Ensuring New Zealand is prepared for EbolaHealth
Public health officers are being given additional powers to hold aeroplanes and ships at the border if there is a sufficient concern that a person on board is infected with the Ebola virus, says Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew.
“The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the worst outbreak of this disease on record, leading to the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” says Mrs Goodhew.
“Although the risk of Ebola reaching New Zealand is extremely low, it is an appropriate time to review preparedness for this potential public health threat, including legislative arrangements.
“WHO has also advised all countries to take precautions to prevent and minimise the potential risk to public health.”
Viral haemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola, are already listed as ‘notifiable diseases’ under the Health Act, meaning that medical practitioners must report suspected or confirmed cases.
Cabinet has decided that ‘viral haemorrhagic fevers capable of being transmitted between human beings’ will now also be listed as a quarantinable infectious disease.
The quarantine provisions require public health officers to clear all aeroplanes and ships entering New Zealand before people can disembark. Such health clearance is usually routine, but captains or masters of craft must inform border health officials of any sickness on board. This enables public health officers to investigate and manage any cases of illness on board.
The Ministry of Health is already working closely with health and border agencies to ensure appropriate preparedness and screening for Ebola.
“Cabinet’s decision, which is expected to come into force by the end of the month is a further precautionary measure to reduce the threat of this potentially significant disease to the New Zealand public,” says Mrs Goodhew.
“The Health (Protection) Amendment Bill I recently introduced to Parliament would provide another layer of protection to the public of New Zealand by empowering health authorities with enhanced tools to manage people with infectious diseases.”
Regular updates for the public on Ebola are being provided on the Ministry of Health website, www.health.govt.nz.