This story by RNZ.co.nz is republished with permission
One patient in Auckland has symptoms that fit the coronavirus, but test results will not be available until tomorrow, the Director General of Health has confirmed.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the person showing the symptoms was in Auckland Hospital and “being managed appropriately”.
“The normal management of someone who is a suspected case of an infectious disease like this is that they have a special isolation room in the hospital and it has what’s called negative pressure ventilation and that basically stops the possibility of the virus being carried out in the air, and the staff looking after that person follow very strict requirements around personal protection.”
Dr Bloomfield said the evidence was confirming that the contagiousness of the coronavirus was not particularly high, and the fatality rate was below 3 percent, lower than previously thought.
He said if this was a suspected case, the public health body would be thinking about contact tracing.
“This person has met the criteria. We have a clinical and case definition on our website for a suspected case and this is the first person who has been investigated who meets that definition.”
Dr Bloomfield said it was critical that people felt comfortable coming forward if they had symptoms and it was important there was no blame or shame attached to that.
“That’s a fundamental part of a community or country being able to manage this situation, is that people feel comfortable volunteering if they are symptomatic, because the system then is very good at kicking into gear and to supporting and managing them appropriately.”
Dr Bloomfield said the authorities needed to “ensure everything is in place” before the planned flight bringing New Zealanders home from Wuhan went ahead.
“What we’re really interested in doing is identifying any suspected cases, confirming whether or not they are cases and then stopping any other transmission.”
He said screening will occur before people get on the flight and there were precautions to avoid transmission of the virus from person to person on the plane.
“Health staff will be going over and screening people on the flight to ensure they are fit to fly.”
Dozens of New Zealanders evacuated from Wuhan may be entitled to paid leave from work when they are quarantined on arrival.
The government is close to launching a rescue mission to the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.
The plane-load of New Zealanders brought back will then be quarantined for an unknown period. The government is still exploring options including quarantine in a facility or at home.
Employment lawyer Richard Fletcher said employers of anyone being quarantined should act in good faith and support them whether they are sick or healthy. “Everybody in the community should be thinking about how they can constructively work through this.”
Mr Fletcher said those quarantined may also be able to work remotely but if they were not they would likely be eligible for sick or other paid forms of leave.
Earlier today, Dr Bloomfield confirmed that testing is now available for the coronavirus.
At least 171 people have died from the novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, in China following an outbreak in the city of Wuhan. And more than 8200 cases have been reported globally.
Speaking at this morning’s press conference after the WHO’s announcement, Dr Bloomfield said ESR has acquired the testing mechanism needed and the turnaround time for results was a few hours.
As of yesterday afternoon, five people were tested and returned negative results, he said.
A further handful of tests will be conducted today, and the public would be notified if any suspected cases emerged, he said.
With the global health emergency in place, the WHO Director-General is now able to formally issue temporary recommendations around this coronavirus under the 2005 international health regulations.
“The advice to all countries is that we should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance that’s essentially looking for cases, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing, and prevention of onward spread of this novel infection, and this is important – to share full data with WHO,” Dr Bloomfield said.
Watch the update given by Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield this morning:
The emergency also enables WHO to mobilise resources to support low-income countries or those with weaker health systems, which WHO in its announcement today underlined as a concern.
Dr Bloomfield said New Zealand had been actively engaging with pacific countries via WHO and The Pacific Community (SPC).
Pacific citizens would also be considered in the evacuations that will take place for New Zealanders where there are unoccupied seats, he said.
The National Health Co-ordination Centre is monitoring the domestic and international situation and would adjust as required when the situation evolves, he said.
New Zealand’s measures had been in line with recommendations and would continue to act in accordance with the national pandemic planning document, Dr Bloomfield said.
“I would point to the advice we gave yesterday which remains the same today, anyone who has travelled to Wuhan or the Hubei province in the last 14 days should self isolate for the balance of that period, just on basis that there’s small amount of evidence that people may be able to transmit the virus before they are symptomatic.”
