Because COVID-19 is a new virus, it was always going to take time to understand how it is transmitted and who might be most impacted. While the scientists and health authorities have been quickly gathering and sharing the information they do have, there has been very unhelpful and inaccurate information shared about COVID-19, particularly through social media.
This misinformation has supported unreasonable levels of fear and worry in some parts of our communities, evidenced recently in New Zealand by some panic-buying of toilet paper, hand sanitiser and bottled water.
Scientists are working collectively and globally to quickly understand COVID-19. There has also been some significant research published recently by the World Health Organisation-China Joint Mission. So what we now know about COVID-19 is:
- At this time the vast majority of people in New Zealand have no risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19
- Children and young people under 18 account for only 2.4% of all reported cases of COVID-19 – this means we are unlikely to see widespread cases in schools and early learning services
- New Zealand currently has very few cases of COVID-19 and no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission in our communities
- Although asymptomatic infection (people with no symptoms) has been reported, there is emerging evidence that this is rare and not a major driver in spreading the infection
- Spread happens through coughing and sneezing by someone confirmed with COVID-19 – similar to the way that influenza spreads
- “COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza, from the data we have so far. With influenza, people who are infected but not yet sick are major drivers of transmission which does not appear to be the case for COVID-19” – Director General of World Health Organisation (WHO)
If someone is confirmed with COVID-19 infection:
- 80% of confirmed cases of all ages have mild to moderate symptoms
- 6.1% of all cases are treated as critical – most of these people have other health conditions
- If a child or young person does get confirmed with the case, 97.5% will get mild to moderate symptoms only (0.2% critical)
- Recovery time (median) from onset to recovery in mild cases is 2 weeks. For severe and critical cases it is 3-6 weeks
- COVID-19 isn’t easily transmitted – and in China research shows it is largely occurring in families (75% – 85% of clusters occur within families), not in the community
- Again in China, early studies suggest that less than 10% of family members of confirmed cases, have been infected with COVID-19
- The people most affected are those over 60 years of age, and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer
- As with other illnesses such as flu, the highest mortality rate is in those over the age of 80
Reminder that Health has a plan
If we continue to get new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health is well-prepared through their pandemic plan.
- The Ministry of Health is leading New Zealand’s response to COVID-19. They are providing regular updates about COVID-19 through their website
- If there is a potential impact on a school or early learning service, the Ministry of Education regional teams will work closely with Health to support the school or early learning service (see further below for the protocol that has been put in place)
- For the vast majority of New Zealand and for all schools and early learning services we are still in a preventative stage
- For three households and their close connections, Health is focused on supporting them to prevent further spread
- Health is well prepared to move through the phases of their pandemic plan and there is strong and collective work happening across all government and sector agencies
- Health advise that with continued vigilance, the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low.
We have also been implementing our own plans including working closely with Health both regionally and nationally, to support schools and early learning services.
As part of this we have put in place a protocol agreed with health authorities when it comes to supporting schools and early learning services if there is a case with a connection to them:
- The local Medical Officer of Health will advise the local Director of Education
- If a case is confirmed and your school is impacted Health and Education will talk to you about that and a plan to address the issues will be developed with you, this will include factual messages to parents and caregivers
- The local Medical Officer of Health will determine the specific public health actions required
- Public health is the primary consideration and communications will be co-ordinated and timed to ensure the right messages get to the right people at the right time. You can expect that your school will be named as part of the communications. This is to reduce the level of anxiety for parents beyond your school
- Following announcements, education and health officials will meet with you regularly
- Health and Education will continue to manage media and reporting requirements to Government.