Health Department calling on assistance from NZ to help deal with impacts of community transmission

Director-General of Health and Social Services Gaylene Tasmania says the current community transmission has impacted the staffing numbers of the health department that they are calling for assistance from NZ.

The Director-General of Health and Social Services Gaylene Tasmania told BCN News this week that they have reached out to the New Zealand Ministry of Health and the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) to help with the staff shortage at the hospital as a result of the community transmission of Covid-19.

With the current outbreak of cases, the health department is struggling to maintain normal operations with a large portion of their staff given health orders to isolate.

The health department has closed its outpatient services, asking the public to use the emergency entrance to the hospital and they can only be seen from 9 am to 12 midday from Monday to Thursday. People will have to complete a RAT (rapid antigen test) before they can see the doctor. There are no changes to the weekend clinics and emergency cases, but the hospital is not coping with the shortage of nurses to work outpatient, hospital wards, and the Covid isolation ward, which currently has one patient with an underlying health condition who tested positive.

A patient waits outside the emergency entrance to see the doctors with the temporary changes at Niue Foou hospital due to staff shortages

Tasmania said that they are hoping for the best as daily cases appear to decrease but are aware that they can spike at any time.

“I’m hoping it does continue to go down. There are two things that can explain the numbers. Either people have covid, they are asymptomatic and are not testing so we’re not getting reports of new cases or the other reason could be that it really has started to fall and there are not very many cases out there in the community.

So that’s why I hope for the best but we have to expect that it could spike at any time. The reasons for the spike have been household compositions. If there’s someone in the household who’s tested positive if there are six or seven other people in that household it is very likely that it will spread and that’s why you get these big numbers. You’ve got complete or total households actually coming down with Covid.”

The Health Department is asking people that if they have been issued with a health order to stay in isolation, then follow them. The only way to break the chain of community transmission is if people follow the health orders and do not place others at risk of infection.

“Our priority is to detect and isolate and that’s what we will continue to do and that is what works and we hope that people will do exactly that. Report if you’re positive, isolate and let the virus do what it has to do and as long as we don’t pass it on to others, we can break that chain of transmission.

BCN News understands that there are still some people who are not following the rules drawing on the limited resources of the health department to trace cases if they are not isolating. This includes passengers who don’t wear their masks on the flight into Niue. Witnesses told BCN News that on the last flight, most of the passengers were not wearing their masks on the flight even though the message was relayed by the crew of the Niue government requirement for passengers to mask up.

Some of these issues are very troubling for the health department with their limited resources, especially for people who don’t follow health orders and are calling for people to take personal responsibility to contain the spread of the virus.

 “The trouble is we can’t be out there policing people, so the order is for you to take responsibility. If you’re ordered to isolate then please follow the rules, if you don’t isolate and become positive then the team has got to contact trace and find who else you have been exposed to and who else you may have passed the virus on to. So that’s the reason for the orders and we hope that people take responsibility and follow those orders, but it’s not something the health department or public health, we just don’t have time or the resources to keep policing people who don’t follow orders.

“It just takes time, people will just have to stay calm and let the virus cease from transmission. We have to break that chain of transmission and we’ve been promoting all the measures. Everyone knows what to do, you just gotta wait, don’t panic,” said Tasmania.

In the meantime, the health department is waiting for assistance from New Zealand over the coming weeks to help until they return to normal staff numbers.

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