Dr Nigel Millar, Chief Medical Officer, and Dr Susan Jack, Medical Officer of Health explain how we’ve been getting ready.
How have we been preparing for COVID-19 in the Southern district?
Southern DHB has been preparing for the arrival of Covid-19 since mid-January, when we set up an Emerging Infectious Diseases Committee to monitor the progress of the illness and establish processes for our ongoing preparations. In the past two weeks, we have established an Emergency Coordination Centre at Wakari Hospital in Dunedin to coordinate and support planning activity across the Southern health system.
Our focus has been to ‘keep it out’, and be prepared so that if Covid-19 arrives in the Southern district – as it now has – we can stamp it out. At the same time, we also need to be prepared for the possibility of people in the future needing to be hospitalised for the illness. While we hope, and are working hard, to avoid that situation, we still need to be prepared.
What has this planning involved?
We’ve been planning at all levels of the health system, including public health, primary and community care, and across our hospitals. For example:
• The Public Health South team have been working closely with airports, travel operators, cruise ships, tertiary institutions and health professionals to manage health response at the borders and identify high risk visitors.
• We are personally greeting passengers from all international flights to provide information and advice.
• We are training extra staff to carry out contact tracing and case management.
• We are working closely with WellSouth PHO and our primary care partners, rural hospitals and emergency departments to be able to detect the disease early and safely when patients present with the illness.
An important message to share is that if you think you could have Covid-19, please do not go directly to your GP or Emergency Department. Instead please call Healthline on 0800 358 5453. They are very busy and you may need to wait for a while for your call to be answered. Please be patient, this is important.
• Our hospital teams have been planning to manage a variety of scenarios, including isolating patients and needing to care for a few, some or many patients who may have this infection and require acute care.
• The Ministry of Health is leading the national health response, and all of our efforts are in line with their directions.
This is an enormous amount of work, and we acknowledge the immense effort from all our staff and healthcare providers across the district. The reality is, however, that in spite of all this planning, if we get a very large number of cases, this would be very, very challenging for our health system – as has been the experience in countries overseas.
That’s why we all need to work together to slow the rate at which COVID-19 spreads in our community.
We still have the opportunity to stamp out this illness in New Zealand, and together with our strengthened border restrictions, to keep out further cases. This requires a collective effort and we thank everyone across the health system and beyond who is doing their bit to prepare through planning, following health advice and helping us stay protected from this disease.