COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) questions and answers

This page was last reviewed 21 February 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 to mainland China 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) or your doctor 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

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.

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

Currently, there is no specific treatment for coronavirus, but medical care can treat most of the symptoms.

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19 as it is a new virus. Researchers are in the early stages of developing one.

Can we stop the virus from coming into New Zealand?

At this time, the likelihood of an imported case in New Zealand is high, however the likelihood of an ongoing outbreak is low-moderate. Border control checks do not guarantee an absolute protection to New Zealand, because the incubation period is likely to be up to 14 days. This means people may not show any symptoms until 14 days after being exposed to a person with the virus.

Can I go overseas? Are there any travel restrictions?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) have updated their travel advisory and now recommend that New Zealanders do not travel to any part of mainland China.

If you are travelling overseas, please take the following steps to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections:

  • avoid close contact with people suffering acute respiratory infections
  • 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
  • avoid close contact with sick farm animals or wild animals.

People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice good cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues, and wash hands).

MFAT urge all New Zealanders living in, visiting or travelling to China to register on SafeTravel. Registering means you will receive updated information and advice as soon as it comes to hand.

I am in China wanting to come to New Zealand. What should I do?

New measures will deny entry to New Zealand for anyone who has left or transited through mainland China in the last 14 days, with the exception of:

  • New Zealand citizens (including those from the three Countries of the Realm: Tokelau, Niue and the Cook Islands), permanent residents and their immediate family 
  • Australian citizens and permanent residents whose primary place of established residence is New Zealand
  • Air crews who have been using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). 

This also applies to passengers who are transiting through New Zealand, unless they are New Zealand citizens, permanent residents or their immediate families. 

All travellers arriving in New Zealand in the last 14 days out of mainland China, or any travellers who have had exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19 should self-isolate for a period of 14 days from the time they leave mainland China or were exposed to COVID-19.

We recommend checking in with your airline about your travel arrangements, as a number of airlines have suspended flights to and from China.

New Zealanders in China requiring consular assistance should contact their nearest New Zealand representation in China. See SafeTravel for full details.

I am a New Zealander in Hubei province wanting to return to New Zealand. What should I do?

Please see the SafeTravel website for further information. 

What happens if I start feeling sick during my flight to New Zealand?

Aircrew have training and processes in place to manage any ill passenger on board while also protecting other passengers. In the case of any suspected contagious disease the aircrew will also inform health authorities at the airport where they land.

Health authorities share information on international health risks, such as ill travellers, under international health regulations. This includes suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19. If the Ministry of Health is informed of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, wenotify local public health officers and activate our ill traveller responses. 

Any close contacts of a confirmed case will be advised and given information about the disease, self-isolation, taking their temperature daily and reporting symptoms. 

What do I do if I get sick while in New Zealand?

If you are sick after arriving into New Zealand telephone Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) and explain that you have just arrived in New Zealand from overseas. You should also:

  • avoid close contact with people (stay at least one metre away)
  • wash hands frequently, especially before contact with people, before eating, after coughing or sneezing
  • practice good cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues, and wash hands).

When did the World Health Organisation (WHO) declare COVID-19 as a public health emergency?

On January 31 2020 the third meeting of the ad hoc Emergency Committee (the Committee) was convened by WHO on the basis of the Committee’s advice, regarding the outbreak of COVID-19. The WHO Director-General has declared the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
New Zealand's current and planned preparedness and response activities for COVID-19 are all consistent with the advice from WHO. It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.

What is New Zealand doing about COVID-19? What measures are being taken to protect New Zealanders?

At this time, while the likelihood of an imported case in New Zealand is high, the likelihood of an ongoing outbreak is low–moderate.

The Ministry is already taking a precautionary approach to this outbreak. We are well prepared and have our system for early identification and case management up and running.

Should I be concerned about COVID-19?

The Ministry of Health is monitoring the situation closely and ready to respond if we have a suspected case. The Ministry of Health maintains preparedness for a pandemic with an up-to-date Pandemic Plan. While this is not an influenza outbreak, the plan is a very useful guide.

Current information shows most people with this virus are not severely ill. There are no confirmed cases in New Zealand.

New Zealand is prepared and ready to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak should it occur.

I’m feeling stressed, who can I talk to?

If over the following days and weeks you feel you are not coping, it’s important to seek help and professional support. Your family doctor is a good starting point. For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can also call or text 1737 Need to talk? This service is free, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and gives you the chance to talk it through with a trained counsellor.

I am going to a public event, what should I do?

At this stage the Ministry does not propose altering arrangements for public events.

If you are an organiser of events you should focus on reminding the public not to attend if they are feeling unwell and ensure your emergency management plan is up-to-date.

We also recommend reminding event organisers and workers to practice good hygiene and are supplying a PDF which can be printed and prominently displayed near toilets and food preparation areas.

Anyone scheduled to work at or attend a public event should stay home if they feel unwell. This is our standard health advice.

Even if people feel well, they should always practice good hygiene by:

  • cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues
  • wash hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap and dry 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

As the situation regarding COVID-19 can evolve rapidly, we suggest you check our web content for the latest updates. Our website is being updated daily.

Can I go to school or work?

As always, anyone who is unwell should not be at school or at work.

If you returned from mainland China in the last 14 days, then you should self-isolate for 14 days.

If you have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case you should self-isolate for 14 days from the date of close contact.

If you develop symptoms including fever, coughing and difficulty breathing you should ring Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or your doctor.

When should I stay home?

If you feel sick, you should stay at home.  If you are experiencing severe symptoms you should contact Healthline as soon as possible (for free) on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or your doctor.

When should I seek medical advice?

If you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, please contact Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or your doctor.

Where can I get further information about COVID-19?

Up-to-date information is available at COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

All information from the WHO pertaining to COVID-19 can be found via the following links:

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