Family of New Zealand's first COVID-19 death warns against 'just the flu' dismissal

The West Coast family of the first person to die from COVID-19 in New Zealand has spoken out as a warning to others.

Anne Guenole's family says the Greymouth 74-year-old was active and healthy - until her 'cold' progressed to the deadly coronavirus.

Guenole loved her home and her garden and loved visits from friends and family.

She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease but was in good health and hadn't been in hospital for decades.

That was until last Wednesday, when she was admitted to Grey Base Hospital with what was thought to be influenza. Four days later, she tested positive for COVID-19, and died Sunday morning.

"We can't possibly imagine how she got this virus," her daughter Diane Guenole-Cummings says.

DHBs are now taking a common approach to at-risk patients.

"Anyone coming into ED [emergency department] who has what we would call a lower respiratory tract infection - say a cough, fever whether that's pneumonia or bronchitis - is being treated as if they're COVID-19, until proven otherwise," says Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The 21 Greymouth-based staff who treated Guenole are in self-isolation, as are her immediate family.

"The hospital have said they will test me and my brother if we get symptoms," Guenole-Cummings says.

There is also concern other contacts may be unknowingly carrying the virus.

Newshub spoke with another of Guenole's relatives who last saw her 10 days ago. He believes everyone who's been in contact with her should be tested.

"If those people were tested, it would make it safer to know that perhaps they should be like us and be completely isolated and not go anywhere at all from that bubble," Guenole-Cummings says.

And her family has a stern message for those dismissing the pandemic as "just a flu".

"I'd say don't be so ignorant or irresponsible. For some people it is just a flu, but for a lot of the population, it won't be just a flu," Guenole-Cummings says.

It's a warning from loved ones of the hidden dangers of this deadly virus.