Apr 21, 2020
New Zealand COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 21
New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Minister of Education Chris Hipkins held a coronavirus press conference on April 21, 2020. Read the full transcript here.
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Minister Hipkins: (00:18)
All right. Good afternoon everybody. [inaudible 00:00:20]. It’s day 27 of our lockdown, and we remain at alert level four. We’ll be waking up to alert level three next Tuesday morning. Today I’m here to set out what moving to alert level three next will look like for our schools, our early learning services and our tertiary institutions, and also a little bit of a comment on what it might mean here at parliament.
Minister Hipkins: (00:47)
I’ll update you on the government’s engagement with the education sector to get ready to move to level three including key decisions in dates. We’ll talk more about the health guidance around the spread of COVID 19 amongst children, and I’m sure the director general also comments on that. How our response in education compares internationally. I can give you the latest information on our distance learning program and I’ll also brief you a little bit about how parliament may operate under level three. But first I’ll hand over to the director general of health to give you his usual update.
Speaker 2: (01:20)
Thank you minister. [inaudible 00:01:20]. So today New Zealand’s total number of new COVID 19 cases is five, made up of two new confirmed cases and three probable cases. All of these new cases are linked to existing cases. The new combined total of both confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand is 1,445. Sadly today I am reporting the death of a woman in her seventies who had COVID 19 infection. This woman was one of six residents from Saint Margaret’s hospital and rest home in Oakland who has been transferred to Waitakere Hospital on April 17. The woman who had an underlying health condition died yesterday. Our thoughts are with this woman’s family and friends, and we ask that their privacy is respected at this difficult time.
Speaker 2: (02:17)
Now residents were transferred from Saint Margaret’s is a number of staff. We’re in precautionary and continue to be in precautionary self isolation following close contact with people who are confirmed COVID 19 cases. This has impacted on the facility’s ability to maintain full staffing. So in addition to those six residents who were transferred to Waitakere hospital because they had COVID 19 infection, a further nine residents from Saint Margaret’s were transferred to North Shore Hospital on 18th of April. These residents are not COVID 19 positive but are considered close contacts, so are being monitored as well as receiving the usual care they would have if they had been back at Saint Margaret’s.
Speaker 2: (03:04)
There are now 1006 cases of COVID 19 who have recovered, an increase on 32 yesterday. Today there are 12 people in hospital with COVID 19 infection. This includes three in ICU, in Middlemore, Deneden, and North Shore hospital. I’m pleased to say that none of these people are in a critical condition. There are still 16 significant clusters and four more cases have been linked to extent clusters including three of the cases we’re reporting today.
Speaker 2: (03:40)
In terms of testing, yesterday there were 3,203 tests processed around the country, and the new title is now 89,503. The stock and supply for testing is still over eighty-three thousand complete tests. Just a word on testing, and we’ve all put these graphs on our website after today’s stand up, but we are seeing from ESR reporting surveillance of what is called influenza-like illness that calls to health line and our monitoring of ILI through health state, which is through general practices and through the flu tracker app as well as our monitoring of what are called SARI, severe acute respiratory infections, in hospital have all plummeted as we might expect over those last three to four weeks.
Speaker 2: (04:31)
That explains that’s a very good reason for why our testing has dropped, because there simply are not people out there who have got respiratory symptoms. However, I’m still pleased to see that we’re processing over 3000 tests a day. We will continue some community based testing this week, in particular they’re tipping in Tairawhiti, in Taranaki and in Northland. I know in Tairawhiti, and you can see this on their website, during this week there are mobile clinics around Gisbon from Monday to Friday and starting today some mobile testing moving its way up the East coast to test those more rural communities. I’ll finish there and hand back to you, minister.
Minister Hipkins: (05:11)
Thank you, director general. The first thing I’d like to do is give you a brief update on what will happen here at parliament next week. As we move to level three parliament, we’ll meet again on Tuesday the 28th of April. The executive details for parliament sitting next week will be confirmed following a meeting of the business committee tomorrow, but I do expect that this setting will adopt the same practices that New Zealanders across the country will use during their working day at level three. That includes the correct physical distancing in the debating chamber.
Minister Hipkins: (05:43)
I also expect that there’ll be reduced numbers of MPs in the house in order to minimize the amount of travel that MPs will be undertaking. As you will know, many of the normal facilities in the parliamentary complex, including the Copperfields Cafe and other catering facilities will not be available whilst the house is operating and we will be keeping as few essential people around the complex as possible. For this reason, we can expect that the normal sitting hours of the house will vary over the next three weeks.
Minister Hipkins: (06:15)
Business to be considered by parliament will include question time, ministerial statements, essential urgently distillation that’s directly related to the COVID 19 response, and any other urgent government business that is essential to keeping government functioning whilst we prepare to deliver this year’s budget. The government has undertaken not to progress its normal legislative program while we are at alert level three.
Minister Hipkins: (06:45)
I’m happy to take questions at the end on parliament, but in terms of turning to education, under alert level three most children and young people will be continuing distance learning. Early learning centers in schools will be physically open for students up to year ten for the families that need that, but children who can stay home should stay home. It risks students and staff, including those who are over the age of 17 should also stay home, and they will be supported to do so.
Minister Hipkins: (07:23)
Residential and special schools will not reopen in the early stages of alert level three for children to physically attend. They may reopen later during alert level three if public health measures can be managed, and we are working through that at the moment. In the meantime, teachers and staff will continue to support these students whilst they remain at home. Things like the intensive wraparound service and all those specialists continue to work with those students whilst they’re at home. Education for students in years 11 and to 13 will continue remotely. For tertiary education, moving to alert level three means remote learning or continue, but where that’s not possible, some facilities may reopen with strict physical distancing rules in place.
Minister Hipkins: (08:14)
Students in hostels, halls of residence or self-contained flats can stay there, again with strict rules, but if students went home to join their family bubble, they must stay home. They cannot return to student accommodation whilst we are at alert level three. Providers are contacting their staff and students directly with more information, so they should be the first port of call for parents and students with questions.
