Case growth continues to slow as testing rises

The daily growth in Covid-19 cases in New Zealand continues to slump as the number of tests carried out yesterday reached a record high, Marc Daalder reports

The continuing stagnation in the number of new Covid-19 cases on Monday is encouraging, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

Monday saw just 67 new cases - 39 confirmed and 28 probable - representing a decline of nearly 25 percent from Sunday's high of 89. The figure is the fourth-lowest in the past 12 days and well below the average of 75 cases a day from March 26, the first day of lockdown.

"I think we can be encouraged, especially as it's maintained that level with the increase in testing," Bloomfield told reporters during his afternoon press conference.

"However, what we really are looking for is a drop in that rate of increase day-by-day, and the only way we will get that is if we go just as hard over this next two-and-a-half weeks in alert level four and continue the activities that are happening - the actions that all New Zealanders are undertaking to break that chain. Some success so far but our aim is to stamp it out and we all need to do that."

The total number of cases, including probable, is now 1106. Of these, 176 people have recovered, 13 are in hospital and three of the hospitalised patients are in ICU. Two of the patients requiring intensive care are in stable condition, while one is in critical condition.

The number of new cases has continued to stagnate each day even as testing has skyrocketed, from under 2000 last week to more than 3700 on Sunday. Bloomfield said more than 40,000 tests have been conducted in New Zealand since January 31. 

Testing centres are also continuing to open their doors. There are now 65 Community-based Assessment Centres in the country, which can decide whether a person will get a test and then test them on the spot. Swab clinics, which can perform tests but no assessment function, are also growing - there are now 48 of them, Bloomfield said.

Surveillance testing, which involves random testing of people with flu-like symptoms or even no symptoms at all, is still being considered by the Ministry of Health, with a decision set to be made in the coming days. Bloomfield cited research indicating 100,000 New Zealanders would need to be randomly tested for surveillance testing alone to provide an accurate picture of the virus' spread.

Of the 1106 cases, 43 percent of them - around 476 - have a direct link to overseas travel. Another 38 percent, or 420 cases, have a direct link to a confirmed case. Just 2 percent - about 22 cases - are being treated as community transmission while the remaining 17 percent or 188 cases are still being investigated.

The clusters of Covid-19 in New Zealand are also continuing to swell. The largest of these clusters - which are community spread but where the patient zero is known - is linked to Marist College in Auckland, with 72 cases. The other nine clusters have between 13 and 62 associated cases.

One of the newest clusters, around a rest home in Christchurch, has resulted in 20 residents of the home being moved to hospital in order to ensure they can receive the treatment they need in a safe environment, Bloomfield said.

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