24 Feb 2020

Covid-19: Travel restrictions for those coming from China extended

6:53 pm on 24 February 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed the country's China travel ban will be extended for another eight days.

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Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The restrictions were put in place in early February as part of precautionary measures to try to keep the Covid-19 coronavirus out of the country.

Ardern said NZ was also exploring the possibility of an exemption to the travel ban for foreign tertiary students in mainland China.

She made the announcement after Cabinet ministers met this afternoon to decide whether to extend the ban on foreign travellers arriving from mainland China, which is due to expire tonight.

But she said officials were investigating whether tertiary students could be exempted.

"We would need to be satisfied that any health risk could be practically managed, with the education sector able to reassure us and the public that it has credible self-isolation and accommodation plans in place."

The Chinese ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi held a press conference last week to question why the restrictions had been imposed against the World Health Organisation's advice.

Ardern had said the travel ban was not only geared to reducing the possibility of an outbreak in New Zealand, but was also serving to buy time so the health system was ready if cases were discovered.

'Highly likely' Covid-19 will reach NZ

"We are ready from a public health perspective," Ardern told reporters.

It remained "highly likely" that Covid-19 would eventually reach New Zealand's shore, she said.

New Zealand had secured a national supply of anti-virals and 18 million masks ready to be distributed in the case of a pandemic, she said.

Specialists were able to test for the virus in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, with "same-day turnaround", she said.

And 15 DHBs had access to "negative pressure" rooms which would prevent cross contamination from room to room.

"We have a dedicated Healthline team who are in contact with all those who are currently self-isolating," she said.

"And to the best of my knowledge, we may be one of the only countries in the world running a regime like that."

New Zealand had ordered a "record number" of flu vaccines to prepare for the impending flu season, Ardern said.

The global death toll now stands at 2469, with nearly 79,000 confirmed cases, most of which having been reported in China since January.

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