Minister Hipkins: (08:43)
To prepare schools and early childhood centers to reopen next week, from today we are allowing people into schools and early learning services for the purposes of cleaning, maintenance and any other essential preparations that are required for them to reopen for a teacher only day on Tuesday the 28th of April. We expect most children who need to attend will be able to attend from the 29th of April. I do want to caution though it may take a bit longer for some schools and early learning services to be ready, and the ministry of education will be working closely with all of them.
Minister Hipkins: (09:22)
This is not a normal situation and we will need to be doing things differently. The ministry of education has been meeting with sector groups to work through all of the practical issues. Over the last week the ministry has kept in close contact with the early childhood education advisory group, and this will continue as we continue to work through the key guidance that’s needed to support the early learning sector. We’ve also met with various principal groups around the country and with sector leaders and will continue to do so.
Minister Hipkins: (09:54)
Discussions with the sector will continue as more detailed advice is released over the next week to support schools and early learning services. Our approach to reopening of the education system is based on the latest public health advice. I know that physical distancing will be very difficult with children and young people, particularly the youngest children in early childhood education. We’ve reached the point where the director general of health is confident that there is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand, so the chance of it coming through the door or through the gate in the first place is low.
Minister Hipkins: (10:33)
Keeping in mind that there are some 400,000 people going to work under alert level three, just as we need to keep them safe, we are putting in place measures to keep children and teachers safe. At alert level three, the approach and an ECE or school environment is designed to limit the number of people that children have contact with. All of the evidence does point to children having lower risk of getting infected and being affected by COVID 19, and it’s possible to ensure that children are within the same group each day and that there is no mixing between groups. To be clear, it is safe from a public health perspective to have a group of children learning together. Parents can have confidence that the proposed approach is designed to keep children and their families and their teachers safe.
Minister Hipkins: (11:24)
It’s really important though that parents fully support this approach by doing their bit. Keep children home if you can. Definitely keep children home if they are unwell and seek medical advice about whether a child may need to be tested. Strictly maintain your family bubble outside of schools and early learning, and ensure that great hygiene practices are observed at all times.
Minister Hipkins: (11:51)
Our return to education along with restarting our economy is largely on par with what we’re seeing around the rest of the world. Although New Zealand is within a handful of countries in the enviable position of being able to transition out of lockdown and through the alert levels, that’s why we must take the best position for our own needs. Distance learning is going to be with us for some time, for at least another three weeks. I’d like to give you a brief update on the rollout of the distance learning program.
Minister Hipkins: (12:21)
We’ve started the distribution of 6,700 internet routers to households. Initially those are being prioritized to schools that have students doing NCEA in DeSales one to three. We’ve also had 10,000 devices being distributed by schools to students, and more than 1,250 internet ready computers. The Chromebooks or laptops have been shipped to students so far, and an additional four and a half thousand have landed in New Zealand and are being prepared for shipping. Again, the priority is NCA students in levels and DeSales one to three. We have further equipment waiting to be shipped from overseas. In terms of the hard packs of materials that are going out to those who don’t have access to digital devices, I can confirm that so far we have sent out 80,000 packs in English and 10,000 packs in Mardi. We know that people are tuning into our TV channels to see familiar faces like Susie Kaito on the box.
Minister Hipkins: (13:27)
The latest information we’ve got is that 649, 000 people tuned in during the first three days last week. The parental pages from the ministry of education’s website had over a hundred thousand visits over those three days. So I want to thank the profession for their good will and their professionalism to teachers, principals, and center leaders. They’ve got an important role to play in getting New Zealand back on its feet. I know they know that, and I want to thank them for it. So finally, to all of the parents out there who I know are juggling working from home, caring for your kids-
Minister Hipkins: (14:03)
… working from home, caring for your kids. My message to you is the same as it’s been since the beginning, be kind to yourself. We are not expecting parents to completely replace the classroom environment at home, so be reasonable in your expectations of yourselves.
Minister Hipkins: (14:18)
These are extraordinary times, so thank you for your understanding. We’re doing our very best to minimize the impact on children’s learning and on their wellbeing as we work together to keep New Zealanders safe. Happy to answer your questions.
Speaker 3: (14:32)
Minister Hipkins, what are you doing to help those schools who might be disproportionately affected? Because, for example, in areas where both parents have to go back to work or where distance learning isn’t an option?
Minister Hipkins: (14:46)
Obviously, where both parents have to go back to work, where distance learning isn’t an option, that’s one of the reasons why we’re saying that we do need schools and early learning services to be able to provide support to those families. In some cases, it’s also going to be possible as families look to slightly enlarge their bubble, for them to be share-and-care arrangements across other close relatives, for example, so that those kids can stay home if they don’t need to go back.
Speaker 3: (15:12)
[crosstalk 00:15:12] some schools, just by dint of where they are and the parents work, that are going to be facing a lot more kids coming than some schools who will see that distance learning, and maybe more parents at home. I mean, is there a breakdown, and are you going to give specific support to those schools that may have many more kids than they might have anticipated or potentially be able to deal with?
Minister Hipkins: (15:35)
So one of the things that this week gives us, and next Tuesday as well gives us, is an opportunity for schools to touch base with their parent communities and get an understanding of how many kids are maybe needing to come through the door next week when schools and early learning services start to reopen for kids from next Wednesday.
Minister Hipkins: (15:53)
If you look at the overall numbers, we’re expecting around 400,000 New Zealanders to go back to work. We’re still expecting around a million New Zealanders to be at home. So even in the situations where parents are going back to work, it may be that there are other family arrangements that can be put in place for those kids not to need to go back to school. I’d certainly encourage that.
Minister Hipkins: (16:15)
So if you’re enlarging your bubble slightly by bringing in an auntie or an uncle or someone else who could be at home with the kids because they’re working from home anyway, that would be a good arrangement.
Speaker 3: (16:28)
Are there going to be some situations though where schools are going to have to say, “We can’t take your kid. We’ve already filled our complement, and we just can’t take any more.” What would the response be in that particular situation?
Minister Hipkins: (16:37)
Look, it’s too early to say that. Over this coming week, we’re keeping very, very closely in contact with schools, so that if they do start to get concerned that they’re going to have a whole deluge of students that they couldn’t adhere to public health guidance in bringing them back through the school gate, then we’ll work with them. It may be that we can help to spread some of that load. But it’s very early at this point. We only these decisions very recently. So we do need to give the education system time to digest that and to reach out to their parent communities.
