New Zealand, being an island nation, is one of the few countries that believe they have at least the possibility of blocking a pandemic virus from entering their borders.
It is an ambitious goal.
And the odds of carrying it out successfully are pretty long.
How far they will go to try to block a pandemic virus from entering their country hasn't been decided yet by their Ministry of Health (MOH).
In their FAQ on pandemic influenza, the question is answered this way:
Will New Zealand stop travellers from coming into the country in an effort to stop the spread of disease?
Because we are an island nation, active management of the border (i.e. limiting arrivals from affected areas to allow us to impose effective on-arrival measures) needs to be considered among the range of options as we plan our response. Other countries are also considering border management options.
Any final decision on border management will be made by the Government with input from a range of government departments.
The details of how New Zealand might manage its borders are laid out in the National Health Emergency Plan: New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Action Plan 2006.
But whether the goal is to try to stop the virus from entering the country, or to simply slow the introduction while a vaccine is being produced, it takes planning and training.
The end of this month, New Zealand will conduct Exercise Spring Fever. At hat tip to Sally and Treyfish on Flutrackers for this link.
17 OCTOBER 2008
“New arrivals” suspected of having pandemic influenza will be triaged in a gate lounge at Auckland airport as part of a Government exercise later this month.
The two-day exercise, dubbed “Exercise Spring Fever”, will test the Ministry of Health’s strategy for keeping pandemic influenza out of the country.
Passengers screened at airport
On the first day of the exercise, 29 October, Auckland International Airport will stage the mock arrival of an airplane from South Asia reported to be carrying passengers suspected of having pandemic influenza, says exercise director John Gardner.
Denied immediate entry to New Zealand, the passengers and crew – role played by volunteers from a local sports club – will be shepherded into a gate lounge where they will be screened for signs of the disease.
Destination hospital or quarantine
People with any flu-like symptoms will, in theory, be taken to Middlemore Hospital, whereas as those who do not need immediate medical attention will, in theory, be taken to a nearby hotel for an eight-day quarantine period, says Mr Gardner, who is the ministry’s senior advisor for border health protection.
The health screen will be carried out by a team of public health nurses and a medical officer from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service’s border management team.
Quarantine “war game”
The day after the border management exercise, a team will investigate whether the ministry’s quarantine plans are feasible during a table-top exercise at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Mangere.
Using a “war game” technique, the team will pull apart different aspects of the quarantine plans – such as transport, catering, security, medical support – to identify any problems and possible solutions.
“Warts and all” exercise
Exercise Spring Fever has attracted international attention and observers from Oceania, Asia and the South West Pacific are coming to Auckland to watch what happens.
However, the exercise is not about impressing anyone but about putting New Zealand’s border management and quarantine plans through their paces, Mr Gardner says.
“This is not a show pony exercise – we’re trying to find what will work for us,” he says. “It’s not going to be smooth and clever. It’s warts and all.”
Spring Fever third pandemic exercise
As well as the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the exercise will involve several other agencies, such as the police, customs, MAF, biosecurity, immigration, and aviation security.
Exercise Spring Fever is the third in a series to test New Zealand’s response to a pandemic. It follows Exercise Cruickshank held in May 2007 and Exercise Makgill in November 2006.