The bird flu outbreak in China appears to be slowing and person-to-person transmission of the virus is growing more unlikely, Health Minister Tony Ryall says.

Since February, 132 confirmed cases and 37 deaths have been reported in China, but only one new case was reported since May 8.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not found evidence of human-to-human transmission, and has not advised travel restrictions or border screening.

Mr Ryall said New Zealand could test for the virus, and had pandemic plans which could be activated quickly if the advice changed.


Mr Ryall said Director General of Health Kevin Woods had attended a briefing from the WHO and the Chinese Health Minister at the World Health Assembly in Geneva recently.

"Dr Woods has advised me the avian influenza outbreak in China appears to have been contained but continuing vigilance is necessary as the virus can cause serious respiratory illness. The virus is thought to have occurred as a result of exposure to infected poultry," Mr Ryall said.

Authorities are also monitoring a new strain of coronavirus - the same type of virus which caused the SARS outbreak - which has resulted in 30 deaths in nine countries.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus has been identified in France, Tunisia, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and United Kingdom.

Mr Ryall said sustained person-to-person transmission had not occurred, but there was a need for close monitoring.