COVID-19 UPDATE

New Zealand was the 48th country to have a confirmed case of COVID-19. As of 7 April 2020 there are currently 1,160 confirmed and probable New Zealand cases and there has been one death.

It is critically important that we protect New Zealanders from the virus and also play our part in the global effort to contain it.

Keeping individuals, families and our communities safe and healthy in the current global environment requires a team effort and that’s what we’re seeing across New Zealand.

To protect New Zealanders, the government took measures to try to slow the spread of the virus. Since Wednesday 25th March 2020 at 11.59pm all of New Zealand has been at Alert Level 4 in response to COVID-19 and will be at this level for a period of four weeks, and potentially longer. This means that everyone who is not considered an “essential” worker must remain in their homes and have no contact with anyone outside of the people they live with. Businesses are shut unless they are considered an essential service such as a pharmacy or supermarket, air travel is restricted and schools and universities are closed.

While New Zealand has closed its borders to international travellers, New Zealand citizens are still allowed to return from overseas under Alert Level 4. If they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 when they arrive, they are quarantined in an approved facility. If they are symptom-free, they must self-isolate and have a detailed self-isolation plan. If a returned New Zealander has nowhere to isolate or can’t get home (e.g if they arrive in Auckland but live in Nelson) they will also be quarantined.

It appears that most of the COVID-19 infections within New Zealand are the result of travel – someone who has returned from overseas has fallen ill, or someone who has had contact with a traveller has become sick. There is some community spread where people have tested positive for COVID-19 and there has been no connection to travel. The Level 4 lockdown is a way to slow and potentially stop the community spread of this virus.

The key message that we all need to stick to in order for the Level 4 lockdown to work is: STAY HOME!

Staying at home will reduce the transmission of the virus. By only having contact with the people you live with, this severely limits your potential to get sick, or if you do fall ill with COVID-19, from passing it on.

If you do need to leave your home – for essential items at the pharmacy, supermarket, a medical visit or to do some exercise, follow physical distancing rules and stay at least 2 metres from any other person.

Follow official advice such as www.covid19.govt.nz for more information.

Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number, 0800 358 5453, is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The most well-known viral outbreak to hit the news and capture the world’s attention was SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), a virus originating in China in 2002, which killed 774 people in 17 countries and infected more than 8000 people worldwide. It took only a few months for it to spread around the world. Sufferers experienced flu-like symptoms such as fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches and difficulty breathing. It had a 10% fatality rate. In 2012 another virus appeared and caused a fatal epidemic. MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) was responsible for infecting 2494 people and had a much higher mortality rate (35%), killing 858 people.

Both of these fatal epidemics were caused by coronaviruses, a family of viruses common to animals and birds. Once transmitted from animal or bird to humans they cause symptoms similar to the common cold but can cause more severe health issues such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, kidney failure and even death.

Seventeen years after SARS appeared, it is a new coronavirus (COVID-19) that is alarming world health authorities, closing borders and has so far (as of 2 April 2020) infected over 900,000 people and caused more than 47,000 deaths. It is believed to have originated from a wild animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China but has since spread worldwide.Whist initially people who were infected with the new coronavirus contracted it from exposure to animals, we now know that that person-to-person transmission is occurring. Researchers think the new virus came from bats but are unsure which animal passed it on to humans. It has been suggested the virus was transmitted to humans via a snake, but it appears more likely to be a mammal.

The reported symptoms of the novel coronavirus are fever, dry cough, trouble breathing or shortness of breath and pneumonia. People appear to be in a less serious condition than those people who were infected with the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. Transmission of the virus can happen during the incubation period. Someone sick with the new virus can pass it onto another person even if they aren’t yet displaying any symptoms. It is estimated that each patient can infect two to four others, so the infectiousness of this new virus is similar to influenza.

Symptoms may appear two to fourteen days after exposure. The virus is likely to be spread in a similar manner to SARS and MERS which is through droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. It is particularly dangerous in older people, those sick with other illnesses and people with weakened immune systems. At this stage of the outbreak there is no cure, and a vaccine could be several months away.

The treatment being provided to those infected is non-specific. Patients are given supportive care for their symptoms such as fluids and pain relief. Hospitalised patients may need support with their breathing.

To minimise the risk of becoming infected with or spreading the virus, it is recommended that people take the same precautions as for preventing any other virus:

  • wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water and thoroughly dry hands (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser)
  • cover mouth and nose with disposable tissues or clothing when coughing or sneezing
  • don’t touch your face, stay home if sick, avoid close contact with anyone showing cold or flu symptoms
  • avoid personal contact, such as kissing, sharing cups or food with sick people
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs, cellphones
  • avoid close contact with sick farm animals or wild animals, and don’t attend public places or events if unwell

Face masks may be useful in reducing the spread of the illness when worn by those showing signs of an acute respiratory infection or health professionals who are in close contact with unwell patients. If you decide to use a face mask it is important they are a snug fit, fully cover the mouth and nose and are worn and removed correctly.

For more information visit The Ministry of Health website. If you need medical advice contact Healthline 800 358 5453.

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