Coronavirus: Dr Ashley Bloomfield gave 'fist-pump' when zero cases news came in

coronavirus 05/05/2020

New Zealand's Director-General of Health has admitted giving a fist-pump on Monday when he heard Aotearoa had recorded zero new cases of the deadly COVID-19.

For the first time since mid-March, New Zealand reported no new cases of the respiratory illness, a major milestone after weeks of hard work from Kiwis under intense restrictions. Overall, the country has less than 1500 cases and 20 deaths from COVID-19. One case on Monday was reclassified from probable to confirmed.

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted he did have a small celebration when he was told about the zero cases.

"There wasn't the jumping, but there was a bit of a fist-pump and a big smile. I think many people were like that, including some of the reporters after the session yesterday which was lovely to see," he said.

"This is a really significant milestone and I know many people have been holding out for this because they have really put in the hard yards. It's just great to get there and we don't want to squander the lead. It's a game of rugby, we still have the second half of the second half to play and we don't want to squander our lead here. Let's see it out."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also asked on Monday what her reaction to the news was.

"First I heard the zero, and then I heard the one confirmed and the fact that it was transferred from a probable," she said during a press conference on Monday.

"I'm a perfectionist. I want to see those numbers after we've been in alert level 3 for long enough for it to be a reflection of alert level 3."

Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show that New Zealand was still striving for elimination of the virus, which he continued to stress doesn't mean zero cases every day, but a small number of a known origin. It also means New Zealand has the ability to quickly identify those cases and stamp them out. 

"That is where we want to be. That will allow us to effectively get back to, it will be a new normal, but open up the economy, open up doing all the other things we enjoy doing with each other," he said.

We are nearly there. We are nearly there.

The decision of when New Zealand leaves the restrictive alert level 3 - which continues to require Kiwis stay at their homes and only allows some businesses to operate -  will be made on Monday. 

While the low numbers of cases New Zealand is reporting daily has led some to call for an immediate move to alert level 2, Dr Bloomfield said we aren't yet seeing if the virus took off again when we left alert level 4 lockdown last week. That's because it usually takes about six days for someone to begin showing symptoms of COVID-19. If they became infected in the early days of alert level 3 last week, they may not begin showing symptoms and get tested until this week.

"There is zero today and the low numbers over the recent days reflects the fact we were in lockdown for nearly five weeks under alert level 4. What we will be looking for is later this week if there are any infections popping up that we are surprised about, that we don't know where they are coming from, because they will reflect any infection that might be happening during alert level 3," Dr Bloomfield said.

Keeping to the rules remains crucial throughout this week and Kiwis are warned against complacency. Over the weekend, police had to bust up multiple parties and found many New Zealanders failing to respect the ban on mass gatherings. 

Dr Bloomfield hopes we don't see what we have achieved so far forfeited. 

"I just think really everyone needs to do their bit and I am certainly encouraging everybody not to lose the gains we have made. That would be a real pity and we are nearly there, just hang on."

Just like everyone else, Dr Bloomfield said he was looking forward to seeing his friends and wider family again. But in the meantime, he is appreciative of the support he gets from Kiwis.

"I get plenty of encouragement, feedback, support from friends, wider family, but also a lot of lovely messages from Kiwis right around New Zealand, all walks of life. [I've] got a big box of cards there, I get emails every day from people, and I really appreciate that and they are thanking me and the team here, which I also really am grateful for."

Over the last two months, Dr Bloomfield's calm approach to presenting often-tragic news at his daily 1pm briefings has garnered him many fans and international headlines, with songs and social media videos also produced about him. A petition has been created calling for him to be named New Zealander of the Year.