WikiLeaks cable: NZ's avian and pandemic influenza planning update

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

November 25, 2005
NZ's avian and pandemic influenza planning update

date:2005-11-25T03:34:00
source:Embassy Wellington
origin:05WELLINGTON908
destination:This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
classification:CONFIDENTIAL
reference:05SECSTATE206992|05WELLINGTON704
?C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 WELLINGTON 000908

SIPDIS

STATE FOR OES/DR. DANIEL SINGER AND
REBECCA S. DALEY, INR FOR LESTER ...
?C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 WELLINGTON 000908

SIPDIS

STATE FOR OES/DR. DANIEL SINGER AND
REBECCA S. DALEY, INR FOR LESTER AND BRUNETTE-CHEN,
STATE FOR D (FRITZ), EAP/FO (STEPHENS),
AND EAP/ANP
NSC FOR VICTOR CHA
SECDEF FOR OSD/ISA ELIZABETH PHU
NSC FOR VICTOR CHA
PACOM FOR J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2015
TAGS: TBIO, SENV, ECON, EAGR, EAID, PREL, NZ
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND'S AVIAN AND PANDEMIC INFLUENZA
PLANNING UPDATE

REF: A. SECSTATE 206992
B. WELLINGTON 704

Classified By: Political-Economic Counselor Katherine Hadda,
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Since launching a government-wide effort in
June, the GNZ has vigorously planned for the possibility of
avian and pandemic influenza entering New Zealand. Under
the coordination of the Ministry of Health (MOH), the
Inter-sectoral Pandemic Group (IPG) of thirteen ministries
and departments in November released publicly a
comprehensive Influenza Pandemic Action Plan. In
developing its national plan, the GNZ has consulted closely
with Australia and WHO officials, and has sought to shore
up its inability to produce human vaccines by securing an
agreement with an Australia-based manufacture to provide
priority access to a vaccine once it is developed.

2. (C) Beyond the vaccine weakness, New Zealand is
well-positioned
to execute its national strategy having mature animal and
human
surveillance programs, well-implemented vaccination
administration programs, and having reviewed its legal
authorities to implement quarantine and other social
distancing measures. In October 2005, Prime Minister Helen
Clark appointed veteran minister and scientist Pete Hodgson
as Minister of Health, further signifying the high
importance of pandemic influenza and other health issues to
the GNZ. Embassy will provide a further update to this message
following consultations with GNZ expert Marlene Castle next
week.
Castle was unavailable prior to the Ref A requested response
deadline.
End Summary.

Preparedness/Communication
---------------------------
2. (C) NATIONAL PLAN: The government of New Zealand in June
initiated development of a comprehensive national plan to
respond to avian and pandemic influenza, and released the
plan publicly in early November. New Zealand is
well-positioned to implement its national strategy. New
Zealand's area of greatest weakness is that it does not
have local capacity to manufacture human vaccines. The
principal
national planning document is available through the Ministry
of
Health at http://www.moh.govt.nz/nhep. The plan is expected
to
undergo continuing revision as a "living document," and is
currently on its 14th version. Further planning documentation
regarding animals is available through Biosecurity New
Zealand at
http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz.

3. (C) RELIABLE REPORTING: There is no reason to doubt the
government's truthfulness in reporting the scope of any
disease outbreak among people or animals. New Zealand has
a mature public health surveillance system, including two
programs specifically dedicated to monitoring influenza:
(1) a general practice (GP) sentinel disease and
virological surveillance system operates annually during
the winter months recording the daily number of
consultations that fit the case definition of an
influenza-like illness and (2) an ongoing virological
surveillance is carried out by designated virology
diagnostic laboratories, and by the ESR virology
laboratory. Data collected from these laboratories is
reported nationally in the Virology Weekly Report.

4. (U) Biosecurity New Zealand, within the Ministry of
Agriculture and Forestry's (MAF), manages the Animal
Disease Surveillance program, including regular reporting of
surveillance results and auditing of services purchased
from contractors. In the last two years, almost 2,000
samples were collected from migratory waterfowl in the
vicinity of arrival locations. No bird flu or highly
pathogenic avian influenza viruses were isolated from any
of these samples, or from the less intensive sampling that
was conducted in previous years. Fifteen avian influenza
viruses have been isolated and characterized in New Zealand
over the past 15 years. All were non-pathogenic.

5. (C) Presently, public health surveillance reports for
reportable diseases in humans are published on a weekly
cycle. Reports for disease in animals are reported on a
quarterly cycle. Greater frequency of reporting of disease
among animals would contribute to greater transparency by
providing more timely and thus more relevant information.
New Zealand's national plan provides for increased animal
surveillance once the pandemic enters WHO Interpandemic
Period Phase 2.

6. (C) PRIORITY TO GOVERNMENT: Preparing for an avian flu
pandemic ranks highly among government priorities. Staff
from the External Assessments Bureau (EAB) located within
the Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, have been assigned to avian influenza threat
planning. The Director, David Kersey, has been seconded to
the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security
(ODESC) for this purpose, and currently spends only 10% of
his time at EAB. The Ministry of Health (MoH), the agency
leading intergovernmental coordination and planning through
the Intersectoral Pandemic Group (IPG), has taken a
"maximum credible event" approach to planning for avian
influenza pandemic. Under this approach MoH models assume
a pandemic wave in which 40% of the NZ population will
become ill over an eight-week period with a 2% fatality
rate (33,000 deaths in the eight-week period).

