Coronavirus: Ministry of Health 'ready' if World Health Organisation declares global pandemic

The Ministry of Health says New Zealand is "ready to go" if a coronavirus pandemic is declared globally.

Director-general of health at the Ministry Dr Ashley Bloomfield says while the World Health Organisation (WHO) hasn't declared a pandemic, he wants to be prepared.

"We are doing this preparation to put ourselves on a footing that if a pandemic were to be declared, we would be ready to go and modify our response accordingly in a timely way."

Clinical equipment including masks, aprons, gloves, eye protection, syringes and IV fluids is set aside and is ready to be used if needed.

Director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay says the supply is part of the general preparation for a pandemic and is constantly kept up to date.

"Our technical advisory group are keeping up with the emerging evidence - and the implications for the particular virus - as to what actual supplies would be required should we be in a COVID-19 pandemic," she says.

Community-based assessment centres may also be set up in a pandemic, which were "effectively" used during 2009 in Canterbury when swine flu broke out in.

"They are a recognised way of being able to take the pressure off other health professionals and general practice," Dr McElnay says.

DHBs are being asked to prepare for a significant demand in primary care and need to know how needs in their community could be best met - and this includes the possibility of community-based assessment centres.

Dr McElnay added there is a network of clinical intensive care unit directors who would be called upon in a pandemic situation to provide advice on how to manage beds in ICUs across the country.

"Our capability for ICU beds would be quite challenging if we had a lot of cases all at once."

But Dr Bloomfield says it's only a small proportion of coronavirus cases that require intensive care.

"It's under 5 percent. We've got somewhere around 240 ICU beds.

"What we're trying to do is if we do get an outbreak here, we're not getting a lot of cases all at once. So that's where the public health measures come to the fore and are a really critical part of both preventing and managing an outbreak."

There are still no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand.