Covid advice to council 'even more relevant now'

Suggesting changes to help Dunedin get through Omicron is University of  Otago public health...
Suggesting changes to help Dunedin get through Omicron is University of Otago public health physician Associate Prof Alex Macmillan. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
A public health doctor’s recommendations for how Dunedin’s street environments might adapt amid Covid-19 have not been taken up.

University of Otago Associate Prof Alex Macmillan advised the Dunedin City Council in October to consider such measures as making the traffic speed limit 30kmh for all local roads and allowing car parks to be used for dining space.

She wanted pedestrians to be able to move into road space to maintain physical distancing.

"The recommendations are even more relevant now," she said.

The Omicron variant was even more transmissible than Delta and the Government’s response was shifting towards managing case numbers, rather than stamping out outbreaks, Prof Macmillan said.

"Enabling safe physical distancing on busy streets while taking activities like dining outdoors is a doubly important strategy this time to keep local businesses and services open, and our hospital able to continue treating other life-threatening illnesses."

Council staff have had some contact with Prof Macmillan since October, but declined to elaborate last week.

"We welcome her input, but our focus now is on ensuring we have Covid-19 measures in place that are consistent with government health guidelines, to ensure the wellbeing of staff and the wider community during this pandemic," a council spokesman said.

Much of Prof Macmillan’s research is about how city councils can respond to threats to health by changing how streets work and reshaping urban planning.

Councillors had a range of responses to themes raised by her.

Several pointed to ways the council had responded to Covid-19, including requiring vaccine passes to be shown at facilities, providing grants and engaging with community networks.

"From what I can see, pretty much everything that the council is doing is enabling Dunedin to continue in as normal a way as possible and staff should be applauded for that," Cr Steve Walker said.

"We are as prepared as we can be for the arrival of Omicron and will play our part as Covid continues to evolve," deputy mayor Christine Garey said.

Cr Carmen Houlahan’s initial response was just three words — "No more dots".

That was in reference to the much-ridiculed painting of dots in George St in 2020 to encourage physical distancing.

Cr Lee Vandervis said the council’s role in a pandemic should be advisory, rather than using it to "fire less-compliant employees or to play politics with less-compliant elected representatives".

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said the council’s focus, at an operational level, was on ensuring all critical functions continued during an Omicron outbreak.

The council was supporting the Southern District Health Board and Te Kaika in delivering the vaccine programme, the mayor said.

"Given the Omicron environment, we’re also happy to work with businesses, those in the hospitality sector in particular, should they wish to expand their outdoor footprint," Mr Hawkins suggested

Cr Sophie Barker said the themes from Prof Macmillan’s October presentation were useful.

"Councils are the most locally relevant government organisation to New Zealanders and should show a leadership role in helping the community through a pandemic," Cr Barker said.

"A good plan, clear communication and leadership are important in a crisis."

Cr Andrew Whiley said he was conscious of how cities around the world had functioned with Omicron.

Friends in North America and Australia had noted people were reluctant to go out or use public transport and many were working from home.

"I believe we will see a similar pattern here in Dunedin and residents will make their own decisions and ensure they move around our city in ways that they feel comfortable [with]."


Public health physician Associate Prof Alex Macmillan’s recommendations to the Dunedin City Council last year included:
, Developing a narrative about streets as public assets for physical distancing and promoting the importance of safe walking and biking for mental health and community resilience.
, Making the speed limit 30kmh for all local streets.
, Creating slow-speed pedestrian and outdoor use spaces in busy retail centres, including South Dunedin shopping centre, North Rd at the Gardens, Roslyn shops and Mornington shops.
, Enforcing more actively legislation that prohibits parking on footpaths.
, Temporarily repealing provisions for consultation about car park removal, to allow for footpath widening and use of car park space for outdoor seating and dining.
, Increasing pedestrian phases and shortening pedestrian wait times at busy crossings.
, Using temporary measures to expand the cycle network and ensure physical distancing is possible on the cycle network and shared paths.