Coronavirus: Siouxsie Wiles warns Kiwis not to get complacent after border closures

Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles is warning Kiwis not to get complacent after the Government effectively closed our borders in a bid to stop coronavirus coming into the country.

New Zealand has 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, with all of those originating overseas.

As of yet, there is no evidence of community transmission, but Dr Wiles says Kiwis should start acting as if the virus already were spreading without us knowing it.

"What I'm really concerned about is that New Zealanders are going to be thinking that we're safe and so become complacent," Dr Wiles told The AM Show on Friday. 

"What we know from lots of other countries is that there were cases bubbling around in the community that weren't picked up for a few weeks. I really hope that's not happening here but I think we should start behaving as though it is," she said.

As of 11:59pm on Thursday, only New Zealand residents and permanent residents and their families were allowed to enter the country. 

The move came after an announcement over the weekend that everyone entering the country - with the exception of those arriving from the Pacific Islands - would have to self-isolate for 14 days. The stricter measures were implemented after reports that many tourists were entering the country with no isolation plans. 

The epicentre of the outbreak has spread to Europe in recent weeks, after originating in China. Globally, there have been more than 230,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, with the death toll standing at over 9300.

Dr Wiles said that more lockdown measures here "may come really soon".

"What we're seeing from other countries, is there's a 10-day window where action has to be taken. We may well be in that 10 days now - so prepare for it." 

In order to stem the spread of the virus, Dr Wiles says we need to change the way we think about it.

"Every one of us needs to stop behaving as though we're going to become infected and start behaving as though we are infected," she said.

"We do know that people will shed the virus for a few days before they have symptoms - so imagine that was you, how would you do this? And this means this physical distancing from people, staying apart from each other."

Coronavirus: Siouxsie Wiles warns Kiwis not to get complacent after border closures
Photo credit: Newshub

Already, numerous businesses around the country have made moves to allow people to work from home in order to minimise employees' contact. 

The Government also announced a $12.1 billion economic package earlier this week which, among other things, provides wage subsidies to companies and workers who will suffer income loss due to not being able to go to work or a lack of business as a result of the pandemic.

Although people are encouraged to practise social distancing, Dr Wiles says we don't have to cut ourselves off completely from the outside world.

"We don't want people to be socially isolated, we want people to be physically isolated," she said.

"I'm pleading with people to do this physical distancing."

Health professionals have also stressed the importance of practising social distancing.

"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," Dr Eileen Merriman told The AM Show on Thursday.

Although social distancing, combined with the impact that closing our borders is having on tourist numbers here, has led to a serious downturn in the economy, experts warn that the toll would be much higher if we did nothing.

For those who must see other people, Dr Wiles suggested keeping a diary with the names of people you come in contact with, in the event you were later found to have the virus and contacting tracing was necessary.

Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 is urged not to show up at the doctor's unannounced, but to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453. 

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