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There has not been a community transmission case of the pandemic disease in Otago or Southland for more than a year, but as community cases have now been discovered in Christchurch and in 12 of the 15 North Island DHB regions, the arrival of the Delta variant seems inevitable.
"We’re about to face this thing and it’s going to be pretty massive," SDHB acting clinical governance and quality executive director Hywel Lloyd said.
"We don’t have a crystal ball to tell us when this thing is going to land ... but every day when we don’t have a day with Covid is a day where we can keep planning to be prepared.
"We can do the healthcare planning, but people in the community have to do their bit."
Vaccination — which statistics suggested reduced hospitalisation by 90% — and other well-established public health measures such as social distancing and mask use were the main ways the public could contribute, Dr Lloyd said.
However, people also needed to give some thought to how well prepared they were for when Delta arrived, he said.
"We know it’s going to come now, it’s going to land, and what can people do to ensure they stay well and safe ... if I get Covid, how am I going to look after myself?
"We will have our response but it’s not just about our response, it’s about how the community responds too."
Public health and primary healthcare were ready to manage cases in the community, and the region’s hospitals had planned for cases for many months, Dr Lloyd said.
Access ways to emergency departments had been adapted to allow Covid and non-Covid cases to be kept separate, and the seventh floor of Dunedin Hospital has been set aside for Covid-19 cases.
Earlier this month, the SDHB was briefed on scenarios for a southern outbreak.
An "unmitigated" outbreak with no health restrictions could result in 210 deaths over a year, while "loose" public health measures would approximately halve that.
"We are unlikely to get to unmitigated is the feeling, but nevertheless it is going to be substantial and the system is going to creak a bit," Dr Lloyd said.
"The infectivity rate of the Delta variant is a significant step up."
Dr Lloyd said his role in charge of Covid-19 planning was a heavy burden and one he felt acutely, but everyone within the health system was doing their best to keep southerners safe.
"About 2½ months ago I thought it would be here within two to seven weeks, we’re now well past that, so we are on considerably borrowed time.
"The strategy probably, when we do get cases, will be to try and eliminate it from here, but if you look at what is happening up north that will start to get pretty difficult."
Rostering for the next few weeks would be a major challenge for the SDHB, Dr Lloyd said as many of its public health staff had worked non-stop for 18 months, most recently on helping on the Auckland outbreak. They needed and deserved a Christmas break but circumstances could well intervene.
"There is expectation among people at my level that Christmas is cancelled ... but our staff need time off and they need to rest and if we can keep Covid away until January that would be a serious achievement for us."
Have essential household supplies, for people and pets, in store, but do not panic buy.
Make sure prescription medicines are up-to-date.
Make provision for work back-up if you need to care for a child, or if you can no longer care for a dependant.
Keep in touch with neighbours and relatives to ensure they are managing.