Virus' suspected NZ arrival concerning for Samoa

New Zealand appears to have possibly registered its first case of the coronavirus and Samoan authorities should be on alert, a public health expert has warned. 

On Friday, New Zealand’s top health official, Director-General Ashley Bloomfield announced a patient had been placed in isolation in Auckland hospital.

But unlike five previous suspected cases which turned out to be false positives this patient bore the hallmarks of a real infection, the Director General told the media. 

"This is the first person who has been investigated who meets the definition of the suspected case criteria," he said.

Dr. Michael Baker a public health expert from the University of Otago said that Samoan and New Zealand authorities should be cooperating to stop the spread of the disease.

“Everywhere in the world is only one or two plane trips away [from a case of infection],” he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer on Friday. 

The virus has now spread to a total of 23 countries and more than 9000 cases of infection have been registered.

Dr. Baker said that its symptoms could range in severity from something resembling the common cold to pneumonia.

“While in New Zealand that might be manageable, those tertiary [healthcare] services are not available in Samoa,” he said.

“When you look at the [virus’] threat level you must think about the host environment [and the quality of healthcare] to understand the differences”.

Professor Baker pointed to the examples of recent difference in the impact of measles epidemics in New Zealand, which recorded no deaths, and in Samoa, where the official death toll stands at 83. 

“We’re only a step away [in New Zealand],” he said.

“It’s very important that we not export the virus to the Pacific.

“If Samoa hasn’t started a conversation with New Zealand health authorities they need to do so now.”

Professor Baker said it had yet to be established whether sustained transmission of the virus would take place in New Zealand, which would be the main determinant of the level of threat posed to Samoa.

But he said the New Zealand Government should be prepared to consider a range of options to contain the virus’ potential spread to Samoa from ceasing flights to the country altogether to mandatory exit screening for passengers. 

Under recently passed border controls visitors to Samoa from coronavirus affected countries must spend at least 14 days in a country free of the virus and undergo medical clearance before arrival. 

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