A Chinese student is believed to be in isolation in Auckland City Hospital after undergoing tests for possible coronavirus.

The revelation comes as the Government prepares to evacuate Kiwis at the epicentre of the crisis in China. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said they would be quarantined in New Zealand, not on Christmas Island like Australians evacuees.

"We are looking at the quarantine options within New Zealand already, we are working on that," Peters said. He said the government would be able to provide information on where when it had made a choice.

There are 53 New Zealanders registered as being in Wuhan and Peters said extracting them was a complex issue. The criteria for getting on an evacuation flight were still being worked out.

Advertisement

A student accommodation provider, who asked not to be named, said the male student was coughing when he arrived at his accommodation on Tuesday from Hubei Province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus epidemic.

The accommodation provider sent him to the hospital, which is understood to have to have taken tissue swabs that have been sent to Australia for analysis.

"He is in isolation right now at Auckland Hospital."

Public health authorities said they would not comment on individual cases, but that there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Zealand.

Dr Caroline McElnay, director of public health at the Ministry of Health, said there weren't any cases that have "met the definition of a suspected case" but did not directly comment on whether anyone was in isolation.

SEE BELOW FOR THE DEFINITION OF A SUSPECTED CASE

Four people have also been tested for the virus at Rotorua Hospital. Lakes District Health Board said that "while they were found to have no symptoms that would indicate infection with the virus, a range of tests were taken for processing".

Four people have been tested for coronavirus at Rotorua Hospital. Photo / File
Four people have been tested for coronavirus at Rotorua Hospital. Photo / File

The accommodation provider said an ADHB nurse emailed him on Wednesday asking him to accommodate the student until his test results were analysed.

He refused because of concern for other students in the building.

Advertisement

"It may be two weeks till we get the tests back, and they are asking me if I will house him. I have hundreds of students in the building right now," he said.

"I can lock them up in an apartment, but who is going to feed the kid? Who is going to make sure he's still alive?"

The provider said he was asking all his students to fill in "profiling" questionnaires and have their temperature taken. The Hubei student's temperature was normal.

"But he was coughing. He's from Hubei. He is from the epicentre of this virus," the provider said.

"So we sent him to the hospital right away. That's what people should be doing at the airport."

Dr William Rainger, director of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, said New Zealand was taking a cautious approach and a number of unwell people were being assessed even if they were not "suspected cases".

Advertisement
Dr William Rainger, Auckland Regional Public Health Service director, says a person may be isolated in hospital if there is no appropriate place to isolate them pending test results. Photo / File
Dr William Rainger, Auckland Regional Public Health Service director, says a person may be isolated in hospital if there is no appropriate place to isolate them pending test results. Photo / File

"Although we can't comment on the specifics of an individual patient, we want to reassure the public that robust public health processes are in place to protect our community and to support people who are in isolation at home or in other accommodation."

Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation guidelines - which ARPHS follows - state that people who aren't ill enough to require hospitalisation should go into isolation in the community, whether at home or other appropriate accommodation, Rainger said.

ARPHS would assess whether the accommodation was appropriate, such as whether help could be arranged with shopping to avoid the person going out.

"We do not ask whether someone can be accommodated in student accommodation unless this assessment has been completed and proper arrangements are in place.

"If no suitable accommodation is available, then other arrangements are made, which can include keeping the person in isolation in a hospital until we receive test results."

National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye said she was concerned about the lack of alternative accommodation for students from overseas and had raised this with ministers.

Advertisement
Nikki Kaye is concerned about
Nikki Kaye is concerned about "the lack of alternative accommodation or isolation facilities" for people with suspected coronavirus. Photo / Dean Purcell

"I am very concerned about the lack of alternative accommodation or isolation facilities where host families or tertiary providers [who] do not wish to provide accommodation or it's not appropriate while they are waiting for the 14-day period or testing," she said.

"I am also very concerned at a report where a student has showed symptoms of being unwell and they have testing being sent to Australia. As I understand it, health officials asked whether they can be housed in student accommodation while test results are returned.

"In my view this is not appropriate given the close proximity of students. There urgently need to be isolation beds or alternative safe accommodation with appropriate processes to mitigate risk. I have elevated this to ministers."

Meanwhile at least three students from Hubei's capital city Wuhan, where the epidemic is believed to have started in a wildlife market, have returned to New Zealand this month.

Two students from Wuhan are staying with homestay families before returning to classes from next week at Auckland Grammar School (above). Photo / File
Two students from Wuhan are staying with homestay families before returning to classes from next week at Auckland Grammar School (above). Photo / File

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor said two of his students from Wuhan were staying with homestay families. They have been asked not to attend school until 14 days after they arrived back in New Zealand, and "will begin returning to school next week".

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves said one of his two students who were reported to be stuck in Wuhan last week has now arrived in Auckland and is also staying with a homestay family.

Advertisement

READ MORE:
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know
Coronavirus: New Zealand and Australia to evacuate citizens
First cases of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus outside of China
Mystery lab next to coronavirus epicentre

McElnay said the likelihood of a case turning up here is high but the ministry was well prepared and the risk of an ongoing outbreak in New Zealand was low.

"The Ministry of Health is taking this international outbreak extremely seriously. DHBs and public health units are on high alert for people presenting with symptoms of this disease, with a relevant travel history.

"The ministry is in close contact with DHBs and other agencies and we have robust processes in place for formally identifying and confirming cases of novel coronavirus.

McElnay said there was understandably a lot of concern about the illness.

"New Zealand is taking a precautionary approach and DHBs are beginning to respond to requests for assessments of unwell people. To date no one has met the definition of a suspected case.

Advertisement

"The ministry is committed to providing advice and information to the public as soon as possible, if a case is confirmed here."

WHAT IS A "SUSPECTED CASE" OF 2019 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS?

The Ministry of Health defines a suspected case as a person who:

• Has a severe acute respiratory infection (ie infection with a history of fever or measured fever of at least 38C, as well as a cough, with onset in the last 10 days, who requires hospitalisation and has been to a place with a sustained outbreak in the 14 days prior to symptom onset;

OR

• A person who has been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus while that person had symptoms, and develops acute respiratory illness of any severity within 14 days of contact.

Advertisement