The first man in New Zealand to be infected with the coronavirus is on the mend and Jacinda Ardern says it is “unlikely” he has infected other people.
Eight passengers who sat near the man on a flight to Auckland from Iran via Bali have self-isolated themselves, with the majority of them in Auckland and two in the South Island.
The prime minister said New Zealand’s health authorities were prepared for an outbreak, and her cabinet on Monday would discuss if further travel restrictions should apply to people arriving in the country from “hotspots” such as northern Italy and South Korea.
A travel ban only applies to people travelling to New Zealand from mainland China and Iran. This has meant that 12,000 university students are unable to take up their studies, with universities set to lose tens of millions of dollars.
“We’ve been pushing health officials for advice on whether people from hotspot regions should self-isolate … we feel there is more we could be doing in that area,” Ardern told Morning Report.
“We still have some of the more comprehensive and extensive border restrictions in the world … we’ve taken a firm approach on this.”
Ardern said New Zealand had taken a precautionary position throughout the outbreak, and cabinet would be pushing for people from hotspots to self-isolate. It was unclear how this would work if they were tourists, or how self-isolations would be monitored.
“Being quite region-specific is the way to go,” Ardern said.
She said it was “reasonable” to extend the travel ban to Iran where the health system was not equivalent to New Zealand’s, and there had been cases of under-reporting of the virus.
New Zealand’s pandemic response plan was now “operational” around the country, Ardern said, and had been since mid-January. “It is a significant event but we need to add a layer of reassurance – this is a situation New Zealand is prepared for.
“Other countries that have experienced cases have contained and stopped wider community outbreak, and we have done very well to date to have the low incidence we have in this country.”
On Monday Air New Zealand slashed domestic airfares to just $9 in response to low demand for services.
At the weekend there were some reports of New Zealanders swarming supermarkets to stock up on tinned food and hand sanitiser, with some supermarkets restricting entry to stop crowding or panic.