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The likelihood of a case of coronavirus that began in China arriving in New Zealand is high but the likelihood of a sustained outbreak here was low, the Director-General of Health says.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay spoke to media about 2.30pm today.
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Dr Bloomfield said there were 2014 confirmed cases with 98% of those in China. There were four cases Australia, but the situation in NZ remained unchanged.
While the likelihood of a case arriving in New Zealand was high, the likelihood of a sustained outbreak in New Zealand remained low, he said.
"As in Australia with their first case, the person that was subesquently diagnosed had in fact travelled and was asymptomatic when they came into the country and developed symptoms a few days later. We may well find ourselves in a similar situation.
"The likelihood of transmission - if we do get a case - to another person, is low to moderate because we are prepared and ready and at this stage. Based on current information our assessment is the likelihood of a sustained community outbreak remains low.
"By sustained community transmission we're talking about a situation were there is a rapidly increasing number of cases ... we don't think that will be the situation in New Zealand and that's for a number of reasons, one of them being the information we've got about the infectiousness of this virus but also about our ability to respond, to identify those initial cases and ensure that isolation is happening and ensure that that person is not passing it on."
Dr Bloomfield said the public health advice remained the same - that people should have good hygiene and isolate themselves if they are unwell.
The current border measures - which involved travellers arriving from China being asked to come forward and be tested by a nurse if they felt sick - would remain. He advised staying at home if sick, and said a cross-border response group had met on Friday.
"It has representatives from a range of government agencies. All government agencies have been updated on the situations and on the actions they can take as part of the cross-government effort," Dr Bloomfield said.
"The border response has a particular emphasis on Auckland and Christchurch airports that have direct flights arriving from China."
He said they did not plan to use quarantine powers, and doing so was very unusual - people would tend to isolate themselves if they became sick.
"I don't think we'd be in a situation where people are trying to hide symptoms, there is a very high level of awareness of what people should do," he said.
A group of tourists who were assessed were clinically found to be free from the virus, and did not need to be quarantined or isolated.
"The group was assessed by St John in Rotorua yesterday, three of that 19 had further assessment at the hospital and were clinically assessed to be not displaying symptoms of a viral illness. There was no reason to isolate those people."
He said the virus had relatively low infection rate of 2 percent to 3 percent - much lower than measles, for example.
"Just to put that in context, that's a relatively low fatality rate, just as this virus has got relatively low infectiousness. So the current data suggests that every person who might have the illness will infect around two-to-three people, you can contrast that to measles, where every case infects about 14 other people ... the risk of people dying in New Zealand would be similar to that in China."
The World Health Organisation had effectively not changed its advice in the latest situation report, he said.
"There remains some gaps in informations that all countries are seeking to fill as quickly as possible. The WHO does not recommend any specific measures for travellers and it also advises against the application of travel or any trade restrictions on China, based on current information."
"There are some reports out of China today that it's possible people are infectious before they show symptoms, but it is most important at the border, that if they do become symptomatic, they know what to do."
Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said she did not think sustained community transmission would happen and New Zealand was well prepared.
Public health protection officers and nurses were at Auckland and Christchurch airports for the first time this morning, but no-one on the first flights of the day from China into Auckland requested help or temperature checks.
Health officials were still to review news that had come in overnight that coronavirus could infect people during incubation. The only test for coronavirus - a blood test - takes a couple of days for results to be returned. New Zealand won't have the ability to do that test until later in the week, so samples would have to be sent to Australia in the interim.
The virus, which has killed 56 people so far, is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan, Hubei.
Cases have been confirmed in Japan, Taiwan, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, the US, and France.
The virus new, or "novel" coronavirus is of family that normally affects animals. One human variant causes the common cold, but another, Sars, killed hundreds in a major outbreak in 2003.
This new virus causes severe acute respiratory infection. Symptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment. There is no specific cure or vaccine.