Schools, groups respond to virus 'wake-up call'

A woman wearing a face mask, and a man exit Dunedin Airport yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
A woman wearing a face mask, and a man exit Dunedin Airport yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Southern organisations and schools are in a "heightened state of awareness" and at various levels of preparedness for Covid-19, following the first confirmed case in New Zealand.

University of Otago emergency and business continuity co-ordinator Andrew Ferguson said the university had been working closely with the Southern District Health Board, the Ministry of Health and its own experts, to ensure its self-isolation and virus management practices were "optimal" for staff, students and the surrounding Dunedin community.

A number of initiatives have been launched to help protect students and staff, including regular communication to staff and students via email and a specific university website devoted to Covid-19 with updated relevant information; a series of slides with information about hygiene has been prepared so academic staff can project them at the start of every lecture; and appropriate accommodation has been identified for students who need to self-isolate or who contract the virus.

A Ministry of Education bulletin sent to all New Zealand schools last Friday said the chances of community outbreak remained low, but the confirmed case was "a good wake-up call".

It recommended schools continue to reinforce messages about good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene, encourage staff and pupils to stay home if unwell, and continue to be alert.

Otago Secondary Principals’ Association president Linda Miller said rather than causing panic, the virus had put schools in a heightened state of awareness.

As a result, schools had postponed or cancelled pupil exchange programmes, and overseas school trips for pupils and staff.

Schools have been told if a pupil or staff member was diagnosed with the virus, the local medical officer of health would take the lead.

The school may be asked to do ‘‘contact tracing’’ for those who may have been in close contact with the confirmed case; send communications to the community or to those who may have been in close contact; undertake a clean of the spaces the person has occupied; and follow any other directions by the medical officer of health, which may include school closure for a period of time.

Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner said the council had a draft pandemic plan which was shared with staff yesterday.

The plan was "first and foremost" about the welfare of staff.

"It provides for reduced services, should we need to take action to close council.

"We have arrangements in place for remote working and responding to emergencies like flood events.

"We have and will continue to take advice from the Ministry of Health and are empowering our staff to make choices that are the best for them and their health, based on that advice."

Dunedin City Council city services general manager Sandy Graham said it had business continuity plans in place which had been regularly reviewed.

"We are continuing to follow Ministry of Health advice and have reiterated to staff that they need to continue to follow good hygiene practices."

Southern District Health Board staff are at Queenstown and Dunedin Airports for all arriving international flights, to provide information and to support anyone feeling unwell.

"Queenstown Airport is working closely with the Southern District Health Board and border agencies to proactively manage the public health risk," Queenstown Airport Corporation Ltd corporate and community affairs general manager Sara Irvine said.

Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow general manager Ed Taylor said he was monitoring Covid-19 developments, and had taken no direct action to cancel the event at this stage.

The show was still six weeks away and there were other events on in the South earlier, he said.

He had not discussed Covid-19 with health authorities, but was ready to react if necessary.

Organisers of the Wanaka A&P Show, being held on March 13-14, were to discuss Covid-19 at their board meeting last night.

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter