The Minister of Health  David Clark and the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield give an update on the response to COVID-19.
The Minister of Health David Clark and the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield give an update on the response to COVID-19.

ScienceFebruary 28, 2020

Coronavirus has arrived in New Zealand. What happens now?

The Minister of Health  David Clark and the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield give an update on the response to COVID-19.
The Minister of Health David Clark and the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield give an update on the response to COVID-19.

New Zealand’s first case of Covid-19 has just been confirmed. Here’s what we know so far.

What’s the latest?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed New Zealand’s first case of Covid-19 coronavirus. New Zealand is the 48th country to have a confirmed case of the virus. 

What do we know about the patient?

The patient is in their 60s and had recently returned to New Zealand from Tehran via Bali. They arrived in Auckland on Wednesday and travelled home in a private car. Their family shortly afterwards called Healthline, and they were taken to Auckland Hospital. 

The patient’s household contacts have been put in isolation as a precautionary measure. Public health officials have begun tracing the patient’s other close contacts (defined as anyone who was within a metre of the person) to ensure appropriate protection measures are in place, including those on the flight from Tehran.

The patient is being treated at Auckland Hospital and is currently in isolation in a negative pressure room to prevent any spread of the disease. Their condition is said to be improving.

They tested negative on the first two tests applied, but was presenting with symptoms consistent with the virus, and tested positive on the third test.

How worried should we be?

According to the Ministry of Health: “Although we have our first case of Covid-19, the chances of community outbreak remain low.”

“[We’re] confident the public risk from this new infection is being well managed because of the public messaging, awareness of Covid-19 disease and our public health response to managing cases and contacts.”

The person was wearing a mask on the flight, which will limit potential “droplet spread” affecting those on the flight.

Are there any new restrictions?

Yes. Health minister David Clark has announced that new travel restrictions will be enforced in light of the confirmed case. Iran now becomes a “Category 1” country, with China. Temporary travel restrictions will be placed on travel from Iran as a precaution, and no exemptions will be given to overseas students from China.

Restrictions will come into force immediately and will be in play until March 3, though will be reassessed every 48 hours. The presence of health staff at international airports around the country will also increase for the foreseeable future.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said they were “requesting and expecting” anyone who has been in Iran in the past 14 days to self-isolate and register with Healthline. New Zealand permanent residents and citizens will be allowed to return home but will be expected to self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

What if this applies to me?

The Ministry of Health has advised that anyone on flight Emirates EK450 arriving in Auckland on Wednesday 26 February should contact the Covid-19 Healthline number 0800 358 5453 if they are at all concerned.

Anyone who suspects they may be affected is advised to call their doctor, and not simply to bowl up to their GP.

What does self-isolate mean?

Much like advice given to those who may have the flu, self-isolating involves using common sense to stay away from situations or events that will increase the chances of you passing on an infection to someone else. Stay at home if possible, and definitely avoid crowds. For more guidance, see the Ministry of Health website.

How close are we to a vaccine for Covid-19?

Siouxsie has the latest here.

What do the experts say?

Here’s Professor Michael Baker of the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, via the Science Media Centre:

“This … has been widely expected for several weeks. Particularly given that more than 20 cases have been confirmed in Australia. The description of this case and how it was identified and diagnosed shows that management was exemplary at all stages. This case is a warning to New Zealand that we cannot be complacent about the global Covid-19 pandemic that will affect most countries this year.

“It shows that we are now entering the next stage of our pandemic plan, which is the ‘stamp it out’ stage of identifying and controlling cases and their contacts, and investigating and controlling chains of transmission. Fortunately, both Australia and NZ have so far not seen community transmission.  But we must prepare for this eventuality. Now is the time for maximum pandemic preparation.”

I’m concerned. What should I do?

Read this.

The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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