4 May 2009

Six confirmed cases of swine flu in NZ

8:22 pm on 4 May 2009

New Zealand now has six confirmed cases of swine flu and 11 probable cases.

The number of confirmed cases is up two, according to the latest Ministry of Health update issued on Monday.

The number of suspected cases is down from 89 to 69, while the number in isolation is down by 25 to 335. They are being treated with Tamiflu.

The latest case is an Auckland student who travelled on Flight NZ1 from Los Angeles with four students from Rangitoto College, who also had the virus, also known as H1N1.

The student has already recovered after treatment with Tamiflu and is out of quarantine - but had not been confirmed until now.

Earlier on Monday, the first case of swine flu was confirmed in Hawke's Bay among a school group from Lindisfarne College that had been touring California.

Two students among a group of 46 students and six staff, who returned to New Zealand on 28 April, had been considered probable cases.

The test of the Lindisfarne College student is the first to have been confirmed in New Zealand at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research in Wellington. ESR is still studying the second Hawke's Bay case.

The latest suspected case of the virus is that of an Auckland woman who travelled on flight NZ7 from San Francisco on Tuesday. She was identified on Sunday as probably having swine flu and health authorities are trying to trace passengers who sat near her.

Meanwhile, a New Zealander under observation at a hospital in Malaysia has also been cleared of swine flu. The 45-year old man, who is married to a Malaysian, arrived in the country on 25 April.

No sign of virus spreading in NZ - officials

There have been no signs of swine flu spreading within New Zealand, according to health officials.

Deputy director of public health Darren Hunt says the confirmed and suspected cases have either contracted the flu overseas or been in close contact with those who have.

Dr Hunt told Morning Report a lot of effort is being put into ensuring there is no community transmission of swine flu, especially going into the winter flu season, and none has been seen yet.

Prime Minister John Key on Monday defended the speed with which authorities reacted to the swine flu outbreak.

There has been criticism that because New Zealand was one of the first countries to confirm cases of the disease, it had a disproportionate amount of international media coverage.

However, Mr Key says he does not think the country acted any more rapidly than it should have.

Airport measures stepped up

Health authorities dealing with swine flu are stepping up their efforts to gather information from international passengers arriving New Zealand airports.

Auckland International Airport, where planes from the United States land, had been the focus of public health efforts.

Passengers arriving on flights from North America had been asked to provide extra details, such as contact telephone numbers.

Now, international passengers arriving in Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown also have to fill out forms to say where they can be contacted in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health says it is a precaution in case it is discovered that the disease has taken hold in other countries after the flights have arrived. It says passengers can then be contacted much quicker.

New Zealand authorities will screen all passengers who are flying out of the country to Niue for influenza-type symptoms, at the request of the island's government.

Mr Ryall says public health staff at Auckland International Airport will monitor the 110 or so passengers who catch the weekly flight to Niue. He says Niue's request follows a recent outbreak of influenza on the island.

'Minimal effect' on tourism

Tourism officials say the swine flu outbreak in New Zealand has had a minimal effect on the travel industry so far.

Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand say their $5 million campaign to attract Australians during the winter months has not been damaged.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton says Australians are still booking holidays and numbers from the United Kingdom and United States are holding up.

Mr Hickton says some school groups from Japan and China are the only ones showing signs of reluctance to travel to New Zealand.

But Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe says the country's reputation has been damaged by swine flu.

Mr Fyfe says New Zealand had a disproportionate amount of coverage on international news channels, because it was among the first countries after Mexico to confirm cases of the disease.

He told TVNZ's Q+A programme that will have damaged New Zealand's reputation as a tourist destination.

"I think bringing awareness of the fact that this was moving around the globe was very important," he said. "I'm just not sure we had to be the poster child for swine flu moving around the world."