Kiwis will find out at 4pm tomorrow whether the country will come out of lockdown and move to alert level 3.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement at this afternoon's daily coronavirus update, accompanied by Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

When asked if we were likely to stay in level 4 for another week until contact tracing is at a gold standard, Arden said: "We are not going to get into hypotheticals."

But Bloomfield responded to a number of questions that have been raised about contact-tracing, saying that the system was being improved to be able to trace 80 per cent of the close contacts from a new case within three days.


There are nine new coronavirus cases in New Zealand and one new death since yesterday, he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving her final press conference before she decides if the lockdown can be lifted. Photo / Pool
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving her final press conference before she decides if the lockdown can be lifted. Photo / Pool

The death brings the total toll to 12 and is of a man in Invercargill at home who was linked to the Bluff wedding cluster. It is the first coronavirus death in the community.

The man, aged in his 70s, died in his Kingswell home on Tuesday evening. The Bluff wedding cluster has been connected to more than 90 cases, including the death of the groom's father.

Bloomfield said it was important to get a good understanding of the death so a post-mortem was ordered - leading to the delay in confirmation that it was Covid-related.

The new cases are made up of four confirmed cases and five probable cases.

They are all linked to confirmed cases.

The total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is now 1431, and 912 people have recovered - an increase of 45 from yesterday.

There are 18 people in hospital, including one each in ICU at Middlemore, Dunedin and North Shore hospital; two are in a critical condition.


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There were still 16 significant clusters, with 12 more cases now linked to those clusters.

Ardern said she and Bloomfield discussed New Zealand cases on an individual level, where overseas thousands of cases were being tracked daily, and that made New Zealand "lucky" to be in this position.

She said New Zealand has proved that it was able to be in a position to potentially eliminate Covid-19.

There were 4146 tests processed yesterday, bringing the total number of tests conducted to 83,224.

Over 90,000 complete testing kits were available.

He said there were 131 healthcare workers with Covid-19, with 43 having recovered. About half of them had contracted the virus in the workplace, but a relatively small number had caught the virus from patients.

"We continue to keep a close eye on this," he said.

Bloomfield said 442 tests took place in Auckland yesterday, and with three-quarters of the results known, none have so far tested positive.

Other targeted testing in Queenstown, Canterbury and the Waikato had not returned any positive tests.

Coming out of lockdown

Arden said Cabinet was meeting at 10.30am tomorrow and a decision on whether New Zealand will come out of lockdown would be announced to the public at 4pm.

She said a move to level 3 would not be a return to pre-Covid life, and the ongoing battle was a long-term one.

Returning to a normal social life would undo the good work done so far, she added.

"We are carving our own path, but I have confidence we'll make the right decision."

Criteria on which to base the decision to come out of lockdown included testing and contact tracing capacity, community transmission, border restrictions, and the capacity of the health system.

Whether there is sufficient data to judge these criteria is also key, Ardern said.

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

The economy and the public's attitude, businesses' ability to comply with restrictions, and the Government's ability to detail, communicate and enforce those restrictions would also be looked at.

The Government's decisions had been based on public health and that had also been the best way to protect the economic fallout, she said.

Businesses should be assessing whether they can operate at level 3.

Ardern said the decision to move into the lockdown was the right one, and she thanked small businesses because no one underestimated how hard it has been for them during the lockdown.

She made two pleas to New Zealanders: "If you even have a sniffle or a sore throat, get a test.

"And record you movements as if we may come and interview you tomorrow to find out who you've been with."

It was helpful for people to keep a written record of who they have been with and their movements, as that would help contact tracing and moving down alert levels.

Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health's contact tracing system was "not particularly easy" to get information out of, and it was being updated "at pace" and might be at a gold standard within a week.

He said the Ministry wanted to be able to reach 80 per cent of close contacts within three days' information being analysed, which was being worked on this weekend.

Ardern said not to read too much into the statement that the gold standard was not in place at the moment.

Bloomfield said Dr Ayesha Verrall's report into the Ministry's contact tracing ability would be released tomorrow after Cabinet's decision was made.

