Novel coronavirus update - 24th January 2020

News article

24 January 2020

Note: for the most recent information see our main novel coronavirus page.

The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the international situation and guidance provided by the World Health Organization in relation to the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China. 

This morning the WHO's Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) considered that it is still too early to declare a public health emergency of international concern. 

So far, no cases have been reported in New Zealand. Although the risk to New Zealand is currently assessed as low, the Ministry is taking this outbreak very seriously. 

The Ministry is strengthening our readiness to respond should we have a suspected case.  

The Ministry has set up an incident management team to monitor and respond to the situation and provide public advice and information. 

An expert advisory group met this morning to peer review advice and provide technical expertise to the Ministry. Advice for health professionals will provide health practitioners with advice and guidance around first case scenarios.

The Ministry has an up to date Pandemic Plan and maintains preparedness for a pandemic. While this is not an influenza outbreak, the plan is a very useful guide. We are currently at the readiness stage of the plan.

This novel coronavirus causes pneumonia. Symptoms are similar to the regular flu and include coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. People who have died from the virus are understood to have been adults already in poor health. 

The Ministry is aware that travellers from China, including students, are arriving in New Zealand and we are in close contact with the Ministry of Education, Customs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other agencies to share advice. 

The Northern Hemisphere is in the middle of the winter season and common respiratory illnesses are expected among travellers from Wuhan.

All travellers to New Zealand who become sick within a month of their arrival are encouraged to seek medical advice and contact Healthline at 0800 611 116 or a doctor and share their travel history. It is important to mention recent travel from Wuhan and any known contact with someone with severe acute respiratory illness who has been in Wuhan. 

As with all respiratory illnesses, people can take steps to reduce their risk of infection. This includes regularly washing hands, covering your mouth & nose when you sneeze, staying home if you are sick and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.

At the border

A Border Working Group specifically in response to the new coronavirus is in operation including representation from the Ministry of Health, Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (including Immigration NZ), Customs, NZ Police and the Ministry for Primary Industries, Aviation Security, Ministry of Transport and the NZ Defence Force.

All government agencies have been updated on the situation and actions that have been taken to date. Agencies will be receiving information on what to do if a person is identified as requiring further health follow up. Staff have also been reminded of good infection control practices and protecting their own health. 

The border response has a specific emphasis on airports in Auckland and Christchurch.

Health advice cards in both traditional and simplified Chinese are available at international points of entry. These cards provide general advice on symptoms of concern and advise ill travellers to call Healthline (for free) on 0800 611 116 and mention their travel history. Healthline has been informed and will continue to triage any symptomatic callers. 

With the support of New Zealand Customs, banners have been developed for points of entry in traditional and simplified Chinese to draw attention to the health advice cards. 

There are no direct flights between New Zealand and Wuhan. At this stage, WHO does not recommend thermal screening for 2019-nCoV, and there are currently no travel restrictions at the New Zealand border related to this outbreak. 

More information 

Ministry of Health

Safe Travel website

World Health Organization

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