New Zealand scientists call on politicians to work together to fight coronavirus

New Zealand's infectious disease and public health experts have signed an editorial asking politicians not to turn COVID-19 into "political point-scoring" leverage this election year.

The editorial, signed by more than 50 of the country's leading specialists, features in this week's edition of New Zealand Medical Journal.

The specialists fear politicking could prevent the public's absorption of significant information to help minimise the impact of the novel coronavirus.

"Although it is election year, we insist politicians resist the urge to scaremonger in an attempt to score points in the media," the editorial declares.

"Instead, they should use their moments in the spotlight to amplify messages of our health system's preparedness and how New Zealanders can individually make a difference at this critical time."

The scientists have suggested a "cross-party parliamentary task force" on COVID-19 to help political parties cooperate productively.

According to a statement by the University of Otago, the editorial describes the COVID-19 outbreak as a "genuine health crisis" that is likely to worsen, while the proliferation of misinformation contributes to a "high" level of public anxiety.

"When [people] are well-informed, they can make a huge difference both as individuals and as members of the wider community. This is very true with COVID-19, where every person practising good hygiene and cough etiquette can radically impact the spread of this disease," says the statement.

"Cooperation with necessary measures will play a crucial role in minimising COVID-19’s spread and protecting the most vulnerable among us."

The editorial also calls attention to the teams of infectious disease, primary care and public health experts working around the clock to assist the Government's response. It acknowledges their need for support throughout this rapidly-evolving situation. 

"Politicking and criticising these professionals who are working hard on behalf of the country does nothing more than undermine them and public confidence in our system."

The issue will be available on Friday, March 13.