Fourth coronavirus case confirmed in New Zealand

The Ministry of Health has confirmed a fourth case of coronavirus COVID-19.

He is the partner of the woman confirmed to have the illness on Wednesday. They are from Auckland and recently visited the coronavirus hotspot of northern Italy. The woman also made a return trip to Palmerston North upon her return to New Zealand.

The man is in isolation with the woman. Officials are tracking down those who may have been in contact with him. The man's results were originally meant to be released on Wednesday evening.

More details will be provided at a media standup later on Friday. 

On Thursday a worker at Westgate Medical Centre - one of two centres the woman attended before her positive diagnosis - said she didn't identify herself when she went to the clinic, even though it has signage warning people not to enter if they had been overseas recently.

The employee said while the woman was at the clinic she had "significant interaction with the public". They estimate there were around 30 people in the large medical centre at the time. 

"It is a big open clinic, it is an urgent care, so there is an area that has significant traffic of people walking around, potentially a few nurses. Three or four nurses, three or four receptionists. Twenty, thirty people in the waiting area and the clinic itself."

According to the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the woman has been bullied on social media since it was confirmed she had the illness on Wednesday.

"As a public health service, we are worried that such attacks will lead people to hide any illness that might be COVID-19, and not seek medical attention," said ARPHS director Dr William Rainger on Wednesday.

Officials previously said people who were on the planes with the woman or may have come into close contact with her since she returned to New Zealand are being contacted by officials. 

The woman does not require hospital-level care, and the World Health Organization has pointed out that self-isolation at home is an appropriate response for those who display mild to moderate symptoms. 

The infected woman has children who attend Westlake Boys' and Westlake Girls' High in Auckland, and both of the schools have been contacted and are on alert.

The children who attend those two schools are not showing symptoms however, and are now at home and in isolation. They did not travel to Italy and are both well and are being monitored. 

The first case of the coronavirus in New Zealand was confirmed on Friday last week. That individual was a New Zealand citizen who had returned to the country from Iran, via Bali. They are currently in a stable condition, according to officials. 

A third case was confirmed on Thursday as someone who likely contracted the illness from a family member who had been overseas. That family member is a "probable" case.

Spread of coronavirus

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. 

More than 93,000 people worldwide have been infected, with nearly 3200 deaths.

"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, which is believed to have come from a marketplace in Wuhan. The Chinese city has become a ghost town with thousands of people there contracting the disease and many dying from it.

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.

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