9 Feb 2020

New coronavirus helpline set up after calls to Healthline soar

10:27 pm on 9 February 2020

A new coronavirus helpline has been set up, after calls to Healthline rose 25 percent.

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Photo: 123RF

New Zealanders who have been in China are being urged to call the dedicated new helpline to help assess whether they have the new coronavirus.

Currently, the Ministry of Health advises people who have arrived from China to New Zealand to self-isolate for 14 days in case they have the disease.

These people are also asked to register with the new Healthline number, and will be asked if they've had a fever, coughing or difficulty breathing. If anyone has, they will be referred to the Ministry of Health.

The service is open 24 hours a day, has interpreters available, and can give health advice and help with isolation guidance.

The new number is part of the National Telehealth Service, and chief executive Andrew Slater says they've had more than 1,500 calls about the coronavirus since the end of January, but that none of the callers has reported symptoms that match the virus.

Total calls to Healthline numbers were up 25 percent year-on-year for January, he says, but he is confident they can cope.

"We've got over 450 staff and we've got staff that are working additional shifts, and we're training staff from other parts of the organisation to answer basic queries and questions."

However, the organisation will consider hiring more staff over the next week if a demand assessment shows they are needed, he says.

More than 34,800 people worldwide have been infected with the new coronavirus worldwide, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.

More than 800 people have died from it, more than the number of deaths from the outbreak of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003, which was 774.

All but one of the deaths from the new coronavirus have so far been in China, but New Zealand health authorities have warned they expect there will be cases here in the future.

The new coronavirus Healthline number is a collaboration with the Ministry of Health, who says there has been "positive uptake" so far.

People can call the new number on 0800 358 5453, or those with international SIMs can call on +64 9 358 5453.

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