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Keeping New Zealand safe from SARS

Keeping New Zealand safe from SARS

PEOPLE arriving in New Zealand will be required to provide details on their travel history and health from late May as health and border control authorities step up their SARS preparedness.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that our best chance of protecting New Zealanders from SARS lies in keeping it out," SARS Clinical Director Dr Douglas Lush said.

"By the end of the month we will have in place a series of measures which collectively help us to do that."

The new move sees the standard arrival card replaced by an updated version incorporating a statutory health declaration. Incoming passengers on all international flights will have to answer questions about their travel history and health which flag their risk of SARS.

"New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to implement a statutory declaration scheme for SARS in this way," John Secker, New Zealand Customs Service's National Manager, Air and Marine said today.

"It's taken a lot of work to get here but we're committed to increasing our vigilance and hence our ability to protect New Zealanders from this illness."

Poster size translations in a number of languages will be displayed in the arrival hall at Auckland International Airport - arrival point for 70 per cent of international visitors. At other airports Customs staff will have translations on hand.

Passengers whose declaration suggests they could be at risk of developing SARS will be detected at the immigration desk and will then be taken by a Customs official to the nursing station. There a Registered Nurse will ask further questions and assess their level of risk.

The nurse will then direct the passenger back to complete normal entry procedures or, in the unlikely event she thinks they could develop SARS, isolate them and arrange transfer to hospital.

"Bear in mind that it is most unlikely that either the border control staff or the nurses will be seeing seriously ill passengers," Dr Lush said.

"This is because of measures already in place: airports in the worst-affected countries screen for SARS exposure and symptoms and prevent these people departing, plus we already have in place a protocol by which captains radio ahead if they have a seriously ill passenger on board, and that triggers processes to get them to hospital."

Dr Lush said introducing the new arrival cards had been a huge exercise in logistics involving the NZ Customs Service, the NZ Immigration Service, all international airlines flying into New Zealand and airport authorities as well as the health sector.

"I must commend the commitment and co-operation of all these agencies. While protecting the health of New Zealanders is arguably not their primary responsibility they have all been prepared to work with us towards this end. All New Zealanders should feel grateful for their efforts."

Passengers can expect the new arrival cards to be distributed from midweek next week.

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