Otago officials considered cool stores for Covid-19 bodies

Orchard cool stores were discussed as an option to store the bodies of Covid-19 pandemic victims....
Orchard cool stores were discussed as an option to store the bodies of Covid-19 pandemic victims. Photo: Getty Images/File
Storms, floods or landslips took a back seat to pandemic planning when Covid-19 hit, and preparations to deal with large-scale deaths became a priority.

But the Otago Civil Defence Emergency Management Group was ready to rise to the challenge.

Reporter Simon Henderson speaks to emergency management officers Matt Alley and Oliver Varley about how they planned for every eventuality.

Bodies being held at cold storage facilities on orchards were considered as part of Emergency Management Central Otago’s Covid-19 pandemic plans.

Central Otago emergency management officer Matt Alley said in the early days of the pandemic many options had to be considered, including mortuary capacity.

"What are some of the alternatives in terms of storage if we need additional storage?" Mr Alley said.

If there was an influx of bodies the team had to think about alternative solutions and because of the number of orchards in the region, using their cold storage capacity to house bodies was discussed.

That didn’t eventuate, but "it was a consideration and we certainly had a plan for it," he said.

Transport and disposal of bodies was discussed.

"We had requirements that were coming nationally through, that we had to follow in terms of the different scenarios around heaven forbid burials.

"So we were again feeding that information through to the undertakers in town and funeral services."

Mass burials had to be considered, and the team explored capacity at local cemeteries as well as crematoriums.

"That was something we investigated, we knew what the national direction was, and we fed that information through."

Emergency management officer Oliver Varley joined the team in a newly formed role about six weeks ago.

It is the job of emergency management officers Matt Alley (left) and Oliver Varley to expect the...
It is the job of emergency management officers Matt Alley (left) and Oliver Varley to expect the worst and hope for the best. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
His responsibility was a focus on the Upper Clutha including Cromwell and Wanaka.

Some of the other scenarios that both Civil Defence and local councils looked at were co-occurring events, he said.

"So a scenario where a flood occurred or an earthquake during the response to Covid.

"Especially during that level 4 and 3 where you have got that social distancing, and all the PPE (personal protective equipment) requirements."

Mr Alley praised council staff who rose to the challenge of finding new ways of working during the early weeks of the pandemic.

"It wasn’t us doing all the work reliant on local council staff here to staff our EOC (emergency operations centre).

He praised the efforts of volunteers in the community who helped each other during lockdown.

He encouraged residents to sign up to tool that allowed council in its local civil defence role to send real-time alerts during an emergency.

The system also enabled people to register skills, resources or aid they could provide during an emergency, as well as highlighting people who might need extra assistance.

For details visit centralotago.getsready.net

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