Message from the Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield – 13 April 2020
Kia ora koutou
The sad news of more deaths related to COVID-19 over the long weekend has highlighted just how deadly this disease is for our older people, particularly those with underlying health issues. As you will know the strict measures to keep us safe through Alert Level 4 mean that family members were unable to visit their loved ones and be by their side when they passed away. I want to express my gratitude to the hospital staff and carers who provided these patients comfort and support in their final days. These are extraordinary times, where we see examples of people across our health and disability sector providing support and services above and beyond their usual role. What you do matters, now more than ever before to keep our communities healthy, safe and supported.
As I have mentioned before, there is a good supply of PPE in New Zealand and we continue to confirm orders and receive shipments of more equipment. In the past week we received 520,000 masks from a local supplier as well as 150,000 from an international supplier. We have also received over 100,000 face shields and 50,000 goggles.
This week we expect a further 350,000 masks from a local supplier, 1 million masks from an international supplier, a combined number of 660,000 face shields and googles and 50,000 gowns. From Tuesday, we will be distributing a further 1.2 million masks for DHBs to send onto their community based health and disability providers, and a further 600,000 masks for DHB use.
Technology to Support Contact Tracing
We are looking into the contact tracing approach Singapore is using through an app where devices can connect with Bluetooth to recall proximity related information. The Ministry has also spoken with Google and Apple about the work they are doing to support contact tracing, however the app they are developing won’t be available until mid-May. We are working to get a technology solution in place sooner to provide additional information to support contact tracing. This is a work in progress, and I’ll share more information with you as it becomes available
Getting ahead of the flu
It’s no secret that Māori immunisation rates are historically lower than those of the wider population and there are some commendable initiatives underway to ensure our Māori communities are protected from flu at this time. In Te Tai Tokerau, Northland DHB has taken an active approach by sending all eligible patients in Northland a voucher notifying them of the free vaccination and encouraging uptake.
Te Hā Oranga, a community health service in Dargaville, went out and visited some of their most vulnerable kaumātua to administer flu vaccinations.
In Hawke’s Bay, Flaxmere Pharmacy sent out a group text to all eligible customers in their rohe inviting them in to the pharmacy to receive flu vaccinations.
For local whânau unable to get to a clinic, Te Kupenga Hauora-Ahuriri staff are travelling to their peoples’ homes to vaccinate.
Creating awareness and making it easy to access vaccination is key to increasing uptake and protecting people most at risk.
Last week, the Government announced a $17 million COVID-19 Pacific Response Package to help protect Pacific communities from the increased risks they face from the COVID-19 outbreak. This funding, which is part of the Government’s broader $500 million package is already being made available to a range of Pacific providers to make an immediate difference.
In addition to increasing the capacity of Pacific health and disability services, the funding will help widen the availability of public health guidance in Pacific languages and is establishing an outreach programme to help connect Pacific communities to access non-clinical health services.
Health and Disability Initiatives
Another example of meeting the need for additional support during this time of self-isolation is wecare.kiwi. This partnership between Carers NZ and IHC means that anyone who is vulnerable, living alone, or caring for others can request check-ins or practical help via IHC's nationwide network of 3,000 NZ Police vetted volunteers. The site provides a range of services from finding books for people with disabilities, helping access food and supplies, to escalating serious situations for local support with Police, and government agencies.
Māori health social media campaign launched
It’s encouraging to see the level of engagement from the first video that is part of the social media campaign to help promote Covid-19 messaging to Māori communities. It’s already been seen more than 240,000 times and is an important channel for connecting with communities through the channels we know many of them use. Please help us to spread the message by sharing the video through your own social media networks.
As I mentioned earlier, we are starting to see some positive signs that New Zealand’s approach to containing COVID-19 is progressing well. Discussions are underway across the country on what transition to Alert Level 3 might look like, however the need for us all to remain vigilant remains critical to our success against this disease. We are mindful of the advice from the World Health Organisation that ‘lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence’ and are looking at exactly what measures we need to have in place to minimise the risk of future community spread and outbreaks. Meanwhile, we are not yet at a point where any of us can start to relax our daily routine or become complacent.
As always, my thanks and gratitude to all of you across the health and disability support sector for the exceptional work you do every day to provide care and support services at this challenging time.
Ngâ mihi nui
Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Director-General of Health