Ardern added that smartphone technology would be part of the contact-tracing solution, but it didn't need to be in place for the lockdown to be lifted.

Bloomfield said the number of tests, the results of community testing and the positivity rates were all good signs but it was up to Cabinet to make a decision about the prevalence of community transmission.

Hunting for the source

There are six recent cases where the source of infection was unknown - including one in Whanganui and one in Timaru.

Thorough tracing of contacts and workplaces were being undertaken by the public health units in those areas, Bloomfield said.

Ardern said the Whanganui case demonstrated the job that contact tracers had to do, conducting forensic interviews to cast the net as widely as possible to ringfence new cases.

Targeted community testing had already been carried out in Timaru to gauge the prevalence of Covid-19 in that community.

Ongoing discussions were also taking place in Whanganui, where more testing was recently done in response to low per capita testing in that region.

More testing would also be taking place in remote areas in Tairawhiti, where per capita testing had also been lower than other regions.

Bloomfield said a robust response was in place for a mental health staffer who had contracted Covid-19 at Tauranga Hospital.

He said he was confident in DHBs' infection prevention systems, but nothing was fail-safe.

Ardern said that hospital resources had been managing so far.

There were 1601 people in managed isolation because of strict border controls, some of which were in strict quarantine.

Lockdown breaches

Ardern said there were 371 lockdown breaches in the past 24 hours up to 8pm last night, with about 3400 police prevention patrols in recent days.

There have been 321 prosecutions, about 2700 warnings and 76 youth referrals.

Maritime police patrol Auckland’s waters ensuring that no water activities occur during the nationwide lockdown. Video / Police

She said it was hard to get a true sense of lockdown compliance with the variations in frequency of police patrols, but Google data showed that compliance was "very high".

"Overall New Zealand has done exceptionally well with what has been a really rigorous approach."

New Zealanders had stayed home and saved lives, and Google data backed that up by showing fewer visits to beaches and parks."

"I know it hasn't been easy but it has been working."

Ardern said Anzac Day would have to be done differently this year, but it may lead to even more people participating because of what has happened.

She will provide more detail next week about how Anzac Day will be celebrated.

On the decline

The number of new cases has been on a declining trend for the last two weeks despite an increase in the number of tests.

Yesterday there were 13 new cases from 4677 tests, bringing the total number of cases to 1422; the death toll remained at 11.

With 867 cases who have recovered, the number of active cases fell to 544.

Targeted testing in Auckland, Waikato, Canterbury and Queenstown has been taking place in the past days to get a fuller picture of the prevalence of Covid-19 in those communities.

There were so far no positive results from hundreds of tests in Queenstown, Waikato or Canterbury. The Auckland tests were done yesterday and the results are expected today.

The recovery room

Last week Ardern outlined what life under alert level 3 would be like, but she warned that doing so was not an indication of what she will decide tomorrow.

She has described level 3 as a recovery room from where the country could expect to move quickly to level 2, perhaps after one two-week cycle.

PM Jacinda Ardern explains what alert level three means for you, your family and your business.

Meanwhile health insiders have sounded the alarm by telling the ministry that its contact-tracing ability needs improvement and its surveillance system is outdated, with one describing it as a "dinosaur".

Surveillance testing relates to broader collection of information to see where coronavirus is present in the population or among certain demographics.

Without enough information about surveillance testing and contact-tracing, epidemiologist Sir David Skegg has said that Cabinet would be playing "Russian roulette" with New Zealanders' health in making its decision tomorrow.

The ministry was provided a report on the shortcomings in its contact tracing eight days ago, but it has not been released and the Herald understands it won't be released today.

The report, by University of Otago infectious diseases physician Dr Ayesha Verrall, was understood to be damning of the ministry's tracing approach at the time of the audit.

Bloomfield said on Wednesday he had received Verrall's report and officials were "furiously" responding to its recommendations.

Bloomfield has set out four public health criteria for moving to level 3: community transmission, border controls, tracing and testing capacity, and supplies for and capacity in the health system.