Most of the New Zealand face masks used to protect people from catching coronavirus are manufactured in Whanganui.
Whanganui District Council's infrastructure, climate change and emergency management committee this week heard from the council's emergency manager Tim Crowe, who has been discussing how to handle the virus with Whanganui District Health Board.
He said the "vast majority" of face masks in New Zealand are manufactured in Whanganui. The business involved is Quality Safety International (QSi) in Pacific Place and its website carries a red alert to customers.
It says stocks of procedural and surgical masks are nearly out, and the company is working hard to source more.
QSi general manager Paula Goudie was away from the office and unavailable to provide more information when the Chronicle contacted the company this week.
Whanganui people have been buying the masks in local pharmacies and reselling them overseas, where there are shortages, Crowe said.
New Zealand has 18 million of the masks in reserve, RNZ has reported. Some are especially thick and filter out 95 per cent of the airborne particles that carry the virus.
• Quality Safety (QSi) supporting Brain Injury Whanganui through sales of industrial hard hats
• Family business takes out top award
• Safety gear supplier turns to deer hobby
• Blind Finch of Ohakune supreme winners at business awards
Each mask has limited use, Crowe said, and they may not be completely effective. They are best worn only by people who know they are sick, or people who are very vulnerable to infection.
Coronavirus, or the 2019 version named Covid-19, is a flu-like disease. Its symptoms are fever, coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing.
Preparing for the coronavirus makes good business sense
The verdict? NZ through the eyes of a US visitor
Coronavirus: No alarm about international students
It is spread by the flying droplets produced when a sick person coughs or sneezes.
What is less certain is how it is incubated, Crowe said. It has moved from China to Italy, Iran and South Korea.
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall has been getting panicked emails about it, with one person demanding that he close all Whanganui schools.
"As elected officials, we need to temper any hair-trigger reaction," he said.
Crowe gets updates on the disease twice a day. Plans to tackle it are based on those used in the 1918 flu epidemic, he said, and Australian plans are similar to those in New Zealand.
In this country, the Ministry of Health will be the lead agency.
• Coronavirus: China's new problem as cases confirmed on almost every continent
• Coronavirus: Finance Minister Grant Robertson - NZ in shadow of the biggest economic uncertainty in recent times
• Coronavirus: Covid-19 outbreak worsens with 45 countries confirming virus infections
• Scott Morrison tells Australians to prepare for coronavirus 'pandemic'
The best prevention will be for people coughing and sneezing to cover their noses and mouths with tissues or clothing to prevent the spread of droplets.
People who are not infected need to stay a metre away from those who are sick, and to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water, drying them after washing.
It is also recommended that as many vulnerable people as possible get flu vaccinations this year, in case the arrival of Covid-19 coincides with the flu season.