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A failure to prevent coronavirus establishing itself in New Zealand would be a "major failing of our public health services and infection control", a public health medicine specialist says.
Associate Prof Brian Cox, of the University of Otago, said New Zealand was an "island nation with advanced warning of the coronavirus epidemic".
In a letter to the Otago Daily Times, he said the Ministry of Health’s approach appeared to be that the virus would probably eventually arrive.
"This indicates a lack of confidence in an ability to prevent it arriving," Prof Cox said.
Universities New Zealand had indicated foreign students should be treated in the same way as returning New Zealand citizens and be required to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
Prof Cox said it had been shown that self-isolation or self-quarantine slowed the spread of infection.
However, its success depended "very much" on several aspects, including the social support of the person's community in which the "isolation" is practised.
He did not see "strong evidence" that the appropriate
"attitude, or support" was present within New Zealand universities, he said in his letter.
Prof Cox said in an interview he would prefer to maintain a more conservative overall approach, maintaining restrictions for students arriving from China, except if they had undergone appropriate quarantine arrangements in a third country.
If Covid-19 established itself in New Zealand, the human and economic impact, including on tourism, would be "massive".
Prof Cox said the Spanish flu of 1918 was considered to have entered the country because a ship from Australia did not undergo quarantine, as all other ships did at the time, because it was carrying the prime minister.
In only two months, about 9000 New Zealanders had died.
"Is it, here we go again?" he asked.
Otago University has said it is now prepared to take in students from China.
New Zealand’s borders are closed to all foreign travellers coming from mainland China, but universities want an exemption for students.
The university has said that many of its students from China who arrived before the travel ban was put in force had now left 14 days of self-isolation and the university was "pleased with how this has been managed".