New Zealand in a state of frenzy as COVID-19 enters

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Venkat Raman

When Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced to us- journalists travelling with her to Fiji and Australia last week that the first case of the deadly Coronavirus has been found in New Zealand, the mood immediately turned sombre.

This was, on the back of a heated exchange of views on the deportation issue between Ms Ardern and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a media conference on the lawns of ‘Admiralty House,’ the official residence of the Governor General of Australia (see separate story).

She said that a person had been admitted to an Auckland Hospital after having been diagnosed with the disease, now commonly known as COVID-19.

“The affected person is a New Zealand citizen who is reportedly to be in a stable condition and improving. We knew that such a situation was extremely likely and hence have a Pandemic Plan in place. We have taken all the measures necessary to deal with such a situation. I want to assure all New Zealanders that we will do all that should be done,” she said.

Panic buying

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders were emptying the shelves of supermarkets soon after the news broke, for fear of stocks running out. While this panic seemed to have continued into the following day, reports said that they were restricted to one or two major supermarkets.

One Auckland supermarket manager told Radio New Zealand that they noticed a surge of customers after the confirmed case was announced last night. They said that many people were purchasing toilet paper, hand sanitiser, and tinned food.

Definition changed

The Expert Advisory Group of the Health Ministry has revised the case definition for health professionals by adding, under Category 2, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand as countries or territories of a higher level of interest when diagnosing patients.

Mainland China and Iran are listed as Category 1 countries.

Expert Group advice

Anyone who has visited those countries in the previous 14 days who develops symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath should seek medical advice on the dedicated Healthline COVID-19 0800-3585453 or contact their GP by phoning ahead of their visit.

“We knew the likelihood of an imported case in New Zealand was high, however, the likelihood of a widespread outbreak is low-moderate. The Health Ministry is closely monitoring the situation and following guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO). If any public health measures are needed for this virus, we will advise,” the Group said.

What is COVID-19?

“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, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). New Zealand is prepared and ready to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak should it occur here. The risk of an ongoing outbreak is low-moderate, but we are monitoring the situation closely,” a Health Ministry notification said.

The Symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a range of other illnesses such as influenza. They include fever, coughing and difficulty in breathing. However, having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have COVID-19.

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

It is not yet known how long symptoms take to show after a person has been infected, but current WHO assessments suggest that it is two to ten days.

If you have these symptoms and have recently been to mainland China or Iran, or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, please telephone Healthline immediately.

How it spreads

Like the flu, COVID-19 can be transmitted from person to person. The scientific evidence confirms that coronavirus 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.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talking to a Healthline official with Health Minister Dr David Clark in Auckland on February 29, 2020.

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