COVID-19 response Minister Chris Hipkins has outlined extensive All of Government planning in the event of a community case of coronavirus during the Christmas holiday period.
“Since March, New Zealand has strengthened and evolved its ability to respond to COVID-19,” Mr Hipkins said today.
“Improved testing and contact tracing capacity mean that since the Auckland August cluster,we’ve had four outbreaks which we have successfully managed without having to change alert levels.
“At the same time, we know the virus is continuing to rage offshore and despite our best efforts, there’s always the possibility of further community cases here.
“The summer holiday period poses some unique challenges in responding to an outbreak. Large numbers of us will be travelling for holidays or seasonal work, there are more social gatherings and large events such as festivals – and, like other Kiwis, there will be health system workers taking well-deserved leave.
“Our summer planning approach to manage any community cases over the holidays supports New Zealand’s elimination strategy for COVID-19.
“If we find it, we’ll stamp it out, and we’ve made sure the Government’s COVID-19 team, and the national support network, are ready.”
He said while COVID-19 cases couldn’t be predicted, New Zealanders could be reassured planning had been extensive, and had included scenario testing and understanding actions that might be needed, including – as a last resort – Alert Level changes.
“We’ll continue to respond swiftly and openly during the holiday period. If a positive case was found in the community, we’d use the usual approach to communicating with the public – updates and advice would first be provided by me and/or the Director-General of Health or his delegate,” Mr Hipkins said.
“Further Government planning has revolved around three broad scenarios and people can find out more about this work at covid19.govt.nz
“For each of the scenarios, extensive contingency plans are in place. We’ve learnt from previous cases and regional lockdowns and used that knowledge to refine our plans and preparations. We know what to do and the health system is standing ready. People and resources are on call. Our supply chains are stocked.”
The Minister said Government agencies were tightly connected and had worked closely with local Government, iwi and community leaders, Civil Defence and Emergency Management and the private sector to ensure a fully coordinated response.
“People in remote locations where there is limited cell phone coverage would very likely be safe from exposure to COVID-19, but would need to follow public health advice upon return from those locations – this is a personal responsibility,” he said.
“In a worst-case scenario, if it became clear there was a high risk of widespread transmission, you’d need to stay where you are and in your bubble until you get official advice. We don’t want people rushing home and possibly taking the virus with them.
“It’s important to remember that this is a worst-case scenario. After a long, hard year, we all deserve to enjoy our summer – including those who are working hard through the holidays to keep us safe. Let’s thank them by each and every one of us doing our bit to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re also asking all New Zealanders to focus even more on those basic actions that’ll protect themselves and others, in line with the new campaign, ‘Make Summer Unstoppable’.
“We should all be washing or sanitising our hands; scanning QR codes; turning on Bluetooth in the NZ COVID Tracer app; staying home if we’re feeling even a little unwell, and getting advice on a test.
“And if we’re going away on a break, we should be thinking about what would happen if we’re required to stay at our holiday location while waiting for official advice. That might mean a backup plan for homes or pets if we can’t get home straight away.
“It’ll be the continued commitment of the team of 5 million, combined with the Government’s own planning, which gives us all the best chance of enjoying a fantastic Kiwi summer after what’s been a year like no other.”