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SARS Nursing Presence at Int Airports Winds Down

SARS nursing presence at international airports to wind down

REGISTERED nurses are to withdraw from New Zealand's international airports as the international threat of SARS recedes.

"Having a nursing presence at the airports has been invaluable in helping us keep SARS out of New Zealand. The health sector and border agencies have made a tremendous effort over the last four months to help protect our borders from SARS," says Dr Frances Hughes, Ministry of Health Chief Nursing Advisor.

"In particular, Medical Officers of Health have played a huge role in our border efforts and should be thanked. Nurses worked closely with Medical Officers of Health, who helped develop the processes and protocols for airports. Their combined medical and nursing expertise, and commitment over the last few months, has been superb. That appreciation is certainly felt within the Ministry, and the Director-General of Health will be writing to thank them for their efforts," says Dr Hughes.

"As things stand globally, the risk of contacting SARS is now very low. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that all known chains of person-to-person transmission of SARS virus have now been broken, and we no longer advise against travel to any countries. Those countries that were most affected are continuing with their departure screening measures, so the risk of someone with SARS coming into New Zealand is now minimal."

Nurses were first stationed at our major airports in April, and progressively deployed to all seven of New Zealand's international airports where they have been providing frontline advice and support as required. The withdrawal of nurses begins this week, to be completed by the end of this month.

"When SARS was at its peak nurses based at Auckland International Airport were the busiest for enquries and referrals," says Dr Hughes. "However, enquiries and referrals at all airports have reduced and are expected to decrease further now that there are no listed SARS affected countries.

The amended New Zealand Passenger Arrival Card, which includes a health declaration with SARS information and SARS related questions, will remain in place until December or next January. If a passenger or crew member flags their risk of SARS, then Customs officers will provide information or manage the referral to health services.

Dr Hughes says there remains a need for vigilance, albeit not at the same levels as in the past few months, and the Ministry is developing a checklist and protocols to ensure registered nurses can be reinstated at international airports within 48-hours notice if SARS re-emerges.

"I cannot thank enough the nurses and Medical Officers of Health who have contributed so much to New Zealand's SARS response - their efforts have been exemplary."

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