Sick students who caused a major health response from officials at Auckland International Airport today were suffering from the common cold.
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Auckland hospitals were on standby and medical staff were called on to assess the health of 73 passengers reportedly suffering flu-like symptoms on board an Air New Zealand flight that landed in Auckland at 9.20am.
Auckland Regional Public Health Service said the ill passengers had symptoms such as coughs, which might be colds or may be flu. They were called to the airport after the captain alerted ground staff to the problem about 9am.
However, clinical director Julia Peters said at a media conference this afternoon that none of the teenagers, all boys from a Japanese high school, had tested positive for influenza.
All the passengers were allowed through the airport by 1pm, to the delight of their waiting families.
"I want to reassure the public that from our perspective there was no risk to the New Zealand public that required isolation or quarantine," Peters said.
The students had all been immunised against flu and were only suffering from viral respiratory problems, she said.
Passengers on board the flight had complained of a lack of information and said authorities had panicked without need.
Medical officer for health Richard Hoskins said the reaction was in line with the heath service's guidelines.
"In hindsight we overreacted to this but that's better than under-reacting. We needed to make it safe until we were sure.
Passengers began coming through Customs at midday, and an Air New Zealand email at 12.39pm said all 274 passengers had been released.
Stuart Cundy, head of the homestay organisation hosting the Japanese students, said it was definitely an overreaction.
A few of the students had sniffles and maybe small colds because it was winter in Japan but none had flu-like symptoms, he said.
All the students were from Hitachi Technical Senior High School. Many were wearing masks when the left the plane, but happily passed through Customs into the main terminal building, where they were posing for photos.
One of the students said everybody was "fine".
Japanese woman Mari Yoshikawa, the first passenger to come through Customs into the main terminal, said she was okay but that two students on the plane had been vomiting.
UK resident and passenger Dave Popman said he was taken to a room at the airport and questioned by health officials.
Some passengers were taken off for further tests then while others, including himself, were allowed to go through Customs.
Popman said he thought some of the students were among those taken for further tests.
Some passengers criticised the lack of information they received.
One man named Phillip said his brother on the plane had told him passengers were being given very little information and the crew had told the passengers New Zealand health authorities were not telling them anything.
Passenger David Turner said communication from flight staff had been "terrible" but admitted they didn't know what was going on either.
After a long wait, paramedics came on the plane dressed in full hazard gear, he said. "It was like we were radioactive or something. I think it freaked some people out."
Kiwi passenger Brooke said she had to log onto the internet in the waiting room for information.
She was shocked to see people who were believed to be ill brought to the same room as those who were well.
Some passengers got on the plane wearing face masks, which is a Japanese custom for people who have a cold.
Brooke said passengers had been given a form advising them of the symptoms and to see a doctor if they got sick.
Medical staff wearing hazard suits were on standby at the airport, along with several ambulances.
Earlier a St John spokesman said Aviation Security Services staff were working to identify two safe, well-ventilated areas at the airport where passengers could be taken.
If passengers needed to be moved through crowds, that would also be done with caution. Large numbers of masks were being taken to the airport for passengers.
A Counties Manukau District Health Board manager had said that all hospitals were "contingency planning" in case they were required to take passengers although would not give details of what those plans were.
It is flu season in Japan, but the predominant flu strain there is covered in New Zealand's seasonal flu vaccine and has been for a number of years, Auckland Regional Health said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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