Refusal to test unwell passengers questioned

Health Minister David Clark (left) and the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield have...
Health Minister David Clark (left) and the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield have been giving regular media updates about Covid-19. Photo: NZ Herald

Questions are being raised about the refusal to test unwell passengers on the same flight as the New Zealander who has tested positive for Covid-19.

But Health Minister David Clark says that proper international practices are being followed, and those who do not have the strictly-defined symptoms should not be tested.

Nearly 90,000 people have been infected with Covid-19 globally; the most are in China where the virus first emerged late last year. But Iran, Italy and South Korea now also have high numbers of people affected.

The patient with Covid-19 remains New Zealand's only positive case so far, and has been in isolation at Auckland City Hospital in a stable and improving condition.

The person had recently travelled to Iran and was on an Emirates flight back to New Zealand.

The 15 people seated close to him on the flight had been traced, and yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that all but 10 people on the flight had been contacted as a precaution.

National Party health spokesman Michael Woodhouse raised the issue of testing passengers on the same flight while responding to Clark's ministerial statement on coronavirus in the House today.

"There are passengers who have been unwell, having come off that flight, who did move around - who moved to spare seats close to where the affected passenger was - who have presented at health authorities and been told, because of the strict criteria for testing, that they themselves would not be tested.

"Now, if it's true that this isn't an issue of cost and that the goal of the Government is to provide reassurance, then I would have thought that a speedy and timely testing of those passengers - if only to ease their anxiety - would be appropriate."

Woodhouse likened it to reports this morning that unwell people were being turned away from Wellington Hospital.

He noted a World Health Organisation report last week that said one in eight confirmed cases in China had no fever.

"And yet we are saying that a fever needs to be present before a test takes place. That is not the lived experience of the people being affected by this in China."

He said passengers on that flight have described moving around the plane during the eight hours it was in the air, adding that some jurisdictions defined "close contact" as being in a closed space for at least two hours.

"I would suggest that the definition that they're using should also be appropriate for New Zealand."

Clark responded there were well-established international practices around what "close contact" is.

"Despite those, this Government has chosen to reach out and contact all passengers on the plane to provide reassurance and any health advice that they want.

"So we have gone above and beyond and actively got on with reaching out to anybody with any anxiety beyond that, and I think that that was the right thing to do."

Clark said it was against health advice to test people who did not have the defined symptoms.

"Doctors and clinical experts are the best-placed people to make those decisions about who should be tested, and I would note that in the Wellington region alone, there is capacity to test 200 people per day.

"We're only around 200 for the last month in terms of clinical decisions, and we've only yet had one that has tested positive. So I'm confident in our public health experts, in the scientific advice, and in the decisions being made by the doctors in this country."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told media today that there were no new confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Zealand.

The two people that Bloomfield has yesterday described as showing signs of coronavirus have both tested negative for the virus.

Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was expecting sporadic cases of Covid-19 to appear across New Zealand.

 

Comments

Early last month, when the Coronavirus hadn't spread yet, NZ could have done something. Now, when the horse has bolted, all the Govt departments are trying to make themselves look like they're doing something.
At exactly the same time in Malaysia, all arrivals were being scanned to check that they didn't have fever. Even people entering shopping malls were being scanned to make sure that they didn't have fever. Customs and Police were wearing face masks. Hand sanitizer was placed all over, at the airport. Get to Auckland Airport and none of the Customs officers are wearing face masks, I was not asked any questions about whether I had any flu symptoms (Even though Malaysia had 20 confirmed cases at the time). And there were people on our flight who were coughing and sneezing. All that the officials cared about was whether we had food in our bags...... And we had to wait in line for 40 mins + to have our bags checked. What an embarrassment.

I suppose there are no coronavirus cases to be found if you deliberately don't look for them.

Our government is negligent. I wonder how many deaths we'll have had before election day?

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