Coronavirus not as infectious as measles, flu - Director of Public Health

Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay, told Checkpoint health authorities were preparing for the arrival of the illness in New Zealand. Photo credit: Getty / Checkpoint

From RNZ's Checkpoint

It is not a question of 'if' the deadly coronavirus will make it to New Zealand but rather 'when' - however, the country stands prepared, according to local health officials.

So far the virus has infected more than 2750 people, most of them in China, where the death toll has reached 80.

There are also four confirmed cases in Australia. On Tuesday, Cabinet will decide whether to make coronavirus a notifiable disease meaning public health officials would have the power if needed, to isolate patients who contract it.

Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay, told Checkpoint health authorities were preparing for the arrival of the illness in New Zealand, as there is a high likelihood of cases here.

"We've been looking at our risk assessment, and I think it is fair to say that… there is a high likelihood that we will see a case here in New Zealand, and that's what we're planning for."

She said it was not as infectious as other viruses like measles or seasonal influenza, and the fatality rate is around three to four percent. The mortality rate for the SARS virus was 10 percent.

"This virus doesn't have a particularly high mortality rate and it's not particularly transmissible, but of course what we're seeing is a number of cases popping up across [China] and that comes back to our assessment of risk.

"We would expect to see a case but we don't expect that case to cause a sustained outbreak in New Zealand.

"We might potentially see another case as a result of the first case in New Zealand, but we're really not looking at a scenario of a sustained community outbreak here in New Zealand.

"Our existing hospital system is well set up to manage infectious diseases and patients who have infectious diseases, so this would not be anything particularly out of the ordinary.

"I think the key here is that we detect a case very quickly, that we limit any exposure, particularly to healthcare workers.

"The people who are most infectious are those who have very severe respiratory infection and those are the ones that end up in hospital.

"So we are working very closely with our DHBs to ensure that we've got really good infection prevention control procedures, which need to be in place at all times. This is really nothing different from what can come across their doors at any time."

Any tests for the Wuhan coronavirus are still being sent to Melbourne for examination, Dr McElnay said, but they hoped to have testing in New Zealand by the end of the week.

"The management of the patient doesn't really change in terms of the test. The test is a confirmation, but we would expect to get a very quick turnaround from Melbourne.

"Looking at the information that's coming out of Australia they're getting a very quick turnaround in that order of between 24 and 36 hours for the test results."

Three people were assessed in Rotorua on Monday after an alert they may have been exposed to someone with confirmed novel coronavirus infection on a previous flight in to Sydney.

Dr McElnay said the tour group of 19 were interviewed and assessed.

"A small number of them had further assessment from a clinician at Rotorua Hospital, they were all deemed to be well, and they are discharged.

"They've been asked to keep being aware of signs and symptoms, and the public health services [are] keeping in touch with that group to check up on any symptoms that might develop."


Contact Newshub with your story tips: