Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
Wellington - Hundreds of plane passengers who flew with a school group believed to have caught the deadly swine flu were being tracked down on Monday as New Zealand raced to prevent the spread of the disease.
Prime Minister John Key moved to reassure the country the government was capable of dealing with any flu outbreak as medical staff screened passengers returning on flights from North America.
"We are doing what we can to manage the situation. The response of our services to date has been swift, thorough and appropriate for the risk," he said at his regular press conference.
"This is a risk we have been preparing for."
Key said New Zealand had about 1.4 million doses of Tamiflu anti-flu medication. Reports from Mexico have indicated the drug is effective in treating the new flu.
Mexico's health minister, Jose Angel Cordova, announced late on Sunday that the probable death toll there had reached 103, while the United States declared a public emergency.
Nine students and a teacher from an Auckland high school who returned from Mexico on Saturday tested positive for influenza A and were likely to have the swine flu, Health Minister Tony Ryall announced over the weekend.
But they appeared to be recovering and confirmation they had swine flu was expected within the week, Ryall said on Monday.
Separately, two pupils and a parent from another Auckland high school group which returned from Mexico on Saturday on a different flight had also been tested for influenza A and had been quarantined at home until the results were known.
The clinical director of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) told Radio New Zealand authorities were quickly trying to trace more than 350 other passengers on the flight from Mexico with the larger group of school pupils.
"Now that we know that this is an influenza A virus, possibly the swine flu virus, our attention will definitely be turning to all the contact tracing," Julia Peters told Radio New Zealand.
About two-thirds of the other passengers on the flight had contacted health authorities by late Monday afternoon and were being offered Tamiflu treatment.
Local health authorities outside Auckland said around 40 people were in voluntary quarantine after travelling from North America. Any others who had come from there in the last two weeks and had flu symptoms were being urged to seek treatment.
About 1 000 passengers who arrived at Auckland airport from the US on Monday were screened for flu symptoms by medical staff, the Ministry of Health said, but there were no suspected swine flu cases.
Suspected cases of the new strain of flu have been reported from around the world, although two people admitted to a hospital in Australia tested negative, officials there said Monday.
Australia will introduce airport checks for swine flu and has alerted hospital emergency wards and doctors to be on the lookout for the virus.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said strict controls had been ordered on international flights in response to the health scare, particularly those arriving from the Americas.
In New Zealand, Health Minister Ryall said confirmation the first set of pupils had swine flu was a priority for them and their families.
"As I've said, the advice we've received is it is probable these kids have swine flu and that's why we have taken the arrangements we have," Ryall said.
"The good news is the symptoms have not been serious, I've been advised that these kids are on the road to recovery." - AFP