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New Zealand must prepare for deadly disease

New Zealand must prepare for deadly disease

National's Health spokesperson Dr Lynda Scott says she is seriously concerned at New Zealand's lack of preparedness in dealing with the SARS illness sweeping the world.

"For a start, we need some form of screening procedure. It's not good enough to just rely on passengers self-reporting when seriously ill. There is a need for a more proactive approach.

"New Zealand's public hospitals are already under major stress and there are concerns over how they would cope with an influx of critically ill patients. If this happens we would need isolation care and possibly a specialised hospital unit.

"The comments from top officials are not encouraging so far. Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga is reported as saying the risk to New Zealand is not high. Yet the highest risk is from Asia, and two cases have just been reported in Melbourne, right on our doorstep.

"The WHO is calling this illness 'a worldwide health threat.' As yet there is no antibiotic treatment or vaccine, and people have died despite being on life support. Downplaying this disease could literally be a fatal mistake.

"Scientists around the world are baffled and still don't know what is causing this deadly illness. Even the Prime Minister says that it could be as deadly as the 1918 flu epidemic which killed 20 million people.

"Until we know more every precaution should be taken to protect New Zealanders," said Dr Scott.

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