Message from the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield ? 21 May 2020

21 May 2020

Kia ora koutou,

Tuesday 19 May was World Family Doctor Day, and I was pleased to be able to publicly acknowledge the outstanding work of New Zealand’s GPs.
It's an opportunity for us all to recognise the dedication and work of around 5,500 GPs in New Zealand, and to thank them for their significant contribution during the COVID-19 outbreak.
I’ve been impressed with how medical practices around the country pivoted so quickly to adapt to new ways of delivering healthcare, such as switching to video consultations, as well as supporting the massive national testing programme. These have played a significant role in the overall response and in bringing our case numbers under control.

NZ COVID Tracer app
We’ve made improvements to contact tracing since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Our Public Health Units can now trace 185 cases a day and the National Close Contact Service (NCCS) can contact up to 10,000 close contacts daily if required.
The NCCS and Public Health Units will continue to lead contact tracing in New Zealand, but as individuals we can also help speed up contact tracing by keeping track of where we’ve been and who we’ve seen.
Yesterday the Ministry of Health launched NZ COVID Tracer – New Zealand’s official contact tracing app. I encourage you to download it from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store today, and to give it a plug with your family, friends and colleagues!
The initial release of NZ COVID Tracer allows New Zealanders to create a digital diary of the places they’ve been by scanning QR codes displayed at the entrances to businesses and other locations.
It’s going to take a little longer for businesses across the country to get generate their QR codes, but it’s now well in train. In the interim New Zealanders can use the app to register their contact information. This is important because it makes sure contact tracers can get in touch if they need to.
You can find out more about NZ COVID Tracer on the Ministry’s website. Health sector businesses and other organisations that are registered with Business Connect can generate QR code posters by visiting https://www.business.govt.nz/covid-19/contact-tracing and completing the online form.
If you haven’t already registered for Business Connect, you’ll need:
·        a RealMe login
·        a New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) and access to your NZBN profile
·        to confirm you have authority over your business.

Case definition update
Last week we updated the case definition of COVID-19 infection with a change to the “probable case” definition. The “suspect case” definition is under review as we have now moved down alert levels, and because we will see an increase in respiratory illnesses generally as winter approaches. Other changes to advice for health professionals include:
·        Health care workers who are confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases should have two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart prior to return to work. Note this is only a requirement for return to work, not for release from isolation. The standard guidance as outlined in the Advice for Health Professionals applies for release from isolation.
·        Health care workers who are close contacts of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 should be tested for COVID-19 before release from quarantine (eg Day 12 or 13), even if they have no symptoms, with a negative test required for return to work.
These changes are part of our overall control efforts and are particularly designed to protect health care workers, the families and patients/ARC residents. We are reviewing their impact by following the experience of the current cohort of health care worker cases and close contacts.
We will be asking DHBs and PHUs to record the number of health care workers impacted by these changes, frequency of testing and number of tests required, any additional support required by health care workers, and any other feedback that may be helpful.

New app for health workers
The Ministry of Health has also been developing a new mobile app so health workers can access COVID-19 information from our website on their mobile devices. The app will be available later this month.
The emergence of COVID-19 and the response required by people working in the health and disability sector highlighted the need for a tool to provide easy access to the most up-to-date information.
We developed the app with feedback from people working in the health sector. It lets people choose to view content relevant to a DHB region or sector group (hospital inpatient service, community based, sector services) and it also sends a notification when new or updated content is available. People can save content in the app to give them quick access to it again later.
We will announce the release of the app on social media and our website. We hope you will use it and be able to help us promote its use to your colleagues once it is live.

Ongoing communications
I have heard from some of you that you have found these emails helpful. We are now considering how we might best continue to communicate with you as we return to our new normal. If you have feedback on these emails and how you would like to be informed about Ministry work on COVID-10 or generally, please feel free to provide your thoughts to covidcomms@health.govt.nz.
As always, I am proud of the high standard of professionalism throughout our sector in delivering healthcare to New Zealanders. While we are now past the immediate threat of COVID-19 overwhelming our health system, we must continue to be vigilant as we work collectively to keep New Zealanders healthy, and provide great care for those who need it.
Your work is as essential as ever, and I want to thank you for your support.

Ngā mihi nui
Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Director-General of Health ****************************************************************************