There is hope that a "levelling off" has begun with New Zealand's coronavirus cases, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that the level 4 lockdown will remain, at least for another 16 days. Get all the important news and read the full stories in the links below.

Key developments in NZ

• New Zealand has 67 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 1106 - but there has been a "levelling off". There were 39 new confirmed cases and 28 probable cases announced today, with 13 people in hospital including three in ICU, one of whom is critical. Two people have been discharged from hospital since yesterday. There have been no additional deaths and 176 people have recovered. When asked when New Zealand's lockdown alert level could move back to level 3, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they would advise the Government when a number of data points showed it was "quite comfortably" levelling off - but they would like to see the daily number of cases dropping.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell

• Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand won't be coming out of alert level 4 lockdown earlier than the full four weeks, despite promising signs. Ardern said she didn't want New Zealand to be locked down "a minute more" than necessary, but that she didn't want the gains in the first half of the lockdown to be lost in the second half. Ardern also says there will be three "early indicators" which will help guide the Cabinet on whether the lockdown should be lifted in 16 days.

• A doctor is warning that healthcare workers will die of Covid-19 and infect patients unless the Government takes urgent action to ensure all staff have effective protective gear. Auckland obstetrician and gynaecologist Sarah Corbett has spoken out about distress from her colleagues across the country, saying they are "scared for themselves, their families and their patients. DHBs are actively discouraging staff from wearing face masks and ignoring advice from above." National Party leader Simon Bridges said it was "simply unacceptable" that healthcare workers were "getting bullied into not wearing PPE", and that he planned to discuss the issue with Bloomfield tomorrow morning.

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• Key data guiding critical decision-making on Covid-19 is filled with gaps and even inaccuracies, with detailed information held only at a local level by regional health units. It has also emerged there is no central database recording the length of time between a test being taken and the return of a test result. That means the daily updates of New Zealand's coronavirus cases could be days old, with people who have been tested telling the Herald they waited almost a week to get results. David Fisher investigates.

Around the world

• British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was diagnosed with the coronavirus more than a week ago, was admitted to a hospital today for tests, with persistent symptoms still lingering 10 days after testing positive for the virus. Downing Street said it was a "precautionary step" and he remains in charge of the government. Johnson, 55 has been quarantined in his residence since being diagnosed with Covid-19 on March 26, and has continued to chair daily meetings on Britain's response to the outbreak. Almost 48,000 people have been confirmed to have Covid-19 in the UK, and 4934 have died.

• In a rare address to the nation, Queen Elizabeth II has exhorted Britons to rise to the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. The 93-year-old monarch acknowledged the suffering that many families have experienced because of the Covid-19 crisis. "I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time," she said. "A time of disruption in the life of our country; a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all." The Queen gives yearly Christmas messages but has given an address like this on only three previous occasions. "I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge," she said.

"I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all," she said.

• After the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a global pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment. The Associated Press reports that federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers. By that time, hospitals in several US states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile.

President Donald Trump listens during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. Photo / AP
President Donald Trump listens during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. Photo / AP

Business update

• Hard-up home loan borrowers say finance companies are knocking back their requests for six-month loan holidays, leaving them worried they will lose their houses. Borrowers of non-bank lenders have been left to negotiate arrangements with finance companies reluctant to take on more risk. But the finance industry body says it is working with the Government to come up with liquidity support for the sector, which would enable companies to do more for those in financial hardship.

• Auckland International Airport is seeking to raise around $1.2 billion from new and existing shareholders, as it prepares to cope with a prolonged hit from Covid-19. The sudden downturn in revenue for the entire aviation sector has forced all of New Zealand's airports to undertake significant cost-cutting exercises, including delaying all capital spending that can be avoided.

In sport

• The NRL has reportedly contacted the New Zealand Government in a desperate attempt to get the Warriors an exemption from travel restrictions, so the club can be included for the competition's targeted return of May 28. NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the league was "working hard" with the Australian and New Zealand governments, but admits the league would have to go on without the Kiwi side if exemptions aren't granted.

Check our graphic for the latest case numbers in New Zealand.

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