A New Zealand mother of two has tested positive for the coronavirus just days after taking three Air New Zealand flights.
The woman, aged in her thirties and living in Auckland with her partner and two teenaged children, flew into Auckland on NZ283 from Singapore on Tuesday, 25 February 2020. The passenger passed through Singapore after a holiday in Northern Italy.
Passengers who have been in Northern Italy within the last 14 days have since been blocked from entering or transiting in Singapore.
Passenger become unwell on a work trip to Palmerston North
A week later, on Monday, 2 March 2020, the passenger did a same-day return between Auckland and Palmerston North. She is reported to have become unwell that day and returned to Auckland.
After showing mild to moderate symptoms of coronavirus, the woman attended a medical center and was tested as positive for coronavirus. Her partner is also showing symptoms. The family is in self-isolation at their home in Auckland.
The New Zealand government has praised the woman and her family for “doing everything right.” Health officials have begun tracing people who may have come into contact with the passenger, including those seated near her on any of the three flights.
The passenger’s two children did not get taken to Northern Italy. However, their schools have been notified and they too are in home-isolation.
Diagnosis sparks concern from other passengers
The news has some concern from other passengers on the same flights as the lady. But Air New Zealand is calling for calm. In a statement provided by Air New Zealand, the airline’s Chief Medical Officer Doctor Ben Johnston said;
“We are working closely with the Ministry of Health to identify and proactively contact customers from these flights. This includes utilizing our own Contact Centre staff. The health and safety of passengers and crew is Air New Zealand’s top priority and our aircraft already undergo a thorough cleaning process, which includes cleaning surfaces such as tray tables and inflight entertainment screens with a disinfectant that kills viruses.
“We also remove all headsets, headrest covers, pillow covers, and blankets after every international flight. Domestic and regional services surfaces and bathrooms are wiped with disinfectant spray. The three aircraft this customer flew on will now also undergo a deep clean.”
Family attracts unwanted attention
The family has attracted mainstream media attention and unwanted criticism on social media. This, in turn, has been called out by New Zealand government officials. Auckland Regional Public Health Service director Dr William Rainger told the New Zealand Herald that;
“There is a high level of anxiety and concern in the school and wider communities, but it is not acceptable to attack people who have been caught up in this global outbreak.
“They have taken all the right actions to protect others.”
The second case of coronavirus identified in New Zealand
The female passenger is only the second case of coronavirus identified in New Zealand. The other case was confirmed late last week. That was a New Zealander who had returned to New Zealand from Iran via Bali. That person is now in hospital in Auckland.
Two other New Zealanders are undergoing treatment in Japan after picking up the virus onboard the Diamond Princess.
New Zealand currently has travel restrictions in place for passengers coming from China and Iran. Passengers coming in from South Korea and Northern Italy are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
While Air New Zealand is being praised for its swift and robust response, both it and the New Zealand government acknowledge the situation is dynamic. It is unlikely to be the last deep clean of aircraft Air New Zealand will need to do.