5th NZ coronavirus case: Community spread ‘inevitable’, says professor

Professor Michael Baker ... China has "actually stopped it, or largely contained it". Image: Philippa Tolley/RNZ

A public health professor says the World Health Organisation’s failure to declare Covid-19 a pandemic is giving New Zealanders a false sense of security.

It was confirmed today that there is a fifth case of coronavirus in New Zealand as 43 North Shore Hospital staff in Auckland went into self-isolation.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the woman, in her 40s, was the partner of the third case confirmed in New Zealand.

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The family are believed to have caught the disease after a family member recently returned from Iran, where there is community spread of the disease.

She was already in self-isolation and did not require hospital-level care.

“This is fitting the pattern of existing spread … all five cases are following this pattern identified by the WHO [World Health Organisation] in its joint mission to China – that most human to human transmission is happening within families, in that close household setting,” Dr Bloomfield said.

All eight New Zealanders who had been on board an earlier cruise on the Grand Princess that is now anchored off the coast of San Francisco had now been spoken to.

One woman readmitted
Five were well and were outside the 14-day period of concern. One woman in her 70s who had been in hospital with a respiratory illness, had recovered and was then released in early March.

She has since been readmitted to hospital with a different condition and although she had recently tested negative for Covid-19 it was probable she had had coronavirus, Dr Bloomfield said.

As a result, 43 North Shore Hospital staff were being stood down as a precaution.

The fourth case is a New Zealand citizen in his 30s, the partner of the second case announced earlier this week, the Ministry of Health said.

On Thursday it was confirmed that an Auckland man was the third case of Covid-19 in this country.

He was now in isolation, along with six members of his family.

The Director-General of Health said the man contracted the virus from a family member who had been to Iran and returned more than a week ago.

China’s success
Dr Michael Baker, public health professor at the University of Otago, said that part of the reason for the WHO not calling it a pandemic was that China managed to halt the spread of the virus.

“This is the first time, I think, that any country has been able to stop a pandemic of respiratory infection in full flight,” he said on RNZ Morning Report.

“They obviously used absolutely draconian measures and it wouldn’t be acceptable in other places, and there was a lot of abuse of human rights in that process. But they’ve actually stopped it, or largely contained it. That’s really motivated the WHO to take this stance.”

Professor Baker said he disagrees with the stance and it would be better to say it was a pandemic situation.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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