Queenstown's mayor Jim Boult is urging New Zealanders not to "descend to racism and xenophobia," as the Ministry of Health warns it is highly likely coronavirus will reach New Zealand's shores.

Almost 60 people have died overseas so far, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) reporting 2000 confirmed cases of the virus; 98 per cent in China.

Although no cases have been confirmed in New Zealand yet, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has warned it's only a matter of time until the first case is confirmed.

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The virus means its carrier can be asymptomatic for 14 days – meaning they can have the disease but not show symptoms for two weeks.

At this stage, Health officials are asking those coming into the country from China to self-identify and come forward if they are experiencing any symptoms.

As such, many would not have known they were infected when they arrived at the airport – this is how Australia received its first case.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay, left, respond to New Zealand's concerns around the new coronavirus. Photo / Alex Mason
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay, left, respond to New Zealand's concerns around the new coronavirus. Photo / Alex Mason

New Zealand, Bloomfield said, "may well find ourselves in a similar situation".

Today officials' screened 1057 passengers arriving at Auckland International Airport from China aboard seven separate flights.

No passengers were identified as displaying symptoms of the virus.

One more flight, from Beijing, is expected at 6.15pm, carrying 205 passengers.

It is understood none of these flights came direct from Wuhan providence – thought to be ground zero for the outbreak.

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Boult said given there were three suspected cases of coronavirus in Rotorua, his council would activate an emergency management scenario if needed.

In the meantime, he said he had been advised of some anti-visitor sentiment as a result of the outbreak.

"It is understandable to have concerns about this unfolding health issue but it will never be acceptable to descend to racism and xenophobia," he said in a statement.

"We must all unite to demonstrate zero tolerance in regard to any such behaviour and to stand up and call it out. In this country, such behaviour is a criminal offence."

Although the Ministry of Health is expecting New Zealand to be hit by the outbreak, Bloomfield downplayed its significance.

It is highly unlikely to be fatal, he confirmed, as based on the information so far the mortality rate is roughly 2 or 3 per cent.

Bloomfield also said it was unlikely there would be a major outbreak in New Zealand and that at most, two or three people might contract the disease.

WHO advises that each person with coronavirus would infect roughly two or three other people.

To put that in perspective, that number is 14 for measles.

"So it's a much lower infection rate and a relatively low mortality rate."

Nevertheless, Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was preparing New Zealand's hospitals and ICUs in case there is a bigger than expected outbreak.

That preparation has already begun – the National Health Co-ordination Centre will be in full operation tomorrow.

Also tomorrow, Cabinet will decide if it would make coronavirus a "notifiable disease".

Putting it in this category means medical officers would have the legal power to quarantine infected people, if they saw fit.

"Most people do come forward," Director of Public Health, Caroline McElnay said during a media stand up this afternoon.

National's health spokesman Michael Woodhouse is calling for the Government to significantly step up its efforts to prevent the deadly coronavirus taking hold in New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National's health spokesman Michael Woodhouse is calling for the Government to significantly step up its efforts to prevent the deadly coronavirus taking hold in New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"But there may be an occasional situation where the risk to the public is greater [and those] powers have to be used."

However, according to Bloomfield, a situation where someone would be forcibly quarantined would be "very, very unusual".

Other diseases which are classed as notifiable include: Hepatitis A, Typhoid and paratyphoid fever and Salmonellosis.

The Opposition has been critical of the Government's response to the outbreak, saying more needed to be done at airports.

National's health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said customs officials needed more power to probe travellers' health.

Act Leader David Seymour went as far as saying the Government should consider baring all Chinese flights from coming to New Zealand.

But Bloomfield said WHO is advising against that, at this stage.

Further measures at the border, such as the compulsory screening of all passengers from China and Australia, are being assessed by the Government.

But Bloomfield said the border presence needed to be "proportionate".

The last time New Zealand had specific border screening was in 2009 during the outbreak of swine flu.