Coronavirus: Health workers to meet China flights at Chch Airport

People wearing masks at the Bund in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters
People wearing masks at the Bund in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters
Public health staff will start meeting flights at Christchurch Airport from China today to look for signs of coronavirus among arriving passengers.

Health Minister David Clark said the extra measures were being taken following the arrival of the disease in Australia, via flights directly from the city of Wuhan.

"The Ministry of Health has been actively responding to the novel coronavirus since January 6, when it first sent out advice to GPs and DHBs," Clark said.

"Chinese language health advice cards have also been being provided at the border."

Despite not having had any cases in New Zealand, the ministry has an Incident Control Team in place and was sharing information and working closely with international partners, Clark said.

The Government's Interagency Pandemic Group had also been convened as a precaution, to ensure New Zealand is prepared.

"Our response has been based on best practice, and in line with World Health Organisation advice," Clark said.

"I'm advised that the risk of an outbreak in New Zealand remains low, but we are increasing our health response at the border as a precaution.

Health officials had begun preparations for placing staff at our major airports last week, and all of that would be in place for all flights from China tomorrow.

"In addition, as previously indicated, on Tuesday I will take a paper to Cabinet which will make the novel coronavirus a notifiable disease," Clark said.

"I want to assure the public that New Zealand is well prepared for these sorts of situations – we are active and alert, but not alarmed," David Clark said.

Earlier today, National health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse chastised the Government, claiming that it had been failing to address the issue or ensure Kiwis' safety.

"There needs to be serious precautionary measures taken and these need to be communicated to the New Zealand public to ensure people's safety," he said this morning.

"Schools will be going back soon and that means an influx of international students will be coming, yet the Government has failed to provide any reassurance or information on how this will be managed to parents and students."

Woodhouse questioned whether those health services that would likely see the first New Zealand cases – namely GP clinics – were prepared or protected enough.

Otago University public health expert Professor Michael Baker had also health authorities move to the second level of now-activated pandemic plan, shifting from a "readiness" stage to the "keep it out" phase, with heightened protective measures at the border.

Some people returning from China had been putting themselves in quarantine for two weeks.

There have been more than 40 deaths and hundreds more confirmed case of the flu-like virus in China, with the city of Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, shutting down public transport and advising people not to leave the area. Millions of people are affected and Chinese New Year celebrations have been cancelled in some parts of the country.

China's President Xi Jinping has called the accelerating spread of a new virus a grave situation, as his country moves to deal with the escalating crisis.

To date, the ministry has set up an incident management team to monitor and respond to the situation and provide public advice and information.

Advice for health professionals would provide health practitioners with advice and guidance around first case scenarios.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was advising New Zealanders to avoid non-essential travel to Hubei Province due to the outbreak.



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