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SARS - one month later

SARS - one month later

A MONTH after New Zealand was first alerted to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome it's appropriate to look back on how far we've come, to thank all those who have helped us get where we are and to keep building our readiness and responsiveness, the Ministry of Health says.

"Sunday four weeks ago was the confirmation of growing speculation about a mystery illness in the south of China," Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga said today.

"The phones went mad."

"Since then we've learned a lot more about the nature of SARS, and covered a lot of ground in our efforts to protect New Zealanders from the worst of it."

"I think we were extremely fortunate in the early days of having a base to work from - the national pandemic plan which came about as the result of Operation Virex last year.

"We've also lucky in having a committed and capable workforce, both in public health units around the country who were the first line of defence and preparedness, and in the rest of the health sector. Thanks to all of them, to our own staff, and to the many other agencies and organisation with whom we are working we have refined and added to the plan and are now, I believe, as well-prepared as anywhere to deal with SARS."

Dr Tukuitonga said making SARS a notifiable disease had been a crucial step in equipping New Zealand to respond to SARS. "We were the first Western country to do so but others have now followed suit.

"In the last month we have developed and distributed information and advice to a range of health sector groups - such as nurses, Emergency Departments in hospitals, infection control specialists, general practitioners, laboratories; airlines, airport authorities, border control authorities, educational organisations, the travel industry - and this is not an all-inclusive list. We've also dealt with queries and concerns from a large number of individual New Zealanders and organisations - often through 0800 080 080 and our webpage but also in a very large volume of phone calls and emails.

"In many cases we've now gone to round two, updating our advice to many of those groups as we receive new information from the World Health Organisation and other sources.Travel advice regarding non-essential travel to the worst-affected places is continually being updated.'

"It's important to realise that because this is a new illness we're all learning all the time. Very early on we made a commitment to share whatever information we had with New Zealanders so that they could make well-informed decisions about, for example, personal travel.

"That commitment remains."

"I believe the combination of a well-informed public and a well-prepared health sector gives us the best chance of dealing with SARS .We cannot afford to become complacent."

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