7. (C) It is difficult to conceive of the government
placing higher priority on the issue. In October, Prime
Minister Helen Clark appointed Pete Hodgson as Minister of
Health. As the only scientist among the
Labour-government's members, Hodgson is well-regarded for
his management capability and subject-matter expertise.
During the last term of government, Hodgson had ministerial
responsibility for energy, fisheries, research &
technology, and the Crown Research Institutes, and was the
government's resident expert on climate change.

8. (C) KEY CONTACT: The Embassy's principal liaison with the
government of New Zealand on avian flu issues is Marlene
Castle,
External Assessments Bureau (EAB). EAB is located in the
Prime
Minister's office and is responsible for monitoring and
analyzing world events for the PM and Cabinet officials.
Castle is a chemical and biological weapons expert and has
been following the avian flu epidemic for the last two
years. She is also heavily involved in GNZ's contingency
planning should a pandemic strike here, and regularly
briefs the Prime Minister on the disease's trajectory.

9. (U) REVIEW OF LAWS: As part of the Influenza Pandemic
Action Plan, the GNZ is assessing the legal authorities
applicable to its planned actions in response to each of
the WHO-designated pandemic phases. Much of the specific
legal authority it cited within the plan, and will be
updated during subsequent plan versions.

10. (C) MULTILATERAL COOPERATION: New Zealand is working
closely with the World Health Organization and the
government of Australia. Castle indicates that GNZ
officials have nearly "constant touch" with WHO and
Australian officials. The government has recognized that
New Zealand does not have the capacity to manufacture human
vaccines, and has thus secured an agreement with an
Australia-based manufacturer to get priority access to
vaccines in the event of a future influenza pandemic.
During an actual pandemic, particularly if the agreed
supplier is incapable of supplying a vaccine, the
government may seek assistance from Australia, the US or
other countries for vaccine assistance.

11. (U) ANNUAL FLU VACCINES: New Zealand has a mature
program for administering annual influenza vaccines, but
does not have the local capacity to manufacture human
vaccines. Instead annual influenza vaccines are purchased
from vendors in Australia, who formulate the vaccine with
input from the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and
South Africa and the World Health Organization. The
vaccines are formulated for the Southern hemisphere winter
and the flu season from April to September.

12. (C) PUBLIC INFORMATION: The planning group has begun
to implement a public education campaign, including
significant
information now available on the Ministry of Health website
cited paragraph 1 of this cable. Other ministries
and departments have begun publishing information on websites
including Biosecurity New Zealand and the Ministry for
Economic
Development. Other steps are being considered, including
pamphlets. Information on whom to contact in case of a
pandemic
are now included in a prominent place in New Zealand phone
directories. The aim of GNZ's outreach efforts is to educate
without inducing panic. Local media has provided frequent
coverage of avian influenza both globally and locally, and
even in rural areas the public is well-informed although
probably poorly prepared with provisional supplies and coping
strategies.

Surveillance/Detection
----------------------
13. (C) CAPABILITY TO DETECT AND SUBTYPE: New Zealand
surveillance systems can effectively isolate and detect new
strains of influenza both among people and animals, and New
Zealand should be able to properly diagnose cases in short
order. There is a relatively low level of endemic disease
among animal species. Influenza viruses can be subtyped in
country, principally by the government owned entity
Institute for Environmental Science and Research Limited,
as demonstrated during the 2004 flu season. During 2004,
an influenza A substrain was first isolated in New Zealand;
the virus was later determined to have originated in
Southern China. The strain will be formulated into the
2005 seasonal flu vaccine.

14. (C) CRITICAL GAPS: New Zealand's greatest weakness
appears to be its local inability to manufacture human
vaccines.


Response/Containment
--------------------
15. (C) STOCKPILES: The Government of New Zealand has
acquired 855,000 doses of the antiviral oseltamivir
(Tamiflu), sufficient to treat 21% of the population. MOH
has further recognized the need for District Health Boards
(DHBs) to consider the need to build their own supplies of
anti-viral drugs, over above the levels held in the
national stockpile.

16. (U) CULLING AND OTHER ANIMAL MEASURES: MAF has
authority under the Biosecurity Act of 1993 to respond to
organism incursions through control or eradication.
Biosecurity New Zealand, a component of MAF, has included
eradication/culling within it planning framework.

17. (SBU) QUARANTINE AND SOCIAL DISTANCING: Given the
short-run lack of a vaccine and limited antiviral supplies,
quarantine and social distancing measures are the principal
means considered by the government for a future pandemic
virus that enters New Zealand. These measures include:
recommending that sick people stay home; advising the
public against unnecessary travel; utilizing the powers of
medical officers of health to cancel public events; closing
child care facilities, schools and tertiary education
institutions; removal and detention for individuals
suspected of infection with avian influenza; compulsory
treatment; authority to use other areas as a hospital or
place of isolation; and use of police and defense forces to
isolate infected areas and prevent travel to uninfected
islands.

McCormick

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