Authorities need to prepare for the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak reaching New Zealand, say two top experts who warn our country likely won't stay free of the disease for long.
While there have been no confirmed here yet, the researchers have said the likelihood of maintaining that status was "low" – and now was the time to be preparing for an "anticipated upsurge" in the community and increased pneumonia hospitalisations.
The call by Otago University infectious disease expert Professor David Murdoch, and his fellow director at the collaborative One Health Aotearoa, Massey University's Distinguished Professor Nigel French, came in an editorial published in today's NZ Medical Journal.
Public health units, primary care and hospitals were getting prepared, and testing for the new coronavirus has already been established in several diagnostic laboratories.
But Murdoch said it would only in the aftermath of an outbreak that we'd know how successful these efforts had been.
He said the country's working strategy – the recently-updated NZ Influenza Pandemic Action Plan – carried many principles that should apply to the current epidemic, which has so far involved nearly 76,000 cases and more than 2100 deaths worldwide.
"There is also a chance that transmission of Covid-19 may coincide with our next seasonal epidemic of influenza, creating additional pressure on the health system."
New Zealand had an added pressure as a gateway to many small South Pacific nations with less ability to deal with a pandemic.
Based on available information, Covid-19 was a disease that ranges clinically from a mild respiratory syndrome to life-threatening pneumonia, affecting both lungs, with severe disease associated with increasing age and other existing conditions, he said.
Latest case fatality rate estimates for were about 2 per cent - more than in the influenza H1N1 2009 pandemic (less than 1 per cent), but less than Sars (10 per cent) and Mers (40 per cent).
The transmissibility of Covid-19 was similar to influenza, but much less than measles.
There had been little information about the impact in children, raising questions about whether severe disease is less common in this age group, he said.
"Understanding the complex systems that drive the spread of such disease is essential for informing strategies to tackle emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases," he said.
"This usually requires responses from multiple disciplines and an awareness of what is happening globally.
"Consequently, professionals and researchers from a wide range of disciplines must work together and with communities to prevent and control infectious disease impacts through actions at all levels."