Public health officials in Northland and NorthTec are preparing a response to the coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed almost 3000 people worldwide.

Northland DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Catherine Jackson said public health teams in Northland had been kept abreast of what to look out for and ways to deal with people who tested positive for the virus, adding that around 80 per cent of those who contracted Covid-19 would suffer no more than a mild to moderate illness that could be managed at home.

The DHB was part of a regional response team that was preparing for the possibility of cases in Northland, however.

"Frontline health care staff in primary care, accident and medical clinics, ambulance services and hospital emergency departments know what to look for, who to test and how to test them, and what equipment they need to reduce the risk of the infection being passed to others," she said.


As with measles, anyone who was suspected of having Covid-19, and was well enough to stay at home, would be isolated there until test results became available. Those who needed to be hospitalised would be cared for in isolation there.

"As we see with measles and influenza, some people with Covid-19 will be seriously unwell, and will need to be admitted to intensive care," Dr Jackson said.

The vitus could cause a variety of respiratory problems, ranging from a mild illness like the common cold through to severe pneumonia.

Meanwhile NorthTec was on Alert Status, as per its international office pandemic/epidemic response plan, and had established an Incident Management Group to deal with cases if they arose. The polytechnic's health centre nurse had publicised guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health, and correspondence had been sent to all students, staff and homestay providers, who were being updated every two days.

Like all educational institutions in New Zealand, it was directed by government actions. If/when students were able to enter the country it would be under strict government guidance, and actions would be implemented as directed.

Sixty-four Chinese students, mostly from Guangdong Province, were due to return to classes at NorthTec two weeks ago but had not been able to enter New Zealand. Last week Health Minister Dr David Clark announced the Government's decision not to allow exemptions for students from China to enter the country.

Despite the first confirmed case in Auckland, the Government continues to say the likelihood of community outbreak in New Zealand remains low, although more isolated cases were expected. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's advice last week was for people to go about their daily lives, and to contact health officers if they had any concerns.

Whang─ürei mayor Sheryl Mai said her council was monitoring the situation closely.


"Despite the water shortage, we want to reinforce the need to wash hands, and we urge people to be prepared, not alarmed," she said.

"It's also very important that people turn to the right authorities for situation updates, to avoid the spread of misinformation. The Ministry of Health is posting regular updates online, along with Covid-19 fact sheets. Always follow the advice of medical professionals."

Travellers who have visited or transited through Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore or Thailand, and have developed symptoms of fever, a cough or shortness of breath, are asked to register with Healthline (phone 0800 358-5453) and to self-isolate for 14 days.

But while Covid-19 has not yet arrived in Northland, it is beginning to have an effect in the region, and not only in the tourism industry. Ed Lyman, who owns the Bay of Islands Country Lodge at Puketona Junction, catering mainly for truck drivers and sales reps, said he had seen a sharp drop in business from stock and freight trucks, much of it driven by a drop in trade with China, made worse by the drought.

Normally a drought would bring an increase in stock trucks as farmers sent animals to the works, but they were now struggling to sell their animals. Some truck drivers had told him they'd been told to take two weeks' holiday because there was no work for them.

The number of logging trucks passing his gate had also plummeted in recent weeks.