Speaker 14: (17:08)
[inaudible 00:17:08] in schools that we’ve spoken to are extremely worried, and many won’t be opening under level three. Is that a choice that they can make?
Minister Hipkins: (17:13)
Look, we’re not being too heavy-handed in this. Obviously, I do want early learning services to reopen if they can.
Minister Hipkins: (17:21)
The arrangements are going to be different though, because different centers have different child populations, different needs. They’re physically quite different, so the physical layout of those services can be quite different. Some are very, very open, and some of them have smaller rooms and smaller spaces that make preserving bubbles within them more possible. So we’re working through that with each individual center. I’m not going to set a hard and fast rule around that. We are going to continue to support early learning services during level three so that we know that they’ll be there when we move to level two.
Speaker 14: (17:55)
Teachers are telling us it’s impossible to socially distance children under five. You have young children. How would you do it?
Minister Hipkins: (18:01)
Look, as I’ve been very clear, one of the reasons that we’ve got guidance, and the Director General I’m sure would be happy to comment on this. One of the reasons we’ve got the public health guidance out there that we have is that we know that when you’re dealing with a small group of very young children, under five year olds, they are going to come into contact with each other. They are going to need to be picked up now and then by an adult, and so that physical distancing isn’t going to be possible in that environment.
Minister Hipkins: (18:26)
So there are other things that we can put in place there. Keeping the bubble size quite small, making sure that we’re doing all of the hygiene things we need to do, and, of course, the work that we have all done as a country over the last four weeks to minimize the risk of COVID-19 coming through the door in the first place.
Speaker 14: (18:42)
[crosstalk 00:18:42] comments that the Director General made yesterday. You said that children don’t tend to pass COVID-19 on to adults. What evidence or peer-reviewed literature are you basing that claim on?
Dr. Bloomfield: (18:51)
Well, the first evidence that came out about this was from the WHO-China combined review in China, particularly in Wuhan, which was a 10-day mission there. That report came out in March. That very clear, in fact. Of all the people they interviewed who had been involved in dealing with COVID-19, not one could recall any instance of a child passing infection to an adult. This seems to be the pattern that has been found in other countries. We, of course, got here in New Zealand, just a small number of our cases are in under 10 year olds for a start, and all of those are actually linked to transmission within the family setting.
Speaker 14: (19:31)
The epidemiologists and pediatricians that we have spoken to say that there’s conflicting evidence that that’s the case, and it’s too early to draw a conclusion. What’s your response to them?
Dr. Bloomfield: (19:40)
Well, I think there’s always emerging evidence. At the moment, I think the weight of evidence does suggest exactly as we’ve laid out in our public health advice, and we will keep watching that.
Dr. Bloomfield: (19:50)
But I should say that the fundamentals of public health and how it’s being applied in the education setting are the same as what we are advising and are being applied in other settings. So it is the physical distancing, the small groups, too. If there is, and very unlikely that a case comes through the gate, it’s confined to a small group if there is any close contact.
Dr. Bloomfield: (20:13)
But I just would reiterate the point the Minister here has made. We’re announcing five cases today. We can trace them to extant cases. We’re going back and scrutinizing every case back to the 1st of April. But at the moment, there are only four cases left where we’re not sure exactly the route of transmission. But even then, it’s reasonably clear in two of them where the infection was first got, and it predated actually the lockdown.
Dr. Bloomfield: (20:43)
So there’s increasingly encouraging information that the likelihood of someone with COVID-19 going through the school gate, as the minister said, is very, very low in the first place.
Speaker 4: (20:54)
Minister, if you’re saying that it’s safe enough to open schools and for these students to be back, why not open up schools completely if you’re confident that they don’t transmit the disease?
Minister Hipkins: (21:05)
Because one of the things that gives us confidence is that ability when we have a smaller number in an early learning service or in a school, that smaller number is a key part of our ability to keep people in smaller bubbles, to stop those bubbles coming into contact with one another. If you start to have services and schools operating at full capacity, then it becomes a lot more difficult. So I’m confident that at level three, they can operate not at full strength, but for a smaller number.
Speaker 4: (21:35)
Will the teacher have the option to say, “No, I don’t feel safe coming to work. I don’t want to.”
Minister Hipkins: (21:40)
Look, we do expect teachers to be doing their bit. My message to those who are in a higher-risk bracket, either because they themselves are in a higher-risk category or because they’ve got someone living in their household who is in a higher-risk category, is make sure you’re talking to your school or your early learning service about that, because we’re going to need people continuing to support the students who are distance learning as well.
Minister Hipkins: (22:03)
The pragmatic and sensible things for schools to do is have those teachers who are in a higher-risk bracket supporting distance learning so that those who are at lower risk can be in the physical school environment.
Speaker 5: (22:19)
Minister, the principal of the [inaudible 00:22:23] is their principal should be making the final call on whether they should open schools. What do you say to that?
Minister Hipkins: (22:28)
Look, I think that would put principals in a very difficult position. If they are concerned that too many of their parents are asking to send their kids to school, then I do want them to contact the Ministry of Education. But I don’t want the schools to be put in the position of being police around whether or not parents have a good enough reason to send their kids to school. I think that puts them in a very difficult position that could potentially strain their relationships with their parents’ communities quite substantially.
Minister Hipkins: (22:57)
So my message to them is, if you’re concerned that too many of your families are putting their hand up and saying, “We’re sending our kids to school or to early learning,” talk to the Ministry of Education about that.
Minister Hipkins: (23:07)
But my message to all New Zealanders is, if you can keep your kids at home, please do keep your kids at home.
Speaker 5: (23:15)
Also, you said that 80,000 packs have been sent out in English, 10,000 in Maori, how many packs are still yet to be sent out?
Minister Hipkins: (23:24)
Look, our capacity to send those out is growing by the day. We’re continuing to grow our ability to do that. That supply line that we’ve got set up now is capable of supplying about a half a million packs if we need to do that. Obviously, the longer this goes on and the longer we need to keep supplying that material, then we will continue to do that.
