Northland health official urges vigilence over coronavirus travel risk

7:06 pm on 22 January 2020

Northlanders travelling or from Wuhan central China should seek immediate medical advice if they develop flu-like symptoms upon their return, says the region's top health official.

People wearing masks ride bycicles in Beijing, China on Jan. 21, 2020. Wuhan city announced that another patient had died due to the mysterious SARS-like virus on the previous day.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Jose M Ortega says Northlanders receiving visitors from Wuhan, China who had chronic respiratory conditions or were immunocompromised should take extra care. Photo: AFP

"If you have or develop any flu-like symptoms seek medical attention," said Medical Officer of Health Dr Jose M Ortega.

Symptoms included runny nose, headache, cough, fever and general feeling of being unwell. The virus particularly affected the respiratory system.

He said New Zealand's Ministry of Health was closely monitoring the situation and keeping Northland District Health Board (DHB) and health professionals informed.

His comments come after the emergence of a new flu-like coronavirus (2019-nCoV virus), first identified in mid-December from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, that has now spread internationally.

There are about 300 reported cases of the virus with six people dying. Australia is now screening incoming direct flights from Wuhan.

The growing presence of the new virus comes on the eve of one of the world's biggest travel migrations as 400 million Chinese travel for the 2020 Lunar New Year this weekend. Seven million Chinese are expected to travel overseas as part of this. The first confirmed case of the new virus was reported in the United States today.

One Whangarei Chinese resident, who did not wish to be named, said Northland's 450 Chinese families were particularly closely following the Wuhan virus situation. Today's new United States confirmation was a development of interest.

The resident said it was more likely Chinese in Northland would be travelling to China to celebrate the Lunar New Year, rather than the reverse happening. However, Chinese people travelling to Northland from China because of the Lunar New Year was also occurring.

Ortega said Northlanders receiving visitors from Wuhan, China who had chronic respiratory conditions or were immunocompromised should take extra care.

He said however, that Northlanders generally, other than those travelling to or receiving visitors from Wuhan, were at no increased risk from the new coronavirus.

"Although there have been nearly 300 reported cases to date, this is in a city of over 11 million people where there has been little to no evidence of spread from person to person," Ortega said.

"For a widespread outbreak to occur, as was seen with measles in Northland in 2019, an infected person has to be able to pass it on to many others. There has been no evidence to date that this is occurring," Ortega said.

Ortega said that as of yesterday, according to the United States Centres for Disease Control it was unclear how easily or sustainably the 2019-nCoV virus was spreading between people.

Northland DHB was closely following, together with New Zealand's Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation, any developments in the Wuhan region.

The Northland DHB was also working closely with the North's primary care providers plus regional and local government partners to provide a coordinated response as required.

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