The current advice on travel to China as well as measures at borders remained the same, he said, and would be reviewed as required.
Dr Bloomfield said they had given advice to the government on options for people being evacuated from the Hubei province in lockdown and returning to New Zealand.
A meeting the Official Domestic and External Committee will be convened and any updates will occur at another press conference this afternoon.
Evacuating New Zealanders from Wuhan
The government is chartering a 300-seat Air New Zealand plane to fly in and out of the locked-down city in China, the epicentre of a deadly virus outbreak. It is due to leave within days.
Preparations for a quarantine location have not yet been “utterly finalised”, but would be resolved before the plane took off from China, Foreign Minister Winston Peters has said.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas
Earlier today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the focus was on the province where there was a lockdown. Elsewhere in China, people had the ability to leave.
She said MFAT advice remained the same that people shouldn’t travel to the affected region.
Good progress had been made with the flight going into Wuhan, Ardern said.
“We are having to wait till we’ve got clearance on the ground to remove New Zealand citizens.
“Others are having to wait too, we have had a few countries that have managed to extract but that has sometimes taken them up to a week. We are moving as quickly as possible, we have secured the plane, we’re working through the screening that will need to happen on the ground – it’s important that we get that right, and get clearance from the Chinese authorities.”
“New Zealand already has pandemic plans in place,” she said.
She added that the global health emergency declared by the WHO put a spotlight on countries to reach out to those that may not have the health systems to cope with effectively managing coronavirus.
“We already have our eye to the Pacific. We know that there are members of the Pacific who are in Wuhan, so we’re working with the governments of the Pacific who may need assistance to get their citizens out. We’ll be working to assist with quarantine measures. The aim is to make sure it doesn’t affect wider healthy populations.”
Australia plans to hold its evacuees on Christmas Island for two weeks, but CNN reported the United States would not institute a blanket quarantine on its citizens, allowing them to return home after three days under observation at a military base.
Up to 40 Air New Zealand staff have volunteered to join the 10-strong crew on the charter plane to China, and the E Tū union is seeking assurances from the company that staff would be safe.
E Tū union head of aviation Savage said they wanted to know what the risk of infection was.
“And most importantly what is the risk that they might pass something on to someone when they come back. The biggest fear… is that the incubation period is such that people may not be aware that they’ve been infected.
“So obviously there’s a lot of concern to make sure that they’re safe, that the passengers are safe, and that when they get back to New Zealand they [the staff] won’t have to go into quarantine, or that they will have the support they need if they are exhibiting any symptoms.”
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the level of protection would probably need to be similar to those hospital workers would take if they were treating infected people.
“The level of contagion is such that each infected person will infect two to three other people if they don’t take any precautions”.
The precautions would consist of masks with visors and a Hazmat suit, he said.
“In the case of crew, the measures we’re advising on are specifically intended to mean that they won’t need to go into isolation when they return.”
What will happen to the passengers from Wuhan directly after they disembark was still being worked out, he said. The Health Ministry was providing advice to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Air NZ acting chief executive Jeff McDowall said the support of staff to help on the flight had been overwhelming, and the wellbeing and safety of crew was of critical importance.
“We’re working closely with health authorities and our own medical team on a safe protocol for the flight.”
Chinese people visiting New Zealand can apply for a further visitor visa if they don’t want to return because of the deadly coronavirus.
Some have told RNZ they are worried about the risk of infection as they travel back.
Immigration New Zealand said anyone in that position should contact the department to discuss their options.
“Individuals from China who are currently in New Zealand on a visitor visa are able to apply for a further visitor visa, which will be assessed on a case by case basis against immigration instructions, taking into account the current coronavirus outbreak,” Jeannie Melville, INZ acting general manager of border and visa operations, told RNZ in a statement.
The department was working closely with other government agencies to ensure “a whole-of-government approach is being taken to manage this evolving situation”.