Speaker 6: (23:44)
I have a question around hospital and aged care facility visits. Will restrictions under level three change? Will people be able to visit their dying loved ones now?
Dr. Bloomfield: (23:56)
We’re still working on that guidance and working with our hospitals and aged care facilities. We’ve seen in New Zealand, even under the lockdown, a number of clusters inside aged residential care facilities. That’s hitting. I think we want to be particularly careful, but I am very keen to extend the compassionate … There already exists an opportunity for people to visit loved ones who are dying under compassionate grounds. That is not the case if the person has COVID-19. You’ll recognize there is that restriction. It’s that letter that we’re particularly looking at, whether there may be any flexibility under alert level three.
Speaker 7: (24:32)
What about hospitals for like pregnant women?
Dr. Bloomfield: (24:34)
Yes. Though are being reviewed, so we will make announcements further about that.
Minister Hipkins: (24:39)
Okay, well we’ll-
Speaker 8: (24:40)
[inaudible 00:24:40] healthcare workers can have adequate PPE around COVID cases who are vulnerable or have underlying conditions. Is there an argument that family members with the right PPE should be allowed in there as well? Why not get a bit more cracking with that work, so those people aren’t left alone without their families?
Dr. Bloomfield: (24:54)
Yes, so the work is cracking along, and that is one option is to make PPE available for family members in that situation.
Minister Hipkins: (25:01)
Okay, we’ll [crosstalk 00:25:01].
Speaker 9: (25:01)
Minister Hipkins: (25:01)
… back to you.
Speaker 9: (25:02)
Thank you. Just back on schools. What are the public health implications of those schools that operate in modern learning environments? You talked about the issue of open spaces. As I understand it, some [EMLEs 00:25:14] also have less favorable ratios of students to bathrooms and washbasins. So what are the unique sort of challenges that are posed by EMLEs, and how can the government sort of deal with those?
Minister Hipkins: (25:26)
So the Ministry of Education are working with schools over the coming week to deal with all of their individual needs and requirements. My key message again is we want to have as few students at school as possible, because even in a modern learning environment, if you can keep the numbers low enough, there are ways to manage there.
Minister Hipkins: (25:42)
One of the things the Ministry of Education are working through with schools are things like cleaning, for example. So if you’ve got different groups of students using the same bathrooms, can they be cleaned in between so that you’re keeping that bubble nice and tight? So all of those logistical things are being worked through with schools and early learning services over the coming week.
Speaker 10: (26:03)
[crosstalk 00:26:03] GPs were expecting a second wave of funding to get in through the second half of the lockdown. But that hasn’t happened. How come?
Minister Hipkins: (26:10)
We were just talking about that before, and I’ll let the Director General answer that question.
Dr. Bloomfield: (26:14)
Thanks, Minister. So there’ve been two payments already to primary care, to GPS, an initial payment of $15 million and then a further payment of $11 million out around the country to help offset the costs of their response to COVID-19. There is an active conversation between the Minister and general practice leaders and the ministry on further funding. So that’s ongoing, and I can’t comment any further on it.
Speaker 11: (26:40)
[crosstalk 00:26:40] $11 million was promised to them though and now is being withheld from them. A lot of them have budgeted and stamped for that $11 million to be in their bank accounts, and now it’s just been taken away from them.
Dr. Bloomfield: (26:53)
I don’t think it’s been taken away, but the conversation is ongoing and active between those three parties, as I said, about any further funding that is needed to support the COVID-19 response that is happening in primary care.
Speaker 11: (27:05)
[crosstalk 00:27:05] give $1 million extra promised to them?
Dr. Bloomfield: (27:09)
I can’t comment on that. I know the conversation’s ongoing.
Speaker 12: (27:11)
Dr. Bloomfield, Dr. Bloomfield-
Speaker 13: (27:13)
[Crosstalk 00:27:13] from what I have been told, of they’ve been promised the funding, they’re trying to ramp up for the tsunami of patients that they’re expecting after the lockdown. Then they’ve been told that then they just don’t feel valued because they were expecting this money. They’ve spent it on their kids. So [crosstalk 00:27:31]
Minister Hipkins: (27:31)
I think as the Director General has just said, the conversations between general practitioners and the Minister of Health is continuing. My advice to them would be to continue that discussion, and we’ll be monitoring that closely.
Speaker 12: (27:43)
Dr. Bloomfield, can you tell us just a bit more about the treatment for those patients in ICU? Are new drugs being used?
Dr. Bloomfield: (27:51)
At this stage, no new drugs are being used, but you will have seen the announcement last week by the Health Research Council. At least two of the studies funded by the Health Research Council, and some in partnership with the-
Dr. Bloomfield: (28:03)
There’s two of the studies funded by the Health Research Council and some in partnership with the ministry of health, looking at treatments for people, particularly people who are hospitalized and with severe symptoms. Of course, we’ve been, because of the approach New Zealand has taken here, we’ve had not only a lowish number of cases but low hospitalization rates. And so people have been able to be treated, including in ICU in the most part successfully. Those trials would only go ahead if our case numbers started to increase and they are linked up to international trials too.
Speaker 16: (28:33)
Also, do you think it’s necessary for the auditor general to independently review the management of PPE? What do you think will come out of that review?
Dr. Bloomfield: (28:41)
Oh, well I don’t want to preempt what the auditor general will find, but I’m certainly happy and very pleased that he’s going to do this, that he and his workers are. And I think we’re expecting the results in about four weeks time. I’m very open to scrutiny and review of what we have done and any feedback on how that could be done better.
Speaker 17: (29:03)
Do you think that you could have done a better job giving that out because there’s a sentiment that they’re not, people feel like they’re not protected?
Dr. Bloomfield: (29:14)
Well, I think this is a topic we’ve covered repeatedly. Look, I think we have stood up a system nationwide to ensure that our stocks we have are distributed around the country, that we have taken on the responsibility to distribute it to a whole range of providers that previously we wouldn’t have, and that we have done that successfully. We have also ensured good supply lines and I look forward to any recommendations that the auditor general has got about how we could continue to improve that.
