Saturday, December 4

‘Looks like this has been closing in on us’: healthcare workers on easing Covid-19 restrictions

Some frontline doctors and nurses are concerned that easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland will lead to more cases in the community.

A resident getting tested at a pop-up testing center in the southern Auckland suburb of Clover Park.

A resident getting tested at a pop-up testing center in Clover Park, an Auckland ‘suburb of interest’ where people are being asked to get tested for Covid-19.
Photo: THINGS / David White

The government has kept the city at alert level 3, but as of midnight tonight, two households of up to 10 people can meet in the open air, and further relaxation measures will follow over time.

Auckland GP Api Talemaitoga was caught off guard by the new socialization rule.

“I thought, wow, that’s great, if everyone is fully vaccinated,” Talemaitoga said.

“But as we know, with our low vaccination rates, it is just the potential to allow this virus to spread.

“It has shown us that if we give it the opportunity, it will spread.”

Talemaitoga was concerned about the effect of networking; that households could meet with one group one day and another the next, allowing the virus to move with them.

Intensive Care Society spokesman Andrew Stapleton said he was extremely nervous because vaccination rates were low.

The health system, particularly the intensive care system, was not prepared to deal with Covid-19 being widespread in the community, he said.

While the approach taken by the government was cautious, any sign that the country was opening up made it suspicious, he said.

“It feels like this is looming over us and with each announcement that means there is more Covid in the community before people are vaccinated, we become more concerned,” he said.

More needs to be done to hire nurses because without them there would not be enough intensive care capacity in a major outbreak, he said.

Auckland intensive care nurse and vice president of the College of Critical Care Nurses, Steve Kirby, had seen the impact of the virus firsthand.

“Many of my colleagues are feeling the stress and anxiety of the outbreak, as well as the constant pressure on the system,” he said.

He urged a cautious approach to the greater openness that the government had signaled, checking at every step that the health system could cope.

Talemaitoga wanted each opening stage to come with established vaccination goals; if the goal was reached, the restrictions would be eased.

The government should have pushed harder to vaccinate more people in the confinement, and must do more now, he said.

But easing the restrictions would have some benefits: He saw patients struggling in confinement every day, and the changes could help his mental health, Talemaitoga said.

Turuki Health CEO Te Puea Winiata was relieved that the government kept Auckland at alert level 3.

Allowing people to gather in a measured way in outdoor settings would help them get used to the careful socialization that would be the norm when Covid-19 was finally in the community, he said.

Now a dedicated and methodical approach was needed to vaccinate Auckland residents, particularly Maori, who had lower rates.

Even initiatives that only reached a few people paid off because everyone counted, he said.

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