Northland’s first potential coronavirus case being tested

7:53 pm on 9 March 2020

Northland can expect 200 Covid-19 coronavirus cases with up to five deaths over the next three months, according to modelling.

Patient samples at a safety workbench for coronavirus testing.

Patient samples at a safety workbench for coronavirus testing. Photo: AFP

Dr Catherine Jackson, a medical officer of health, told Northland District Health Board's (NDHB) board meeting in Whangārei on Monday the region's first potential coronavirus case is being tested in Auckland with results expected tomorrow.

However, Jackson said after the meeting, it was expected the test results would come back negative.

The person is currently in self-isolation, but NDHB is giving no more details on where this might be, the person's occupation, their links to others who may have it or whether they have just returned from overseas.

The Ministry of Health was asked about the potential Northland case, but had not provided any further information on the person at edition time.

Seventeen potential coronavirus cases nationwide are currently being investigated. On Monday there were five confirmed coronavirus cases in New Zealand with two more "probable" cases.

Jackson said based on modelling, there would be four to five deaths in Northland from coronavirus in the next three months.

Forty of the 200 confirmed cases - should they occur - would likely need to be admitted to hospital - 10 of those to intensive care. The 160 other cases would likely be managed at home.

Up to 1000 close contacts of those 200 would need to be traced.

Preparing for Covid-19

Jackson said the region was in the first stages of dealing with coronavirus or Covid-19.

Major ongoing planning and practical preparation was going on behind the scenes in preparation for its arrival.

NDHB was part of a joint four-member coronavirus health board group - along with Auckland, Counties-Manukau and Waitemata district health boards - which met daily.

A NDHB incident management team was meeting three days a week, she said.

And a northern technical advisory group had been set up.

Preparation for the coronavirus' arrival into Northland focused on delaying its arrival as long as possible so there was not a big surge in cases up front. Such a surge would place strain on Northland's health sector resources.

She said Northland DHB was as well-prepared as possible for the beginnings of the virus into the region.

Any Northland laboratory tests to confirm the presence of coronavirus went to Auckland district health board.

Health workers were being educated in ways to keep themselves safe in the face of coronavirus' arrival into Northland.

First responders such as ambulance staff had been trained up in how to deal with cases through podcasts and other means.

Northland primary care providers were to receive education material. Efforts were being made to boost handwashing protocols for Northland's primary care providers such as general practitioners.

The region's rest home and care facilities would soon be contacted.

Taking care with contact

Meanwhile, Jackson said those wanting to hongi should take care.

"If you are well and have no symptoms nothing will happen," Jackson said.

But those who were unwell should refrain from hongi.

Northlanders should get into the habit of keeping their hands below their shoulders to avoid potential virus spread after touching infected surfaces and then touching faces.

Jackson said there was no doubt resources to deal with the virus would be rationed. Masks could be one of those things. But they were useful only for those who were unwell.

They did not stop the virus for those who were well.

She said it was good news China was starting to recover from coronavirus as New Zealand needed supplies manufactured in that country to deal with the virus locally. These included medicines and personal protective equipment.

Jackson said Northland coronavirus risk groups included those with underlying health issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease.

Smokers were at particular risk too.

Those who smoked were much more susceptible to more serious impact from coronavirus.

"A really good time to quit smoking is now," Jackson said.

This risk for smokers included those who were pregnant - but those who were pregnant and didn't smoke were at no greater risk from coronavirus than people who weren't pregnant.

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