Pandemic exercise shows need for updates: report

New Zealand should stage pandemic preparedness exercises at least every four years, a new report recommends.

Exercise Pomare — the most recent test run for an outbreak of a pandemic disease — was a success, the recently released Ministry of Health report said.

However, it highlighted the need for a range of organisations to update their business continuity plans in the event of major events, and for the national influenza pandemic plan to be updated to better reflect central government agency’s roles.

"Given that the last inter-agency influenza pandemic exercise was conducted over a decade ago, it was evident that the collective knowledge base within central government agencies was low,"  the report said.

"Given the significant threat that a severe influenza pandemic poses to both the international community and New Zealand, it is strongly recommended that an influenza pandemic activity is programmed into the National Exercise Programme at least every four years to ensure that central government agencies are able to effectively respond to an emerging health threat."

This year is the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed 5% of the world’s population and 9000 people in New Zealand, of whom about 1000 people lived in Otago and Southland.

While medical science was now far more advanced, an influenza pandemic remained a genuine and serious threat, the report said.

"Ongoing education and training is required in order to maintain a base level of corporate knowledge across all levels within central government agencies to ensure an effective all-of-government response to an influenza pandemic."

Exercise Pomare was carried out as four separate workshops over eight months.

The length of time spent on the exercise was worthwhile and demonstrated the need for agencies to recognise pandemics could last for a year or longer, the report said.

"Given the likely duration of an influenza pandemic, agencies also need to consider their ability to respond concurrently to other national security events, such as earthquake, flood event or biosecurity event."

To prove that point, the report noted the exercise deadline  had to be extended because of Cyclone Gita striking the Pacific and New Zealand.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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