Covid-19

Queenstown conference attendees in self-isolation

More cases have been added to New Zealand's Covid-19 count including attendees at a conference that ended just before strict travel restrictions were put in place, Dileepa Fonseka reports

Attendees of a World Hereford Conference in Queenstown are being asked to self-isolate after four of those there tested positive for Covid-19. 

The conference ended on March 13th, one day before Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a requirement for all international visitors to self-isolate for 14 days.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said two Covid-19 cases at the conference were New Zealanders. The other two were an Australian and an individual from Uruguay. 

"Close contacts of those cases are being asked to self-isolate and other attendees at the conference are now considered as close contacts in a precautionary way," Bloomfield said.

"They [the attendees] have also been contacted and are required to self-isolate for 14 days since they were in contact with people who were at that conference," he said.

Bloomfield said 14 new Covid-19 cases had been confirmed across New Zealand since Saturday.

They were: one in Auckland, one in Northland, two in the Waikato (including one in Hamilton), one in Tauranga, one in the Coromandel, and one in Dunedin. 

The total number of known Covid-19 cases was now 66. Over 1200 lab tests were carried out yesterday bringing the total number of tests conducted to more than 6000.  

No case of "community transmission" has been identified in New Zealand yet. 

However, Bloomfield said he could still not rule it out in two cases where no "firm link" to overseas travel had been discovered.

'Whack-a-mole'

Professor David Murdoch, Dean of the University of Otago in Christchurch and co-director of One Health Aotearoa, said an increased number of cases was to be expected given the border closed last week. 

"If you suddenly close borders you'll have a rush of people coming back and therefore some of those will have got the virus and be picked up in the isolation process," Murdoch said. 

"So we would expect to see a little spike, but whether it accounts for everything that we're seeing now...it's probably too early to say that," he said. 

Michael Baker, a professor at Otago University's Department of Public Health, reiterated the new numbers were evidence the Government should be pursuing a different strategy to eradicate Covid-19. 

He said the current strategy of 'flattening the curve' was only relevant to influenza, a disease which could not be eradicated.

Baker said a series of intense lockdown measures with extreme social distancing could help eradicate Covid-19. These measures could be pulled back once New Zealand got "ahead of the curve". 

"Influenza you cannot eradicate, but we know from SARS and we know from China that you can eradicate this virus," Baker said. 

"The general point at the moment is we're playing that game 'whack-a-mole' where you're chasing individual cases and contacts," he said. 

"We need to go way past that."

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