COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) questions and answers

This page was last updated 27 March 2020.

What is COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)?

Recently, an outbreak of a new coronavirus disease now called COVID-19 (sometimes called novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV) was identified. Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses which cause illnesses such as the common cold. The most recent diseases caused by coronaviruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

On 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed the identification of a new type of coronavirus now called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, formerly known as 2019-nCoV). SARS-CoV-2 has not previously been detected in humans or animals. Laboratory testing ruled out other respiratory pathogens such as influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, and the SARS and MERS coronaviruses.

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 called the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City is suspected as the original source of COVID-19, but this has not been confirmed. Many initial cases involved people who worked at or were handlers and frequent visitors to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market has been temporarily closed to carry out environmental sanitation and disinfection.

What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a range of other illnesses such as influenza and do not necessarily mean that you have COVID-19. Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing.

Difficulty breathing is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

If you have these symptoms and have recently been overseas, or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, please contact Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) immediately.

How does COVID-19 spread?

Like the flu, COVID-19 can be transmitted from person to person. The scientific evidence confirms that COVID-19 is spread by droplets. 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.

Droplet-spread diseases can be spread by:

  • coughing and sneezing
  • close personal contact
  • contact with an object or surface with viral particles on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

That's why it's really important to practice good hygiene, regularly wash and thoroughly dry your hands and practice good cough etiquette.

How do I protect myself and others from COVID-19?

You should always practice good hygiene by:

  • covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues
  • washing hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap and drying 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.

People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice good cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues, and wash hands). If you have concerns, you can contact the dedicated COVID-19 Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453

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 mellitus, need to take more precautions to protect themselves against all infections, including COVID-19.

While New Zealand currently has no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission in our communities, 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 clothing.
  • 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 include:

  • If you are immune-compromised, avoid staying with a person who is self-isolating (because they are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 or have recently travelled overseas.)
  • You should stay at least 1 metre away from people who are unwell, if you are immune-compromised.
  • It's also important that everyone helps to protect the safety of immunocompromised people living in our community. For example, if you’re unwell, avoid contact with someone who is immune-compromised.
  • We recommend checking safe travel advice about COVID-19 if you plan overseas travel.
  • 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. 
  • If you are taking immunosuppressive drugs we advise that you do not stop this medication without first consulting your GP or specialist.

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

See the Cancer Control Agency for more information.

Can you test for COVID-19?

Yes, New Zealand laboratories are able to test for COVID-19.

The Ministry is working closely alongside DHBs and public health units around the country and they will keep us up to date of any suspected cases.

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