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Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield answers your Covid-19 questions live

Posted by Ministry of Health - Manatū Hauora on Sunday, 12 April 2020

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield hosted a question and answer session with the public via Facebook live this afternoon.

Despite this being Bloomfield's first such session – up until now, he has been fronting press conferences at the Beehive in Wellington - he jumped straight in.

First up, he thanked New Zealanders for taking up "this collective leadership challenge" and following the rules under alert level 4 to help save lives.

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On a 'secret' cluster

When asked why an Auckland cluster was being kept "secret", he said it was a "private event" and there was no risk of further spread.

In this case, the Ministry of Health was "respecting the privacy" of those at the event, he said.

On social distancing and protecting yourself

On the subject of cloth masks, Bloomfield said the debate had been a worldwide one and the "jury is out" with a lot of experts divided.

But he said there was no harm if someone is using it appropriately – if it's cloth, it needs to be washed regularly.

Asked if the 2m rule was far enough given a recent study that indicated the virus droplets could spread further when sneezing, Bloomfield said the 2m distancing rules are "perfectly adequate" - but encouraged New Zealanders to maintain social distancing.

On learning from overseas

Bloomfield said the Government has been keeping a close eye on other countries and how they're dealing with the outbreak.

He said Singapore is a good example New Zealand was looking at it. Singapore has experienced a second wave of new cases, after their citizens started coming home.

He said the Government is "swapping notes" with the Singaporean authorities.

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Bloomfield said the Government was also keeping an eye on any vaccine trials overseas.

On hydroxychloroquine, used to treat malaria and rheumatoid arthritis, he said there is not enough evidence to say this would help with the treating of Covid-19.

On testing

Bloomfield said random testing was not being considered by the Government.

He said the positivity rate in New Zealand was still only 1 or 2 per cent. It's more likely the Government will do targeted testing in some areas across New Zealand.

"That's quite different from testing people with no symptoms."

He said although unconformable, the nasal swab was very important when it comes to testing.

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"Those swabs are unpleasant for people."

Asked about the aged care facilities and whether staff will be tested more than once as they may be cleared early on but become infected later, Bloomfield said people will be tested if they're symptomatic.

He said there would be more tests at the Rosewood rest home in Linwood in Christchurch.

Bloomfield said the Ministry would be looking into going out and finding people with mild cases, rather than any form of random testing.

On recovery

Asked about the criteria for recovery from the virus, Bloomfield said someone is considered recovered if it's been 10 days since the onset of their symptoms and they have been asymptomatic for at least 48 hours.

Asked if the Government will retest those who have recovered, Bloomfield said it was still unknown if people can get infected a second time.

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"We don't have any plans to retest those who have recovered," he said, but added if people do become symptomatic again, they will be tested nonetheless.

On probable cases

Asked about the definition of a probable case, he said it was when someone had a link to a Covid-19 case and might have had mild symptoms in the past.

"But it seems, on balance, they had Covid-19."

He said sometimes probable cases get moved to a confirmed case.

On support for the dying

Bloomfield said the Government was "looking at" its rules around family members being with a loved one on their deathbed.

"We're very aware of this, we're actively looking at it - we're looking at how we could relax that."

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On getting other medical care

Bloomfield said the Government has been working the DHBs in regards to how they are able to provide as much care as possible and catching up on deferred appointments, when New Zealand moves into alert level 3, and 2.

But he said more of the visits will be done remotely - "without people actually having to come to the hospital," he said.

"We're very keen to see that [people who have missed out on care] are getting care as soon as possible."

On eating onions

Asked if it was true that eating four onions a day would prevent Covid-19, Bloomfield said there was "no evidence for or against".

But he said it's more than likely not true.

"This is a bit of a housewives tale – I wouldn't put any money on four onions a day protecting you from Covid-19."

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He did say, however, if someone did have four onions a day they would find it quite hard to get someone in their bubble to kiss them.

In closing, Bloomfield said he planned on doing more Facebook live events over the coming weeks.

A fifth death

Earlier today, Bloomfield announced that a fifth person in New Zealand has died from Covid-19, the third from a cluster at the Rosewood resthome in Linwood, Christchurch.

The man, in his 80s, had been moved from Rosewood to nearby Burwood Hospital.

"We need to be prepared for more possible deaths," Bloomfield said.

On day 19 of lockdown, there are 19 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, 15 confirmed and four probable.

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So far, 546 people have recovered. That's up 75 on yesterday.

The new total is 1349 cases. There are 15 people in hospital, with four in intensive care - one is in a critical condition in Dunedin.

There are now 15 clusters in New Zealand. One of the new ones is in another rest home, in Auckland, with staff and residents affected.

Despite the increased number of deaths, Bloomfield said it was "encouraging" to see the number of new cases continue to drop.

Asked about a petition to make him New Zealander of the Year, Bloomfield was coy.

"Leadership is an invitation to collective action," he said. "This is a joint effort," he said, thanking all health workers across the country.

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

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