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MOH looking at dying family member visiting rules

File photo.

Speaking in a live Q+A, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the Health Ministry is "actively looking" at the rules around people visiting dying family members.

Ashley held the Q+A on Facebook this afternoon to talk about masks, bubbles, testing and clusters.

Earlier this afternoon, Ashley announced 19 new cases of COVID-19 including 15 confirmed cases and four probable.

A fifth person has died of the coronavirus, a man in his 80s, who was connected to the Rosewood Resthome in Christchurch.

During the Q+A, Ashley says the Ministry of Health is looking at the rules around people visiting dying family members, especially during a step down to level 3.

"I want to say we are very aware of this, we are actively looking at it."

Ashley started the Q+A by addressing the ongoing debate around the use of cloth masks, and said "the jury is out".

"In general, if people want to wear a mask ... there's no specific harm in doing so if you are using it appropriately."

But he says they had to be changed and cleaned before re-use.

When asked about a new cluster in Auckland, Ashley says the cluster had occurred at a private event and there was no further risk of spread to the wider public. He said the Ministry of Health was balancing privacy in deciding to not further identify the cluster.

On the subject of testing, he says the Health Ministry is not currently planning on doing randomised testing.

"Our positivity rate is still only between one and two per cent."

He says random testing would require a very large scale to identify even one or two cases. Instead, targeted testing would be conducted.

"Generally speaking for most people, two swabs are taken. Through the mouth ... (and) taken through the nose - that's a very important swab to take."

The swabs aim to take cells from the back of the throat or nose because that was where the virus was replicating and they needed to be tested.

Sometimes a swab may not get enough cells to properly test for the virus.

On today's results, he says they tried to turn around tests within 24 hours.

"It gives us a pretty good idea of what's happened in the past 24 or 48 hours."

Answering a question on what constituted a probable case, Ashley says they are cases where someone who health officials felt had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, had a link to a confirmed case or cluster, or whom had a negative test, or whom had recovered but still had symptoms and the connection.

Ashley was also asked what happened to somebody's bubble if they went to a hospital, and he says they could have a high level of confidence that they wouldn't be exposed to the virus due to the stringent measures put in place by DHBs.

"Hospitals will have worked out how to keep people safe who are coming for investigations or appointments."

He says the Health Ministry is working with DHBs for plans about how to provide as much care as possible and how to catch up on deferred outpatient and elective surgery - plus other - procedures.

However, "some may not happen as they might have in traditional circumstances", and more consultations could be done remotely, for example.

"They will be changing the way these appointments will happen."

-RNZ

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