Swine flu: Govt steps up measures

Sweeping new Govt powers for swine flu

Last updated 17:33 29/04/2009

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MASKED: Cheerleaders Carlisa Paltridge, Holly Lawson and Celia Lendich wait for an Auckland health official after they showed signs of the flu upon their arrival in New Zealand.

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Officials may have to establish isolation facilities as the numbers of passengers arriving with suspected swine flu rise, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dismissed claims 152 have died.


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Health officials in New Zealand are classifying 14 people, including 12 from Rangitoto College, as having swine flu after three tests came back positive.

A test taken from a fourth sample sent to the WHO's Melbourne's lab had insufficient "definitive matter" to draw a result, officials said this afternoon.

A WHO representative said today the agency had officially recorded only seven swine flu deaths around the world.

Reports have put the likely death toll from the virus at 152, with Mexican officials confirming 20 deaths. The number of cases under observation in Mexico alone has reportedly reached 1614.

But Vivienne Allan, from WHO's patient safety program, said the body had confirmed that worldwide there had been just seven deaths - all in Mexico - and 79 confirmed cases of the disease.

"That figure is not a figure that's come from the World Health Organisation and, I repeat, the death toll is seven and they are all from Mexico," Ms Allan told ABC Radio this morning.

Earlier today eleven passengers arriving from central America or the United States were classified as having suspected swine flu following border examinations. They were given the anti-viral drug Tamiflu and put into isolation while samples are tested.

Four of the group were admitted to Middlemore Hospital because they were in transit to other airports and could not be sent home. An additional passenger needed hospital treatment but would also be released today.

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"Earlier they were being treated in hospital," Director-General of Health Stephen McKernan said."[But] they will all be moving out to some arranged accommodation."

The accommodation would most likely be motels, but Health Ministry National Pandemic Planning coordinator Steve Brazier said emergency pandemic plans included establishing an isolation facility.

"We've got plans do that. At this stage we don't plan to implement them."

There were no other probable swine flu cases outside Auckland as yet but 31 people around the country had been tested for Influenza A and were suspected of possibly having the illness. They include 10 people in Nelson, eight in Christchurch, four in Wellington/Hutt Valley, two in Taranaki, five in Waikato and another five in Auckland.

At least 179 people are in isolation nationwide, including 36 in Wellington and 37 in Christchurch. No figures are available for Auckland.

NEW SWINE FLU POWERS

The Government today took steps that make swine flu a notifiable disease. 

Papers have this afternoon been Gazetted in Parliament, which add swine flu to a 2006 law - drawn up at the height of fears of a bird flu pandemic - to allow a range of responses, including forced quarantine.

The move adds swine flu to the four other diseases considered serious enough for the most draconian responses to control an epidemic: human-transmitted bird flu, yellow fever, cholera and the plague.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the move - an Order of Council - was "solely a precautionary measure".

"Officials have recommended it. But they have enough powers at the moment."

Mr Brazier said so far everyone potentially infected by swine flu had co-operated and voluntarily gone into isolation.

This morning Mr Brazier said the exact definition of the flu was still being refined but was likely to be a "flu of avian origin".

Health Ministry deputy director general Dr Fran McGrath said a new case definition had also been introduced, which reduced the time someone was considered susceptible after visiting Mexico or North America from two weeks to one.

No South Island residents have tested positive for Influenza A, of which swine flu is a subset.

But three Canadian Air Force members, visiting Blenheim's RNZAF Base Woodbourne, are included among the more than 179 people in quarantine as officials try to limit the spread of swine flu.

The trio travelled on the same plane as the 12 Auckland students infected with swine flu. They have been put into 72-hour quarantine and given the anti-viral drug Tamiflu.

RESPECT FOR AFFECTED STUDENTS

Earlier today a health official urged for respect to be shown for the school group affected by swine flu.

Julia Peters, from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, said the Rangitoto group was recovering well after having returned from a trip to Mexico on Saturday morning.

They have stayed in isolation since the weekend and have been treated with Tamiflu.

She said the group had been vigilant about trying to prevent further infections and were no longer infectious after taking Tamiflu treatment for 72 hours.

Dr Peters said they should be allowed to seamlessly return to their normal lives.

"There has been some comment that students have been blamed for bringing this into New Zealand. I think that would be most unfortunate," she said.

"They should not be blamed for that, in fact I think we should be thanking them and their families for cooperating with the advice they were given. . . "

"When they are released from quarantine we need to accept they are not infectious."

TOURISTS 'SHOULDN'T WORRY'

Travellers to New Zealand should not be concerned about cases of swine flu being confirmed, Prime Minister John Key said.

"I still believe it's very safe to travel to New Zealand, while there have been one or two cases reported we are getting on top of those pretty quickly."

Mr Key told reporters today the confirmation of the cases last night was expected.

He said it was good that the young people affected were recovering and said no one outside of Mexico had died of swine flu.

"We've just got to work hard now to contain it as best as we can and make sure people get treatment."

Mr Key said the cases had had a minor impact on tourism with some Japanese visitors cancelling trips here and India had a travel warning.

"But that's about it, it's important to put it in perspective. It's highly likely that most countries will have some outbreak of swine flu, New Zealand is handling it well, we've got high stocks of Tamiflu, we're taking the situation seriously but obviously it is a concern to us that there could be a side impact on tourism activities here in New Zealand."

Mr Key said some New Zealanders would also be put off travel.

He said New Zealand media had got the health message out to the public and they were well informed.

-By ANNA CHALMERS, Stuff.co.nz and NZPA

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