New Zealand 'has responsibility to protect Pacific from coronavirus'

An epidemiologist says New Zealand has a responsibility to protect the Pacific from the possible spread of a new coronavirus.

The death toll from the coronavirus sweeping through China has increased to 17 to six and more than 500 people are confirmed to have the illness, which began in Wuhan.

Health authorities say the current risk to New Zealand is low.

But Otago University's Michael Baker says the virus has already spread to several other countries, and monitoring and preparation has to be stepped up. 

He says the recent spread of the measles to the Pacific highlights the obligation New Zealand has to the region.

Pacific Medical Association chair Dr Kiki Maoate says border controls are the best way of preventing coronavirus entering the Pacific.

"If the surveillance is good and there are preventative programmes around then we can see where the trouble is then the countries can enhance their border controls to avoid the virus coming in."

The World Health Organisation met Wednesday to work out a strategy to stop the global spread of coronavirus.