Otago University researchers estimate the 2009 pandemic which killed 49 people cost hospitals millions of dollars.
Next winter’s seasonal influenza vaccine will include the swine flu strain and will be free to extra groups that are particularly at risk from swine flu, the government announced today.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said free vaccines would be available from next March to people over 65 as well as pregnant women, people who are morbidly obese and young children in deprived areas.
Seasonal flu immunisation is already free (paid for by the taxpayer) for all people over 65 and those between 6 months and 64 years old with certain pre-existing health conditions.
Health officials say New Zealand is likely to experience a spike in the number of swine flu cases in the next few months, as pandemic influenza cases increase in the Northern Hemisphere.
World Health Organisation (WHO) reports show high rates of pandemic influenza (H1N1) and influenza-like illnesses in the US, Canada and Mexico. A small increase has been reported in Europe and Northern Asia.
An ongoing surge in Australian tourist numbers caused visitor arrivals to increase slightly in July but visitor numbers from Asia are still well down, according to Statistics New Zealand data.
Total visitor arrivals (176,200) increased by just 500 from July 2008, an increase of less than 1%.
Aussie numbers up, Asian numbers down
Visitor arrivals from Australia jumped by 15,800 in July 2009 compared to July 2008, a 20% increase.
Air New Zealand has blamed swine flu for the large drop in Asian tourism that contributed to a 5.5% reduction in June passenger numbers compared to the same month last year.
The airline carried 1.1 million passengers in June; however, while its passenger numbers were down it actually managed to increase its passenger load factor, an important indicator of profitability, by 2%.
This was due to a 12.3% reduction in capacity from June 2008.
While the World Health Organisation is keeping the flu pandemic alert at 5, the second highest level, future changes will reflect the flu’s severity as well as how widespread an outbreak is.
The move follows widespread criticism that the UN agency may have created undue panic about the virus, which has killed only 125 people around the world, 103 of them in Mexico.
Flu experts held hour-long talks and issued a statement saying "There was a broad consensus on the importance of including information on severity in future announcements."