Coronavirus: Forty-three hospital staff among Kiwi cases' close contacts self-isolating

The Ministry of Health has revealed the number of close and casual contacts for each of New Zealand's confirmed coronavirus cases.

The fifth COVID-19 coronavirus case in the country was confirmed on Saturday. She is the partner of the third case, the man in his 40s who is understood to have contracted the illness from his father who recently visited Iran. 

As part of the Ministry's protocols in responding to the illness, which has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide and killed at least 3400, it is tracing people who may have come into close contact with the infected individuals before they were placed into isolation.

Close contacts are defined as people who have been within a metre of an infected individual for more than 15 minutes. Casual contacts, on the other hand, are people who were face to face with an infected person for less than 15 minutes or in the same closed space for less than two hours.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Saturday that officials had gone to extensive lengths to identify and get in touch with contacts of the five infected New Zealanders. He also revealed the number of contacts traced for each infected person.

Case one - A person in their 60s who recently visited Iran and is currently in a stable condition in hospital: 26 close contacts, 126 casual contacts.

Case two - A woman in their 30s who recently visited northern Italy and returned to New Zealand last week. She went on a return trip to Palmerston North and to two medical centres: Around 100 close contacts and more than 300 casual contacts.

Case three - A man in their 40s who likely contracted the illness of his father who recently went to Iran: 18 close contacts, seven casual contacts.

Case four - The partner of case two who went to the Tool concert last Friday night: Eight close contacts.

The casual contacts for the fifth case, the partner of case three, are still being traced.

The Director-General explained that all casual contacts should be aware of how they are feeling and get in touch with Healthline if they begin to feel unwell or have any concerns. Close contacts have been asked to self-isolate.

There are also two probable cases. One is the father of case three, while the second is a woman in her 70s who was on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which currently has 21 infected individuals on board.

That woman arrived back in the country on February 25 and went to North Shore Hospital for several days for an unrelated reason. She was eventually discharged but is now back in hospital. While she has tested negative for coronavirus, Dr Bloomfield says she is still being treated as probable.

There were about 80 staff at North Shore Hospital who were involved in her treatment when she was first admitted. Of those, 43 are considered close contacts and are currently in isolation, where they will remain until the end of a 14 day period, which began when they first met the woman. 

"[It's a] purely precautionary measure, none are symptomatic," Dr Bloomfield said.

"We are in a phase where we are seeing more cases, and we are actively trying to find cases through testing.

"We have a good plan and a thorough public health response that has been demonstrated to work both here and elsewhere.

"Our own efforts to encourage everyone to play their part are picking up and from today we’ll see more public messaging in bus shelters about the steps people can take to protect themselves and others by covering coughs, sneezes and washing hands."

Coronavirus: Forty-three hospital staff among Kiwi cases' close contacts self-isolating
Photo credit: Getty / Newshub / Google Maps.

What we know about coronavirus

Coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs. However, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present, according to the World Health Organisation. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces is unknown at this stage, but some viruses can remain active for days. 

The WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • not eating shared or communal food
  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

A full explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here, while here are eight things you should know about the virus.

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.