Saturday, November 27

Palmerston North ‘beat over weight’ to help New Zealand overcome pandemic, says mayor

While some regions have struggled with Covid-19 shutdowns, Palmerston North has thrived, in part because of the many essential workers who live there, says the city’s mayor.

Countdown Distribution in Palmerston North

Countdown Distribution in Palmerston North
Photo: RNZ

Some parts of New Zealand rely heavily on one or two industries, but the city is home to many essential workers.

Mayor Grant Smith said the city had coped remarkably well with the entire pandemic, not just the most recent shutdown.

Palmerston North has put a lot of effort into the country’s response to Covid-19, he said.

New Zealand Defense Force personnel from nearby Linton and Ōhakea bases had been dispatched across the country to “provide most of that management” for the managed quarantine and isolation facilities, Smith said.

But it wasn’t just the Defense Force, there were a lot of essential industrial businesses in Palmerston North.

“All the staff members at the Fonterra plants … are working,” he said.

“Our large distribution centers for both Countdown and Food are probably doing as much as ever in terms of food distribution.”

The staff at the new Countdown distribution center on the outskirts of town is divided into two teams, with approximately 100 essential workers there at once.

Supply chain manager Scott Bennett said the initial spike of panic buying at the beginning of each lockdown made them busier, putting a lot of “stress and strain” on the supply chain network.

“And it is quite unnecessary.”

Staff had managed to adjust the systems during the 18 months of the pandemic, so most days now were like any other, Bennett said.

The work of the distribution center was absolutely vital and people might not recognize it, he said.

“Obviously they see what happens in the stores.

“But obviously people don’t understand what it takes to get the products from the supplier, through the supply chain and down to the store.”

It was a similar experience for Aaron Fairburn, who runs the Foodstuff distribution center around the corner, shipping stocks to New World and Pak’n’Save supermarkets.

“I don’t know if people make that logical connection.”

It was difficult for people to adjust to what appeared to be normal work arrangements and then return home with various alert level restrictions, Fairburn said.

“It’s not just about the physical safety standpoint, it’s also about the mental well-being because some people really struggle with what confinement brings outside of their work.”

The company had to do “a lot of work around that,” he said.

But Bennett and Fairburn were very proud of what their teams had accomplished during the pandemic.

Fairburn said they recognized the important role they played.

He thought the strength of his team to meet any challenge at various alert levels was “enormous.”

“I am honored every day.”

For the rest of the city, Smith was also quite proud.

“Without a doubt, Palmy has overcome his weight once again.”

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