South Island hospitals preparing for influx of summer Covid cases

Source: 1News

Hospitals around the country are preparing for an influx of Covid-19 cases in the coming months as Auckland's borders open and holidaymakers move throughout New Zealand.

Already, Covid-19 has spread throughout the North Island, and with the border opening on December 15, it’s expected to continue further south.

Southern DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Susan Jack says of course she wants people to come and visit but that comes with risk.

We’re ready to welcome people but we’re a little bit nervous at the same time,” she says.

Jack says the southern public health unit has been helping with case management and contact tracing in the Auckland outbreak but once cases crop up in their region, those staff will pivot.

“So we're busy working on rosters particularly for the contact tracing and case investigation to make sure that we have full staffing for that aspect of our work over the summer,” she says.

Canterbury DHB has recently ungraded an area of Christchurch Hospital, which will be dedicated to Covid-19 patients, particularly during a significant outbreak of cases. The Parkside Medical Space has 33 beds and specialised ventilation.

At Nelson Hospital, the emergency department is undergoing an overhaul to create more space to safely manage cases.

Nelson Marlborough DHB Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Baker says they’re creating four small patient rooms in order to stop infection spread.

“We can't have those traditional waiting rooms where people with whole different illnesses sit next to each other,” Baker says.

In the event of a surge in hospitalisations there’s also the chance things like elective surgeries may be postponed.

“There's certainly a risk that we may have to stop some of our business as usual health care but part of our contingency plan is to continue that as long as we possibly can,” he says.

The Ministry of Health is currently “stress testing” six DHBs that are expecting an influx of holidaymakers to ensure they’re prepared for cases.

Health Minister Andrew Little says, “we just need to make sure the right services are in place so if there is an outbreak that area is prepared”.

University of Canterbury modeller Michael Plank says there will be more cases over summer but it’s unlikely we’ll see the big surge that happened in Auckland. He says that’s more likely to happen at the start of next year.

“When we go back to school and back to work in February that's going to be a crunch time I think when we could see case numbers start to rise again and we could see significant numbers of people in hospital,” he says.