggest clusters also jumped, with a Bluff wedding now the source for 53 cases.

The largest cluster - a group of 10 or more case from a single source - is still Marist College with 59 cases while the St Patrick's Day celebration in Matamata had 49.

Almost 3500 tests were processed on Thursday - a new daily high - adding to the total of 29,485 performed.

More than 100 people had recovered from Covid-19.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield defined recovered as a patient who was at least 10 days since the onset of illness and symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

He also referred to new advice from the World Health Organisation which showed there would been no confirmed cases globally of people transmitting Covid-19 with zero symptoms, but there had been a few unconfirmed reports discovered through contact tracing.

"The important thing here is that whatever the transmission - whether that's pre-symptomatic, symptomatic or if it's possible asymptomatic - the same precautions will protect people."

Those were "meticulous hand hygiene", physical distancing, not going out if you're unwell and good cough and sneeze etiquette.

Bloomfield said the Government was also doing "urgent work" to get the primary sector more funding amid warnings that general practitioners were sinking under financial pressures.

Bryan Betty, of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, said an initial $15 million injection wasn't enough to cover wage bills and overhead costs.

Many practices were having to make tough calls to keep their doors open as patient numbers and their payments dried up.

The Wellington Accident and Urgent Medical Centre, which often takes patients not urgent enough for Wellington Hospital's ED, has cut its rostered doctors' pay by 20 per cent while a rural GP said he was working for free so he could keep his staff employed.

"It's this incredibly odd situation that at a moment of medical crisis in this country, this is actually happening," Betty said.

Meanwhile, the first trapped foreign tourists finally started to make their way home yesterday on evacuation flights, but up to 100,000 may still need to be repatriated.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters revealed the German government had hired a "serious number" of Air New Zealand planes to fly their people home and the first left Auckland Airport yesterday afternoon.

About 35,000 foreign nationals have registered as being in New Zealand with their embassies, but Peters said that number could actually be closer to 100,000.

He was still working on getting Kiwis back to New Zealand and was in talks with other governments about getting medical supplies on those planes as well.

Meanwhile, Kiwis at home were still reporting allegations of price gouging in droves with the Price Watch email address receiving more than 1800 reports.

Most of the emails related to everyday food staples such as vegetables, flour, bread and meat. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said it was working with supermarkets and suppliers to understand the reasons for the price increases.

Elsewhere, the Government offered directors of struggling companies a "safe harbour" from insolvency responsibilities under urgent law changes.

The Government will change a law to help companies facing insolvency due to Covid-19 to remain running and keep people in jobs.

The change to the Companies Act, announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi, would allow businesses to put debts into hibernation.

After Thursday's shock announcement from Bauer Media, Robertson urged directors not to make "rash decisions" as they endured the nationwide lockdown.

"We encourage all businesses to ... hold on to your people. Give them the wage subsidy if you need to.

"Don't make rash decisions during this time and have a plan for coming out the other side."