COVID-19: Questions and answers

Questions and answers related to general health information on COVID-19 including where it came from and how long it remains on surfaces.

Last updated: 15 March 2021

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Where did COVID-19 come from?

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. It has since been reported in other provinces and in other countries. The latest information on this is available on the World Health Organization website.

We don’t know yet how COVID-19 is transmitted to people, but it’s likely that it comes from an animal. A live animal market in Wuhan was suspected as the original source of COVID-19, but this has not been confirmed. 

What should I do if I am immune-compromised or have immune-compromised children or whānau?

People with underlying medical conditions, such as a compromised immune system, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes, need to take more precautions to protect themselves against all infections, including COVID-19.

We recommend people take the following simple steps to protect yourself and others.

Avoid close contact with people with cold or flu-like illnesses.

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues, or cough and sneeze into your elbow.
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap and dry them thoroughly:  
    • before eating or handling food
    • after using the toilet
    • after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose or wiping children’s noses
    • after caring for sick people. 

Additional measures that you and your whānau and friends can take if you are immune compromised include the following.

  • Avoid staying with a person who is self-isolating or stating at home (because they have been identified as a contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 or have recently travelled overseas).
  • Stay at least 2 metres away from people who you don’t know, especially if they appear to be unwell.
  • Continue to take your immunosuppressive drugs - do not stop this medication without consulting your GP or specialist.
  • Help to protect the safety of immunocompromised people living in our community, for example, avoid contact with someone who is immune-compromised if you're unwell.

At this time, it wouldn’t make sense for someone who is immune-compromised to wear a mask when in public to decrease risk for catching COVID-19. However, if your health care provider advises you to wear a mask when in public areas because you have a particularly vulnerable immune system, follow that advice. 

What should I do if I am in active cancer treatment?

See the Cancer Control Agency for more information.

Can I get free health care related to COVID-19, even though I am not usually eligible for publicly funded health services in New Zealand?

Yes. In New Zealand, publicly funded COVID-19 related care – including diagnosis, testing and treatment – is provided to anyone who requires it, who has symptoms. This is irrespective of citizenship, visa status, nationality or level of medical insurance coverage. 

All care, including assessment and treatment, is free of charge to the person. This covers all care in primary or secondary settings, including COVID-19 related general practice assessments, community testing, and hospital care.  

People still need to pay the usual fees for any other health care.

Some countries require travellers to confirm a negative COVID-19 test before they leave New Zealand. If you are in this situation and require a test prior to departure, you can organise this through your primary care provider (GP) but you will need to pay for it. See Questions and answers on pre-departure COVID-19 testing.

For guidance on any health issues, you can call Healthline free on 0800 611 116 or contact your general practice. Healthline also had a number just for COVID-19 enquiries – call 0800 358 5453 (or for international SIMs +64 9 358 5453).

How long can COVID-19 remain on surfaces?

COVID-19 is spread by droplets and contact with surfaces that infectious droplets have landed on. This means that when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, they may generate droplets containing the virus. These droplets are too large to stay in the air for long, so they quickly settle on surrounding surfaces.

COVID-19 can survive on different surfaces for different lengths of time. This is dependent on the surface, temperature and humidity. Further information on how long the COVID-19 virus can survive for can be found on the WHO website

People need to continue to regularly clean frequently touched surfaces and objects and wash hands. If you are using disinfectant, follow the instructions for use and check whether you need to wear gloves. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry thoroughly after cleaning and disinfecting.

What does eliminating COVID-19 mean?

Our elimination strategy is a sustained approach to keep it out, find it and stamp it out.

We do this through:

  • controlling entry at the border with routine quarantine or supervised self-isolation for 14 days
  • disease surveillance
  • physical distancing and hygiene measures
  • testing for and tracing all potential cases
  • isolating cases and their closest contacts
  • broader public health controls depending on the alert level we are in.

View the Elimination strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand.

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