New Zealand's coronavirus policy is a gamble that leaves airport staff in "the firing line", an Auckland airport worker says.

It comes after a taxi driver also questioned why he should be exposed to potential risks from the virus after picking up a student, who had flown out of China via Hong Kong on the weekend.

The student had been told to go into self isolation but first hailed a cab from the airport to Birkenhead on the North Shore.

"What kind of isolation is my taxi," the cab driver said.


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Yet, taxi drivers were just the last link "in a succession of potential exposures to arriving passengers" boarding aircraft and passing through Auckland's terminal, the airport worker said today.

"It has been ascertained the risk is low by the Ministry of Health," he said.

"However, the criteria by which these decisions are being made has not been made aware to staff, other than to say arriving passengers are allowed from low risk countries with good screening facilities and this is reviewed every 48 hours.

"The fact is, the policy is a potential gamble and frontliners are on the firing lines."

The coronavirus outbreak has now killed more than 800 people and infected more than 37,000 around the world. New Zealand is yet to have a confirmed case.

While passengers were having their temperatures checked on flights out of China and Hong Kong, only those who volunteered to do so were being checked in Auckland airport.

But Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Harriette Carr said an outbreak was unlikely in New Zealand.


"There is limited human-to human transmission at this stage and the likelihood of transmission from person-to-person is low to moderate and the likelihood of an ongoing outbreak is low," she said.

She said the Ministry of Health was working with other government agencies involved in the response to the virus on a daily basis.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, director general of Health, gives a coronavirus update to media at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Dean Purcell
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, director general of Health, gives a coronavirus update to media at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Dean Purcell

"We are also continuing to update and provide advice to other public facing sectors, whether that be our border agencies, tourism industry, local government or the Taxi Federation," she said.

The Auckland airport worker understood officials faced a tough choice.

"Sure, we can wear masks and gloves and have been advised to wash our hands often, but what else can they do to allay concerns of staff - ban air travel all together," he said.

"From my personal point of view, I am more at risk than younger folks, but nonetheless am willing to continue to carry out my daily duties."

These duties brought him into "reasonably close contact" with passengers arriving from Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia - all countries with known coronavirus cases.

But while cases in these countries were only small in number, he questioned whether those leaving were being exit screened for the virus properly.

Anna Cassels-Brown, Auckland Airport's general manager of operations, said the company took its responsibility to provide a safe working environment "very seriously".

"We carefully follow the border advisories from the Ministry of Health relating to best practice for our staff in light of the novel coronavirus. We have actively communicated this information to our people and continue to re-iterate these key health measures. The Ministry of Health recommendations include washing hands, practising cough etiquette and avoiding close contact with people who have acute respiratory infections," she said.

"Masks and gloves are available for any staff members who wish to wear them. This is not required under Ministry guidelines, but we recognise our people may wish to make this personal choice. We also make hand sanitiser widely available," Cassels-Brown said.