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MoH Keeps Watch As Sars Cases Continue Overseas

Ministry Keeps Watch As Sars Cases Continue Overseas

THE Ministry of Health is continuing its vigilance against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, as the number of cases overseas continues to increase.

Director of Public Health, Dr Colin Tukuitonga said while no cases had been reported in New Zealand, the risk that a traveller could bring the syndrome into the country remained a significant threat.

The latest World Health Organisation update on March 27 reported 1408 cases, and 53 deaths. This was up from 1323 cases and 49 deaths reported as of March 26.

"It is extremely concerning to see the number of cases continue to climb, and we remain on high alert in New Zealand. The Ministry had a telephone conference this morning with representatives from the World Health Organization, Communicable Disease Network of Australia, National Pandemic Planning Committee, Medical Officers of Health, and viral illness expert networks.

"This review of the situation overseas and in New Zealand confirmed that our approach at this stage is appropriate. We will review it again on Monday morning, unless a development occurs over the weekend to bring that reanalysis forward."

Dr Tukuitonga said the World Health Organization was now recommending that airport authorities in infected countries screen all departing passengers. WHO has recommended that the authorities should ask the following questions: · Whether passengers had had contact with severe acute respiratory syndrome · Whether passengers had any of the symptoms, including a high fever and dry cough · Whether any family member had had contact with the disease.

"This enhanced screening of departing passengers from infected countries should help protect our country from the disease. However, we cannot and are not relying on this. Airlines travelling to New Zealand will continue to be vigilant for signs of the symptoms, and we are updating and increasing the amount of information available to the public.

"Airports are being sent more posters and pamphlets to give to all arriving international passengers. Posters will also be distributed next week to other public places likely to be frequented by overseas visitors," Dr Tukuitonga said.

"I would like to stress that there is no need for the New Zealand public to be alarmed. However, we do need to be alert," he said.

The SARS webpage (www.moh.govt.nz/sars) and freephone 0800 0800 80 will continue to provide the latest information to New Zealanders seeking advice.

Overseas updates include:

Hong Kong ? About 100 schools are now closed.

Philippines ? Travellers from affected areas are being voluntarily quarantined for one week

Canada ? Ontario has declared a health emergency and some schools have been closed.

Singapore ? Reported cases and close contacts are being home quarantined, affecting 840 people.

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