Minister Hipkins: (29:43)
[crosstalk 00:29:43] Okay, we’ll try this question and then we’ll come back to you.
Speaker 19: (29:49)
It’s a topic that comes up repeatedly because you keep offering reassurances and we keep hearing from frontline health workers saying they don’t have adequate PPE. You’ve stated that they have plenty of it, that hospitals aren’t recycling gear to reuse it. We know that is incorrect. So why should Kiwis, Kiwi health workers have confidence in what you’re saying in these press conferences?
Dr. Bloomfield: (30:06)
Well, because I can reassure them and the feedback I get from many workers around the country and if I ever hear of any issues, I ring the relevant DHB chief executive. I know they are taking, excuse me, a very personal interest in this. There is very good distribution of PPE. If any issues arise, then those are looked into. That doesn’t mean that on any one day a DHB will be able to distribute all the PPE that a certain provider thinks they need on that day, but that also doesn’t mean there’s a problem in the system. Secondly, on the recycling, what I do understand, and I think you’ve said that this incorrect, actually that in the Auckland region they are retaining used N95 masks because there was very good evidence from overseas that these can be cleaned and reused if necessary. So they are putting them aside, but there is no reuse of those happening. They are, they have new N95 masks every time they need to use them.
Speaker 19: (31:04)
It’s the DHB managers who are at fault with regards to not allowing staff to wear masks when they want to?
Dr. Bloomfield: (31:09)
I trust DHB managers to do their job in clinical situations with the best clinical advice, which they do get from their infectious diseases specialists and their infection prevention control teams. And it’s not my job to second guess those individual interactions between clinicians and those who are leading them in the clinical settings.
Minister Hipkins: (31:28)
Okay, down here in the front. Down here in the front.
Speaker 20: (31:32)
Can you provide any information in regards to reports that a New Zealander died of COVID in Peru? And there, he was meant to be on that mercy flight.
Minister Hipkins: (31:42)
I mean my understanding is that yes, a New Zealander has passed away in Peru. I also understand that, that family was being actively supported by the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, and that they’ve asked for some privacy. And so I can’t really divulge any further details on that.
Speaker 21: (32:01)
Do you have any numbers on how many students can access distance learning yet?
Minister Hipkins: (32:06)
Look, we know when we started this exercise, our estimate was that around 80,000 households did not have a broadband connection. And that could cover up to 145,000 learners. I’m confident that, as you have heard the numbers, we’re getting more and more households connected by the day and with 80, 90,000 hard packs of materials going, you know, being shipped out and more on the way that we are getting people, you know, connected one way or the other even if it’s an old fashioned connection through a courier service. And of course through the television networks that we’ve got up and running, we are providing support to those households as well.
Speaker 22: (32:46)
Are you able to say either that, that men was meant to be on one of the mercy flights? Had he been in contact with the consulate there?
Minister Hipkins: (32:55)
Well, I’m not in a position to be able to divulge those details. When I think … When I didn’t, I got the information relatively briefly before this press conference, but if we are able to release that information, I’ll make sure that it is released.
Speaker 23: (33:11)
[crosstalk 00:33:11] flight, are there any more planned?
Minister Hipkins: (33:13)
Yes, there’s further work. I think it’s well known this, this further work with India for example around repatriation flights there. I understand that there was a flight from the Philippines, I think landed yesterday and has now returned. So there are repatriation if it’s go, you know, ongoing. I do want to say that this is the largest consular effort around the world that the New Zealand government has ever undertaken. And so it is a huge effort and where we can we, we are working very closely to make sure that we can get Kiwis home and get those who are in New Zealand who want to get home also home. But there are a whole lot of constraints around that.
Speaker 24: (33:50)
Any details about the India flight in terms of timing?
Minister Hipkins: (33:52)
Yes, I do and I can give that to you. I got a some dates before I came down here. I just have to find the right piece of paper that’s got the exact dates on it. In fact, it’s the one on top. So my understanding is that the first flight out of India will depart on the 24th of April. After that departure we are expecting a further flight from New Delhi and a flight from Mumbai. Expecting those will be spaced 24 hours to 48 hours apart. So the relevant practical arrangements can be made both on the Indian side and on the New Zealand side. The commercial Philippines airlines flight that repatriated a 167 New Zealanders and permanent residents and 37 third country nationals with valid visas landed in Auckland yesterday and returned to Manila shortly afterwards carrying 63 Filipino residents.
Speaker 25: (34:47)
What advice are you giving on the impact, especially on those students selling NCEA, looking at those big exams this year? Impact on them and what are you looking at in terms of maybe a bit further down the line, the support that you can give to them so that the either not going to fail or have to come back and repeat a year?
Minister Hipkins: (35:06)
So, I guess my first message to them is make sure they are preserving their mental health, make sure they are preserving their wellbeing in this very difficult time. Don’t let themselves get totally strung out about it. NZQA have supplied to schools, and indirectly through schools to learners, guidance on the sorts of things they can do to generate an evidence based for assessment when more regular assessment can start to take place. Guidance has been supplied to schools about the sorts of evidence that they should be looking to get, you know to gather so that in the event that a student cannot do an exam at the end of the year that they derived grade process that we would normally rely on can still take place.
Speaker 25: (35:45)
Minister Hipkins: (35:48)
That’s possible. Of course, we are moving to an online assessment environment with NZQA and we’re speeding that up now because as a result of this so that we can get more online assessment taking place. NZQA is leaning very heavily into that. But again, I do want to reiterate that many students will now spread their NCEA levels over several years. So if you’re doing level one this year and you don’t quite finish it because of the lockdown, you’ll be able to finish that next year as you start to do your level two. Schools are working very, very hard to be able to sort of slide things around to accommodate that for students.
Speaker 26: (36:21)
Story this week about [inaudible 00:36:23] to detain in particular doing more practical, on site based learning. Are there a specific group that you’d have concerns about? I mean are they disadvantaged or limited more than doing other subjects, for example?
Minister Hipkins: (36:37)
There are some things that they can often do from home. So they can do the theoretical components of their work from home. There may be some limitations to if you’re doing a science subject, for example, just some of the practical exercises you might not be able to do from home. But I know that schools are working very hard to slide that around so that the bits that can be done remotely are being done remotely. So that when the students are back in the classroom, they could pick up some of the more, you know, the things that require them to be there physically.
