Two international students set to start school in New Zealand next week are stuck in the Chinese city shut down by the deadly virus causing global alarm.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health is considering options to screen at our borders and has put information cards in Chinese at all international entry points.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the centre of the outbreak, has been closed off by the Chinese government to try curb the spread of the deadly respiratory illness.
There’s so far been more than 540 confirmed cases and 17 people have died, with all of the fatalities so far being restricted to Hubei, the province around Wuhan.
No cases have yet been reported in New Zealand.
Macleans College principal Steven Hargreaves said the school had been in touch with its two international students who were set to start school on Tuesday.
The students were at Macleans, one of the country’s biggest schools, last year and were planning on living with their same host families again.
As soon as the Wuhan shutdown is lifted, the students plan to come to New Zealand but the school will require them to stay at home for a week, Hargreaves said.
“They are making plans and they fully intend to pick up their studies as quickly as possible.
“When they do arrive we’ll enforce a quarantine period, should they arrive in New Zealand.
“At this stage we’ve told them it’ll be a one week quarantine where they can stay with their New Zealand family because we don’t want them entering the school population inside that week.”
In an email to the school community, Hargreaves said the Ministry of Health was monitoring the situation and would contact the school with further advice if needed.
The Ministry of Health was last night not able to confirm to the Herald what the process would be for people arriving in New Zealand from Wuhan.
But the Government has rolled out its co-ordinated pandemic response plan, though the threat to New Zealand is currently assessed as “low”.
Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay, said the ministry was actively considering options to further increase screening at the country’s borders.
It has also asked public health staff to ensure copies of a health advice card about the virus are available at international points of entry. The cards are in both simplified and traditional Chinese.
But travellers who’d been in the province who become sick should seek medical advice and contact Healthline to share their travel history, she said.
“It is important to mention recent travel from Wuhan and any known contact with someone with severe acute respiratory illness who has been in Wuhan.”
And border staff have been told to:
• avoid close contact with people suffering acute respiratory infections
• frequently wash their hands, especially after contact with ill people or their environment
• avoid close contact with sick live farm animals or wild animals
• people with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette by maintaining distance, covering coughs and sneezing with disposable tissues or clothing, and washing their hands
McElnay said although the risk to New Zealand was currently assessed as low, the Ministry of Health was taking the outbreak “very seriously”.
“We are strengthening our readiness to respond should we have a suspected case.”
The ministry has set up an incident control team to monitor and respond to the situation and provide public advice and information.
It was also closely monitoring the situation and guidance provided by the World Health Organisation.
The Pandemic Plan, which was used in response to the H1N1swine flu pandemic, ensures the ministry and other agencies “maintain preparedness for a pandemic”, McElnay said.
New Zealanders planning on travelling to China are being told to exercise normal safety and security precautions.
WHAT IS THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS?
The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a cousin of the Sars virus, which resulted in more than 8000 cases in 2003.
The coronavirus was first reported in December in Wuhan, China, but has since spread with a confirmed cases in China, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and the United States.
Symptoms are flu-like and most fatalities were people who were already ill.
It’s not clear how deadly the Wuhan coronavirus will be, but fatality rates are currently lower than both Mers and Sars but experts say that will change as the outbreak develops.
If you have travelled to Hubei and feel flu-like symptoms or difficulty breathing the CDC advises travellers to:
• Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
• Avoid contact with others.
• Not travel while sick.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.
The CDC also advised health providers to get suspected carriers “to wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified.”