There was confusion among passengers on a flight which prompted a major health scare at Auckland Airport today.
Video link: http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/health-scare-auckland-airport-4717991/video
Of the 274 people on board the Air New Zealand flight from Tokyo, approximately 50 to 60 were unwell Japanese students, the Auckland Regional Public Health service said this afternoon.
It was initially reported 73 Japanese students on the flight had flu-like symptoms.
The alarm was raised when the children arrived into Auckland off NZ90 from Narita, Tokyo, at 9.20 this morning with symptoms.
All passengers were allowed to leave the airport after being quarantined for some time.
'A bit of a shambles'
One passenger, David Turner from Wellington, says nobody knew what was going on and they were left waiting for around an hour-and-a-half before they were told.
He says even the captain kept coming on the intercom telling people how sorry he was that he had no idea what the situation was and when they could get off the plane.
Turner said ground staff panicked when he told them he had "a bit of a cold" and he was put in a room where the sick students were brought.
"I said 'I'm perfectly healthy, I've got a cold, I'm not going to be exposed to these guys.'"
Turner said the sick students were then whisked to another room, but the whole situation was "a bit of a shambles". Another passenger on the flight, Brooke Tuialii, said she found out on Facebook that there was a health scare.
"We were told two hours before they landed that they let customs or the health department know. But then it was still an hour-and-a-half after we landed before they came on board."
Tuialii said the paramedics who came on board were in white overalls with masks.
She also said most of the sick students were put in the same room as the unaffected passengers.
Colds or flu
Auckland Regional Public Health Service spokesperson Dr Julia Peters said the passengers in question have presented with symptoms such as coughs, which may be colds or may be flu.
However, many did not display the fever which would indicate an influenza-like illness, she said.
"The situation is currently being assessed by the medical team from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service.
We are working with Auckland Airport, Air New Zealand and the Ministry of Health, and other agencies, managing the situation as per our usual procedures." The passengers, who are unaffected or well, have been cleared and have been able to leave the airport or continue on their journeys.
ONE News reporter Stephen Smith said at midday that unaffected passengers were allowed through Customs.
Smith said the children were part of a group of 90 Japanese students who were heading to Tauranga on a home-stay trip.
Peters said this is currently flu season in Japan, adding that the predominant flu strain in Japan is covered in New Zealand's seasonal flu vaccine and has been for a number of years.
An influenza epidemic is spreading across Japan, doubling the number of cases per hospital, The Mainichi Daily News reported.
Over 90% of the cases are due to the Hong Kong influenza A virus subtype H3N2, the report said.
Google flu trends also show that the virus is peaking in Japan.
The "Hong Kong Flu" pandemic of 1968 and 1969, caused by a strain of H3N2, killed an estimated one million people worldwide.
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