Coronavirus: Kiwi doctors seek way to minimise risk while also helping others

An Auckland doctor says health professionals are learning from what went wrong in Europe in a bid to stop COVID-19 from spreading here. 

So far 20 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in New Zealand, all of which are linked to people arriving from overseas. 

So far there is no proven community spread of the virus, but health officials are bracing for numbers to rise as testing ramps us.

On the frontline against the fight against the virus' spread are medical workers, a number of whom have died already overseas after becoming infected while working.

Dr Eileen Merriman says it's a tough situation for many hospital staff who are "driven to try and help people" but who must also be mindful of their own safety.

"I'm not personally scared because I'm young and I'm healthy. I am worried for my parents," Dr Merriman told The AM Show on Thursday.

Medical staff have been meeting to find ways to minimise the risk they face and to preemptively plan for how to deal with a worsening situation, Dr Merriman said. 

Among the measures they were looking at were working from home when possible and setting up virtual clinics.

Doctors around the country have urged people not to show up to clinics announced if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. 

Earlier this week, Dr Richard Hulme, clinical director of East Tamaki Health, said three families had turned up to a clinic in Auckland concerned they had the virus.

He said people should call Healthline before visiting any doctor, and see their GP only if they're advised to.

Dr Merriman said social distancing is "really, really crucial" if we want to stop the virus' spread.

"I think as a society we have a responsibility to look after our elderly and our vulnerable and so that's why social distancing is so important. 

"I think it's really irresponsible to say I'm in my 20s, 30s, 40s I might as well just get it and get it over and done with and carry on with my life, because it's going to impact on everyone."

More than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed around the world so far, with the death toll standing at over 8200.

Dr Merriman says that although the vast majority of reported cases are mild, the sheer number means that even if only a small percentage of them are serious or severe that can put many lives at risk and a huge strain on the health system.

She says she expects a sharp increase in cases here, though nothing on the scale of what is happening in some places overseas.

"The Government has put in these measures quite early, they've been very careful. These people have been self-isolated as soon as they're aware, so it won't be as exponential as Italy."

Aside from the physical dangers, Dr Merriman also expressed concern about the toll the pandemic was taking on people's mental health, as economic uncertainty has left many fearing for the future of their jobs.

The Government announced a $12.1 billion economic package earlier this week to support those businesses suffering the most, with more stimulus expected to follow.