NZ has 'huge responsibility' to protect Pacific from new virus

17:11 pm on 22 January 2020

New Zealand has a responsibility to protect the Pacific from the possible spread of a new coronavirus, says an epidemiologist.

Passengers wearing mask walk at quarantine inspection during the time when a flight arrived from Wuhan at Kansai International Airport in Osaka. Photo: AFP

The death toll from the coronavirus sweeping through China has doubled to six and more than 300 people are confirmed to have the illness, which began in Wuhan.

Health authorities say the current risk to New Zealand is low.

Michael Baker Photo: Supplied

However, Otago University's Michael Baker said the virus had already spread to several other countries, and monitoring and preparation had to be stepped up.

The recent spread of measles to the Pacific showed the obligation New Zealand had.

"You can have a requirement that people do not leave on flights from New Zealand to Pacific Islands if they have respiratory illnesses that could be coronavirus, say, or in the past it could have been measles.

"So, I think we have a huge responsibility to not export this disease to the Pacific."

In Samoa, where a measles epidemic has claimed the lives of 83 people, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has told Parliament that the health ministry had plans to counter coronavirus, should it reach Samoa.