Speaker 25: (37:02)
Going back to my original question, what advice have you got on the impact on general educational outcomes? Or is it too early?
Minister Hipkins: (37:08)
It is too early, but if you look at the Christchurch earthquake scenario where schools were closed for quite some time and kids did lose quite a block of learning, they didn’t flow through into lower NCEA pass rates at the end of the year. In fact, if anything, those pass rates were slightly better on average than they would normally have been.
Speaker 27: (37:28)
Do police get the same powers under the health act at level three as they do at level four?
Minister Hipkins: (37:35)
That is something that the director general might be in a better position to answer around the enforcement of level three.
Dr. Bloomfield: (37:41)
So what I can say is we are preparing a new section 71 notice under the health act that will apply under level three. And yes it will create the same legal basis for police to be able to enforce the expectations on the public around staying at home, not congregating and not opening certain facilities. So those powers will be similar, but tailored specifically for alert level three.
Speaker 28: (38:06)
Just another question on behalf of a colleague, should community midwives, sorry, be compensated for extra hours they are working during the lockdown and the extra PPE that they are buying themselves?
Dr. Bloomfield: (38:17)
Well, the midwife college, college of midwives, and both and our community-based midwives as one of the groups. In fact, we are working with each group, pharmacists, midwives, other community based providers to look at what their extra costs are during this period of time. And there is work underway to ensure that they are funded for any additional costs that they are incurring.
Speaker 29: (38:41)
Is it fair for our frontline health workers including GPs to be worried about costs at a time where they’re trying to fight COVID?
Dr. Bloomfield: (38:46)
I think the government has moved very quickly and we’ve provided advice right from early on and have been in active discussion with the full range of professional groups about extra costs they are incurring because of this. And you’ve seen the government make a series of announcements about extra funding going to a wide range of groups to help support them so that they can continue to provide the services New Zealander need.
Minister Hipkins: (39:12)
Coming over to you.
Speaker 30: (39:13)
Do you, by chance, have the latest numbers on how many people have come through government managed quarantine isolation?
Minister Hipkins: (39:18)
Ah, yes I do. I’ll just again, I’ll make sure I get the right piece of paper so I give you the latest numbers. We have 2,000, and as of 10:00 a.m. this morning, we have 2,038 in managed isolation or quarantine, which is up 165. We have 1,952 in managed isolation, up 168. And we’ve got 86 in quarantine, which is down. 348 arrived on flights yesterday.
Speaker 30: (39:49)
So, was that both managed isolation, the two numbers?
Minister Hipkins: (39:53)
Sorry, the in managed isolation, we’ve got 1,952.
Speaker 31: (40:00)
Minister, going back to early childhood, if [inaudible 00:40:04] decide to stay closed during level three and continue distance learning, firstly, are they able to make the decision and secondly, if so, will they continue to be funded?
Minister Hipkins: (40:14)
My advice to all early learning services is talk to the ministry of education. Our preference is that those services reopen if they can do so consistent with public health advice. That’s our expectation. There are families out there who are relying on those services in order to be able to put food on the table. And so, we need those young people learning as well. So if they are in a position to reopen, then they should. If for some reason there are unique circumstances that mean that they cannot reopen consistent with the public health guidance that’s been issued, then I’d expect that they talk to the ministry of education about that.
Speaker 32: (40:49)
Do they have the capacity to say to the ministry, “We don’t believe that it’s safe to open, so we won’t.” Is that reason enough?
Minister Hipkins: (40:57)
Well, I think that they should follow the public health advice, which is what we are asking all other New Zealanders to follow.
Speaker 33: (41:03)
An education question and a leader of the house question. Education, what about those university students who can’t return to their halls? Will they be getting funding? And then leader of the house, with regards to if parliament comes back will the epidemic response committee become [inaudible 00:41:17]?
Minister Hipkins: (41:18)
So, in terms of students who are unable to return to where they were studying, because they cannot travel, so they’ve returned home, for example. Last week we announced an extension of student support limits so that they’ll continue to be supported during a period of inactivity. So they’ll continue to be able to access their student support, their student allowances, their student loans, and so on, even if they’re not active in their study. So they’ll still be able to get their financial support. In terms of the epidemic response select committee that was seat at whilst parliament was not sitting, whilst it’s role might change slightly as we’re in level three, I imagine that I am, I envisage, and this is all subject to discussion at the business committee, that they will continue to be a role for that committee and scrutinizing, for example, legislation.
Minister Hipkins: (42:02)
… before their committee and scrutinizing, for example, legislation that is related to the epidemic response. Whilst question time resumes and some of that accountability that you’ve seen delivered through the select committee, while they will shift back to the house, actually the committee I think could continue to have an ongoing role.
Speaker 35: (42:23)
Just in regards to the ongoing debate about Australia being able to have fewer restrictions in terms of people going back to work, but having similar health outcomes to New Zealand, Michael [inaudible 00:42:33] said this morning, that basically that New Zealand had to go harder earlier because we had a lower base in terms of our public health infrastructure untested. How does it reconcile with your comments yesterday that Australia is envious of our public health system?
Dr. Bloomfield: (42:48)
Well, just on the latter, two different things. I think when you’re talking about public health system, our public health services, which comprise effectively our public health units, our ESR laboratory and capacity and also our ministry capacity around public health, that’s different from our publicly-funded healthcare system. I was responding yesterday around our publicly-funded healthcare system, which I think you were comparing and contrasting with Australia.
Dr. Bloomfield: (43:16)
In terms of the first issue, I just have a different view from Michael on this. I think if you look at our response, which has been led by, first and foremost, the ministry of health and the health care system and our public health units, it’s done a very good job. That’s why we are in the position we are in. Does it need to be strengthened in many areas? Yes, it does. In particular, strengthening the sort of the national networking of that system. So, yes, that is happening.
Dr. Bloomfield: (43:45)
Again, also to go back to the comments that Dr. Murphy made at the epidemic response committee last week. In fact, the reality is that Australia’s response, and particularly in some states, is very similar. The actual impact of it is very similar to New Zealand. I don’t think there’s that big a difference between our two responses.
