New Zealanders are being urged to remain calm after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed here — despite public health officials saying more cases are highly likely.
After the news broke, panicked shoppers last night descended on supermarkets to stock up on essentials. Queues more than a kilometre long snaked around stores. Residents reported canned and fresh food selling out as well as hand sanitiser and face masks.
“People at Pak’nSave stocking up for the apocalypse,” one shopper said.
“We have been doing our groceries on Friday evenings for the past four years. Never seen anything this bad.”
A New Zealand resident, aged in their 60s, is in isolation at Auckland City Hospital after arriving on an Emirates flight (EK450) from Iran, via Bali, on Wednesday with a cough and difficulty breathing. They had been wearing a mask.
The person travelled home in a private car but felt unwell so family called Healthline. They were advised to seek medical attention and went to the hospital’s emergency department.
“All were wearing masks on arrival,” a Ministry of Health spokesman said. “As a result of the individual’s symptoms and travel history they were admitted and tested.”
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the person underwent two throat swabs but both came back negative for the virus.
Medical staff carried out a third test because of where the person had come from — Iran has had the second highest number of deaths from the virus — and the fact the symptoms matched the virus.
Those results came back positive on Friday afternoon. Bloomfield said the person was in a stable condition.
“They are in an improving condition in isolation, in a negative pressure room to prevent any spread of the disease.”
He said the person wore a mask during the flight so it was unlikely they had transmitted it to other passengers. However, authorities were contacting flight crew, close contacts and people who were sitting near the individual. They would all be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
But those comments did not appear to appease a lot of people stocking up on essentials iin supermarkets on Friday night.
Henderson resident Lee Moraes, 32, entered his local Pak’nSave at 9.15pm and said he noticed it was “weird” from the outset as it was hard to find a park.
“I walked in and there were no trolleys left and I thought, ‘this is ridiculous’.
“I only wanted to buy one thing — onions for a sausage sizzle and I had to wait in line for ages.”
“There were people in masks all around and panic-buying stuff. Water was getting sold out.
“The hand sanitisers were gone, and the soaps were fairly dented, tissues were going, anything that was hygiene sort of stuff was being smashed.
“I tried to make a joke of it and this lady was like, ‘Aren’t you scared, why are you not scared, you should be scared’.
“But I think it’s actually sad, people are pretty stressed.”
Health officials said the person confirmed with coronavirus had travelled on a New Zealand passport. It’s not clear if they went through the E-passport line or saw someone through Customs.
Public health officials have begun tracing the person’s other close contacts and people who were in same row on the Emirates aircraft as the individual or two rows ahead or behind.
They were also contacting the flight crew who were in the cabin.
Health Minister David Clark earlier announced a raft of new measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, including new travel restrictions from Iran.
The Ministry of Health says there is a high likelihood of sporadic cases in New Zealand but the chances of a community outbreak remains low, despite the confirmed case.
“The Ministry of Health is confident the public risk from this new infection is being well managed because of the public messaging, awareness of COVID-19 disease and our public health response to managing cases and contacts,” the spokesman said.
Anyone who has symptoms and has been in a country with the virus should not turn up at their local GP but phone ahead so the surgery can take the right precautions.
“We have a family that has done exactly the right thing,” Bloomfield said.
The person was put into the hospital isolation room straight away because of the high suspicion they might have the virus, he said. That suspicious was based on symptoms and where they had been.
Earlier in Sydney, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “They are obviously being treated with all of the precautions that you would expected and this of course is all subjected to the pandemic plan that we have had in place since early January we have been prepared for this scenarios and we are now in informing all of the protocols we’ve long had in place for a scenario such as this.”
She said the person was a permanent resident in New Zealand and was returning home.
“They had been for a period of travel in Iran but travelled into new Zealand over a period of several days starting their journey on Monday.”
She added: “I do want reiterate and acknowledge that it has been through good care and good management that new Zealand has gone through such a long period of time without having a case arrive on our shores throughout that time you would me reiterate that the chances of us receiving a case were extremely likely that is why our pandemic plan has been operationalised for some time and of course now we are utilising that plan in full.
“We were prepared we are prepared this is exactly the scenario we expected would arrive now that it has we are rolling out all of the protocols you would expected.”
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff urged New Zealanders to remain calm.
“As the gateway to New Zealand, a case of the coronavirus in Auckland was close to inevitable and health authorities are well prepared to handle it.
“The Ministry of Health advises that the patient is being treated in a negative pressure room to prevent the virus from spreading, and people who were in immediate contact with the patient are also in isolation. The Ministry has said the risk of a community outbreak remains low, and a pandemic plan is in place to manage the situation.
“Health authorities are closely monitoring the situation in line with World Health Organisation guidance and I encourage Aucklanders to remain calm. The Ministry will advise if any public health measures become necessary.”
Ireland and the Netherlands have also announced the first cases of the deadly virus in the past 24 hours.
The New Zealand Government will also be bolstering the health presence at international airports and there will be no exemptions for overseas students from China to enter New Zealand, said Clark.
So far, the Government has conducted 130 other coronavirus tests in New Zealand – they have all come back negative.
New Zealand is the 48th country to have a confirmed case of the virus. Last night, more than 83,000 cases were confirmed worldwide since it originated in late December in China’s Hubei province.
At least 2858 people have died – many in China.
Since February 3, New Zealand has restricted travel from mainland China. Only New Zealanders or permanent residents are allowed back into the country.
It was reiterated on Friday night there would be no exemption for Chinese students.
The Government would also be bolstering the health presence at international airports. Starting today, health staff will meet all direct international flights landing from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand is asking if crew want to take leave without pay as the dramatic fall in demand forces the airline to cut capacity and slash fares across the Tasman.
The airline has described the fallout from coronavirus as unprecedented and hours after releasing fares as low as $69 to Melbourne, a spokesman said it had asked some staff for expressions of interest in taking leave without pay for a “short period”.
A public health expert says New Zealand will inevitably see “widespread transmission” of coronavirus infecting a large percentage of the population. However, most cases will be mild and not require medical attention.
“Essentially it’s going to sweep across the world across the next one to two years and infect a fair chunk of the population — maybe 30-40 per cent,” University of Otago professor of public health Michael Baker said.
Baker added New Zealand was “still a long way off social distancing measures” of its citizens — such as cancelling public events, working from home or no longer socialising with others.
He said basic things hygiene such as washing hands would be far more effective in preventing the virus from spreading.
Source: new zealand herald