20 Jun 2009

Focus switches from containing swine flu to managing it

12:51 am on 20 June 2009

Health authorities have given up trying to contain the spread of swine flu and are focusing now on managing it.

It's therefore very unlikely that schools in areas with multiple cases will now be asked to close.

But in areas where there has so far been no transmission of the disease, says Education Ministry spokesperson Christine Kilkelly, schools should continue to try to contain infection and deal with it as they would a normal winter flu.

The new approach by the health authorities and the Government began in Wellington and Christchurch on Friday. Auckland has already moved to managing the virus in the community.

It's the sensible thing to do, says GPs' president

The president of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, Dr Jonathan Fox, says it's a sensible move that should reduce pressure on a busy health system.

Containment has been hard work for general practices and public health agencies, he says, with many doctors inundated with queries about the virus.

Now fewer people will need to be swabbed, and less time will be spent investigating possible contacts. Most people with swine flu should be able to look after themselves at home, he says.

A total of 216 cases had been confirmed by Friday, 158 of which are active. Wellington has the most cases (80), followed by Canterbury (77) and Auckland (46).

Business closures unlikely - minister

Health Minister Tony Ryall says it's also unlikely that business closures will be recommended. The focus is now on helping those who are sick, and Tamiflu will be kept for those who are seriously ill or at risk, as determined by doctors.

People will still need to stay at home if they're ill, the minister says, but there will be no more quarantining of those who are well but who've been in contact with someone who's sick.

Tracing the contacts of those infected will stop and fewer patients will be tested, though border control measures remain.

David Lowe of the Employers & Manufacturers Association says that even though wholesale closures are now unlikely, high levels of staff absenteeism could still be a problem.

Wellington woman in critical condition

A 30-year-old woman remains in a critical condition in Wellington Hospital on Friday as a result of swine flu. The woman, who has a history of respiratory problems, is the first to be admitted to intensive care with the virus.

A child and another adult are in the same hospital with swine flu. Two nurses there have the virus, and two more are suspected of having it.

Economy unlikely to face big swine flu shock

Finance Minister Bill English says that swine flu represents "one more bend in the road to recovery" but that the economy faces significantly larger challenges.

Treasury suggests a severe pandemic could cut gross domestic product (GDP) by 5% to 10% in the first year and warns that the economy's ability to cope with further serious shocks is currently weak.

The advice is based on a worst-case scenario of 40% of the population infected, of whom 2% die.

The paper also outlines the powers available for coping with a severe, prolonged pandemic, including price controls, distribution of certain goods and services, and suspending or overruling contracts.

Mr English says the Government does not believe the worst-case scenarios are likely to eventuate, as swine flu appears to be a relatively mild illness. The Government has not investigated emergency economic powers in any depth, he says.