Minister Hipkins: (44:04)
Okay. Up in the back. Yeah.
Speaker 36: (44:05)
How will parliament resume? Will all ministers be required to attend parliament when it resumes?
Minister Hipkins: (44:12)
Certainly will be endeavoring to get ministers to Wellington who are involved in the COVID response so that they can answer questions. We won’t have the entire cabinet at parliament and we won’t have all of our backbenches at parliament because we’re endeavoring to do what we’re asking the rest of the country to do, which is to minimize the amount of movement around the country that they need to do. But my understanding is that key roles like the deputy prime minister, the minister of health, and then obviously the ministers who you’ve seen quite a bit of in the last few weeks will all be available to answer questions in the House. We think that’s an important part of the parliamentary process, that we are here.
Minister Hipkins: (44:51)
Speaker 36: (44:52)
Why has the prime minister stopped giving the daily briefings?
Minister Hipkins: (44:55)
Sorry, what’s that?
Speaker 36: (44:55)
Why has the prime minister not appeared for the daily briefings?
Minister Hipkins: (44:57)
I don’t think she’s done every single daily briefing since this started. From time to time there are other things that she also needs to attend to, …
Speaker 36: (45:04)
Why not today?
Minister Hipkins: (45:04)
… so I am here today in her stead. But I’m sure she’ll be back tomorrow.
Minister Hipkins: (45:09)
Sam, up in the back.
Speaker 36: (45:11)
[crosstalk 00:45:11] Doesn’t answer the question.
Speaker 37: (45:12)
Yeah, you didn’t answer the question.
Speaker 36: (45:13)
Why is she not here today?
Minister Hipkins: (45:15)
Well, you can ask her that tomorrow if you’d like. Up in the back?
Speaker 38: (45:17)
Just to stop on the parliamentary process, you talked about parliament only considering urgent COVID-related legislation. There’s been some concern about select committees still carrying out their work on non- COVID legislation, the prisoner voting bill being one example. Is the government or is Labour going to talk to its select committee chairs and asked that they reconsider that in light of the approach the government has taken?
Minister Hipkins: (45:42)
Well, look, I think one of the key messages is MPS aren’t just sitting at home doing nothing. Actually, we’re continuing to be paid as well and we should continue to work from home where we can. Where select committees can continue to do their work from home by having remote hearings, for example, hearing submissions from the public, that’s a sensible thing to do. It doesn’t put anybody’s health at risk. People are Zooming all over the country as you know, virtually zooming all over the country and there’s no harm in select committees continuing to do that as well. I think that there’s a judgment exercise here, but I’m certainly not going to say to people, to committees who are keen to continue their work that they should stop their work. If they’re not even leaving the house and they’re able to do that using technology, then I think it’s perfectly acceptable for them to do that.
Speaker 39: (46:31)
With some MPs traveling to parliament on that week of the 29th, does it mean that other New Zealanders can jump on a plane and travel around if they feel that they have urgent business as well or that they would consider business that needed required travel? Is that setting an example that you want people-
Minister Hipkins: (46:47)
No, there are very clear guidelines around who can or cannot travel during both Level Four and Level Three. Members of parliament fall into the category where if they have to be at parliament, then they fit within the exemption that exists there. But all New Zealanders are expected to follow that guidance.
Speaker 39: (47:06)
Do they pose a particular risk though because they’ve been spread out over the country and are coming to one place? Obviously there’ll be distancing and rules, but-
Minister Hipkins: (47:16)
Well, most members of parliament have been at home in their bubbles. Same as everybody else. Of course, we will be making sure that we put all of the different protection measures in place around parliament that we can, including social distancing, physical distancing. My message to all MPs is, I think only MPs should be coming to parliament if they really need to be here. The arrangements of that are all subject to agreement at the business committee tomorrow. But certainly on the government side, we’ll have a very minimal backbench MP presence during this time. We’re keeping in contact with our backbench using Zoom and everything else. We will have ministers here who need to answer questions because that’s actually a very important part of the public accountability process. But we won’t have people here if we don’t think they need to be here. That would be my message to all of the other parties as well.
Speaker 40: (48:09)
[crosstalk 00:48:09] is the expectation that the political parties use their most local MPs, so to speak, so you’re minimizing travel?
Minister Hipkins: (48:15)
That will be a key focus for us. We do have a number of MPS, for example, who can drive to Wellington rather than have to fly. Ministers who can drive to Wellington rather than fly. We’ve been encouraging that where it’s possible. There are some who will need to fly. For example, the minister of health, I think there is an appetite to see him back at parliament so that he can be questioned by the opposition and he will have to fly in order to be able to get here. But ministers and MPS shouldn’t be flying if they don’t have to.
Speaker 41: (48:49)
Speaker 42: (48:50)
Dr. Bloomfield, I have a question.
Speaker 41: (48:50)
Dr. Bloomfield, have you provided any advice to the deputy prime minister on whether it’s suitable for him to return given his age?
Dr. Bloomfield: (48:55)
No, I haven’t.
Speaker 42: (48:56)
Dr. Bloomfield, can I ask you what the ministry [crosstalk 00:48:58] …
Speaker 41: (48:58)
Is it appropriate though?
Speaker 42: (49:00)
… of testing elderly patients is? [inaudible 00:49:03] Healthcare requires all elderly patients returning from hospital to return a negative test, but Hutt Valley DHB won’t test a patient, saying it’s the ministry’s position. Can you tell us why they’re different?
Dr. Bloomfield: (49:15)
Well, we’ve had an ongoing discussion with the aged-residential care sector about the necessity, and in indeed wisdom, of testing every person being admitted to an aged-residential care facility. Yes, the DHB is consistent with the very good advice and policy that is currently the one we are using. We’ll keep discussing with the age residential care association, both testing and also what other things they can do to protect residents and staff.
Speaker 43: (49:43)
[inaudible 00:49:43] Is it safe for the deputy prime minister to return to work?
