Coronavirus: Some passengers sitting near to NZ's first patient yet to be reached

Not everyone who was sitting close to New Zealand's first coronavirus COVID-19 patient has been reached by health officials.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday there were 18 people sitting within two rows of the 60-year-old, who remains in Auckland City Hospital in a stable, and still improving, condition.

Health officials have been trying to reach everyone who on board the Emirates flight on Wednesday within literal spitting distance.

"Attempts have been made, messages have been sent, but they want to make sure they speak to everyone in person," Ardern said at Auckland Airport on Sunday afternoon. She admitted while emails and texts had been sent, not all the recipients had responded. 

"Everyone has been contacted. Not everyone, they've been able to have a conversation with - and that's critical, so we're now physically going out, knocking on doors trying to locate those individuals... Everyone has been contacted - everyone has a message."

Earlier on Sunday, Newshub spoke to a young Kiwi who fled Italy this week and tried to tell officials at the border she'd been in COVID-19 "hotspots", but was brushed off.

"They said, 'Have you been to mainland China or Iran recently?' I said, 'No, but I just came from Milan and I was in the Veneto region as well - two hotspots in Italy,'" Lagi Paul, a 20-year-old au pair, said.

She requested a test for the virus, which has killed nearly 3000 people worldwide.

"They said, 'You do not fit the criteria, and you don't need to self-isolate either,' which I found ridiculous because I was in the hotspot there, you know? The fact they told me not to even self-isolate, it was a bit crazy."

Ardern said not everyone who wants a test will be given one - only if they're symptomatic, despite the disease having an incubation period of up to a few weeks. 

"If someone is displaying symptoms, of course they'll be tested... we won't just test anyone because they ask to be tested. If you seek to be, you can have your temperature checked... if someone doesn't have that symptom, they of course will not be checked just because they've asked."

Paul asked why New Zealand hasn't put restrictions on travel from Italy, which has the highest number of cases in Europe. There is also no ban yet on people travelling from South Korea, which has the highest number of cases outside of China - but there are bans on mainland China and Iran.

Ardern said it's obvious why China is on the list - it's the source of the virus and where most cases of infection have been reported. As for Iran, "we do not have a clear picture of the human-to-human transmission in Iran. There are also concerns about the ability of their health system to cope."

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub.

She said health officials are "constantly monitoring" whether similar restrictions need to be placed on South Korea and Italy.

"Every international passenger is being given information proactively about coronavirus - about the symptoms of coronavirus and who to contact should they experience any symptoms after arrival in New Zealand," said Ardern. 

"Every passenger, no matter where they have come from in the world, will get a message on the flight and on the ground. These are comprehensive measures - from what I've heard and understand, New Zealand stacks up very well in terms of what's being done internationally."