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Ministry to scale back its SARS response

13 August 2003

Media Release

Ministry to scale back its SARS response

The Ministry of Health is scaling back its response to SARS to reflect the low level of international risk, but will continue to maintain vigilance.

There are now no SARS-affected countries, and all known chains of person-to-person transmission of SARS have been broken. To that end, the Ministry is scaling back measures regarding travel, health, and border protection. These are:

* As of July 31, nurses have been withdrawn from New Zealand's international airports. The New Zealand Passenger Arrival Card, which includes health information and SARS information and SARS-related questions remain in place. If a passenger or crew member flags their risk of SARS, then New Zealand Customs officers will provide information or manage the referral to health services.

* Since July 11, the Ministry has no longer advised against travel to any country. However, a return of SARS overseas cannot be ruled out and health professionals and travellers should remain vigilant. This means being alert for exotic infections, and health professionals should continue to take travel history as part of assessment, particularly if a patient presents with fever, respiratory symptoms, and diarrhoea.

* The Ministry now no longer advises against visiting, attending or working in a hospital if a person comes from a former SARS-affected area. Other previous recommended restrictions on elective surgery, elective medical visits, non-urgent dental work and blood donation also no longer apply.

* Recorded information on SARS will continue on the Ministry's 0800 number until August 29.

Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga says SARS is currently no longer considered a significant risk to the health of New Zealanders, but there remains a chance that SARS could re-emerge overseas. If there is another outbreak, the Ministry's SARS response can be quickly reinstated.

Dr Tukuitonga says the health sector and border agencies have shown tremendous commitment and cooperation over the last five months in response to SARS.

"I cannot thank enough the people, organisations and agencies that helped protect New Zealand from SARS. The pressure was on when SARS was at its peak internationally, and so I truly commend the efforts made to work with the Ministry to protect the country's health."

ENDS

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