Dr. Bloomfield: (49:47)
Well, what I would refer you back to is when the prime minister was asked about this question when we first went into I think Level Four lockdown, the deputy prime minister is considered an essential worker and so that’s under that category, then it’s appropriate for him to parliament.
Speaker 43: (50:02)
He’s also a septuagenarian, so is it safe for him?
Dr. Bloomfield: (50:05)
Well, I think the measures that are being put in place, and Minister Hipkins has talked about those, both here and in every workplace are designed to protect all New Zealanders. I think there’s a question right on the other side, someone’s been waiting very patiently.
Speaker 44: (50:17)
Colette’s already asked it.
Speaker 45: (50:19)
Minister, just on progressing legislation, particularly contentious legislation like prisoner voting, do you think it’s appropriate to be progressing, particularly when people have the pandemic on their minds?
Minister Hipkins: (50:30)
Look, we won’t be progressing it through the House during Level Three. That doesn’t mean, as I said, that select committees can’t continue to meet if they can do so consistent with the guidance that’s out there for everybody else, which is to work from home where they can. If they can continue to work from home, they can hear submissions from home. There is actually no harm in doing that and so it’s perfectly acceptable for them to do that. But we won’t be progressing it in the House.
Speaker 44: (50:54)
Community testing, Dr. Bloomfield, sorry, if I missed this earlier, do you have a total number of tests that have been carried out at these centers?
Dr. Bloomfield: (51:04)
Sorry, number of tests that have been carried out …
Speaker 44: (51:04)
At the community testing centers, the targeted [crosstalk 00:51:05].
Dr. Bloomfield: (51:05)
We do have the numbers of those. I don’t have them with me today. I think I’ve spoken to those over the last few days. I won’t try and do them off the top of my head, but you’ll probably find them in our earlier media releases.
Minister Hipkins: (51:20)
Speaker 46: (51:21)
[crosstalk 00:51:21] Minister, not to labor the point, but Dr. Bloomfield referred to your measures that you would use to keep the deputy prime minister safe. What are those measures?
Minister Hipkins: (51:25)
Well, we’ll be putting in place measures to keep everybody safe, as other workplaces around the country are doing. We are keeping our presence here at parliament down to a core group of people who are absolutely essential. That includes parliamentary staff, so ministers like me. I’ll be in my office by myself or maybe with one or two others. All my staff will continue to work from home and support me from home rather than coming back. We’re keeping our numbers here at parliament as small as we possibly can. We’ll be maintaining social distancing right the way through the parliamentary complex.
Minister Hipkins: (51:58)
You will remember from the brief period that we had at Level Three, before parliament shut down, that that has implications for the public spaces at parliament, for example. We are maintaining distancing on the tiles and those sorts of things to ensure that we’re doing all of that and in the debating chamber we are maintaining our distancing. We are doing what we are asking every other workplace in the country to do, which is to make sure that you’re being as safe as possible and you’re acting consistent with the public health advice.
Speaker 47: (52:23)
It’s been hard enough to convince-
Speaker 48: (52:25)
Are you aware of any people that have caught COVID-19 who have worked in the parliamentary [inaudible 00:10:29]?
Minister Hipkins: (52:29)
No, I’m not.
Speaker 47: (52:30)
It’s been hard enough to convince our free-willed to and our free-spirited and iron-willed elder New Zealanders to stay put anyway, so shouldn’t the deputy prime minister be leading by example because other 70-plus people are going to be wanting to leave their houses and perhaps return to work as well against your advice?
Minister Hipkins: (52:47)
Look, you’re welcome to ask the deputy prime minister that question. If he wants to come back to Wellington and he’s available to come back to Wellington to answer questions, then I certainly would fully support him in his decision to do so.
Speaker 42: (52:58)
Is there any relation to the repatriation flights, are they all coming back to Auckland or will some of them come back to quarantine in Wellington and Christchurch?
Minister Hipkins: (53:07)
My understanding is that the flights to date have all landed in Auckland, but I can’t comment on what might happen in the future.
Speaker 42: (53:14)
The India flights. Specifically the India flights, because if they were coming back to Wellington and Christchurch wouldn’t you need to have set up quarantine facilities here because all of them already in Auckland? Am I wrong or …
Minister Hipkins: (53:27)
Look, my understanding is that the flights thus far have landed in Auckland. In terms of what may happen in the future around future repatriation flights, of course, we will communicate those details to the public as and when we have those details available.
Speaker 42: (53:40)
But the flights from India or are coming soon, assuming the government knows where they’re going to put those people.
Minister Hipkins: (53:47)
Look, like I said, I’m not in a position to release those details now. A lot of that work is still being done. A lot of the logistics of planning those flights, of working out who’s going to be on those flights, a lot of that detailed work is still being done, so-
Speaker 42: (53:58)
That person from Peru, are they counted as a New Zealand statistic? A New Zealand death? Or will they? Yeah.
Minister Hipkins: (54:05)
I don’t think they’re counted as a New Zealand statistic. I’ll just-
Dr. Bloomfield: (54:08)
No. No, they wouldn’t be.
Minister Hipkins: (54:08)
Yeah. Last question, up there in the back.
Speaker 49: (54:10)
Yeah, just very quickly. Are you aware of Iona Holsted, the education secretary, signing off an agreement with [inaudible 00:54:16] and [inaudible 00:54:19] and why not to let them determine themselves whether they will open or not?
Minister Hipkins: (54:21)
No, that’s not something that I’ve been briefed on.
Speaker 50: (54:27)
Can I ask just a final question on midwives? Do you recognize how much more difficult those community midwives, how much more difficult their role has been during the lockdown in terms of doing those face-to-face meetings with mothers? Mothers being asked to leave hospital earlier, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?
Minister Hipkins: (54:42)
Yes. Look, I acknowledge that Level Four lockdown has been really challenging for a lot of people, in particularly people who are working in those critical health workforces. Babies don’t stop coming just because we’re in Level Four lockdown. I take my hat off to all of those who are working in that field. I thank them for the work and for the extra measures that they’ve put in place to keep themselves and to keep the families who they’re working with safe.
Speaker 50: (55:05)
You are promising some government support to them?
Minister Hipkins: (55:07)
Look, I’m not in the position to make announcements on that today. Thanks, everybody.