Wards of the state


Swine flu suspects quarantined with public funds.

Visitors arriving in Queenstown with suspected swine flu will be quarantined courtesy of the taxpayer.

As the resort braces itself for the influx of winter visitors, health authorities are preparing to cope with a local outbreak of the rapidly-spreading pandemic.

The only two suspected cases in Queenstown – one a local resident who’d returned from Australia and the other a visitor – were yesterday found to be negative, Public Health South medical officer of health Dr Derek Bell says.

They had places to stay already, but for quarantined visitors planning to stay in “what we consider inappropriate accommodation” like hostels or backpackers, public money would be used to put them up elsewhere.

“That’s at the moment while we’re in the containment stage,” Bell says.

“However if it becomes very widespread we wouldn’t be able to do that.

“We’d be looking for people to voluntarily isolate themselves while they were sick and we’d be hoping people in dormitory-style accommodation would be assisted to find suitable accommodation.

“We’re doing a large amount of planning for when the [visitor] numbers do increase in this area and we’re obviously extremely cognisant of the impact that the ski season will have and the vulnerability of this area because of that,” he says.

The number of Southland District Health Board nurses tasked with screening trans-Tasman arrivals at Queenstown Airport will be ramped up to handle increased flights, says Dr Marion Poore, PHS head of the Otago-Southland regional pandemic plan.

Two nurses will be on at any given time.

Mountain Scene also understands MAF biosecurity officials at Queens­town Airport are now wearing gloves – and have the option of masks – to check passengers, who are asked to stand one metre away.

PHS is trying to find a suitable location for a swine flu assessment centre if required but Poore doesn’t think the Events Centre – earmarked for a possible bird flu outbreak in 2007 – will be required.

“It really depends on the load.

“This appears to be a relatively mild kind of illness and we think in the first instance, primary care will be able to manage.”

Queenstown Pharmacy, Wilkinsons Pharmacy and Remarkables Park Phar­­macy have about 50 doses of Tamiflu between them but are able to get hold of more stock within 24 hours.