Covid-19: Middlemore Hospital on standby in case of mass outbreak

1:49 pm on 30 March 2020

South Auckland health authorities say they are preparing for a coronavirus outbreak on par with those seen in Italy and New York City.

But the region's top medical official says the nationwide lockdown should snuff out the possibility of similar death tolls in New Zealand.

Middlemore Hospital

Middlemore Hospital has multiple negative pressure rooms suitable for Covid-19 containment. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The most recent publicly-available modelling, by the University of Auckland, suggests up to 80,000 New Zealanders could die without measures such as the government-enforced four-week lockdown.

According to news organisation Associated Press (AP), New York currently accounts for more than 40 percent of the deaths from Covid-19 in the US. The state alone has reported nearly 60,000 cases and close to 1000 deaths.

Italy, meanwhile, has nearly 98,000 cases.

On Friday, Counties Manukau District Health Board's (CMDHB) chief medical officer Peter Watson said his staff were preparing for the worst-case scenario.

"If we are similar to other countries who have gone early and hard, we expect it certainly not to be as severe as in, for instance, Northern Italy or New York City," he said.

"But what we're planning for is, if we did get large, large numbers, how we would respond.

"We are planning for potentially those ... situations similar to the other countries, which are really under the pump ... and having those worst-case scenarios.

"But we are expecting not to go there."

Dr Watson said CMDHB staff were being deployed in a fashion that would ensure sufficient numbers could continue should nurses and doctors themselves fall ill.

"Understanding that if we get widespread community transmission, our staff will become sick, or our family members will become sick," Dr Watson said.

"That will impact on us as well, but we've been doing a lot of workforce planning around how we would continue our essential services."

CMDHB was confident it could cope with an inevitable influx of patients infected with Covid-19.

"We are optimistic that, although we fully expect and we will receive patients, it won't overwhelm the hospitals," Dr Watson said.

"We've got significant capacity available, so we have many available beds on our wards and we're ready to receive people should we have to.

"Time will tell, but at this point we have a level of confidence and we think that's important."

Middlemore Hospital, for example, has multiple negative pressure rooms and could make certain wards Covid-19 specific.

"Once we've received a certain number we will convert this area of our ward into a Covid-19 ward, or this whole ward will become Covid-19 patients, or we would elevate to our next level," Dr Watson said.

"As soon as we start to receive patients we will then start to re-evaluate where we're up to."

Middlemore Hospital would effectively become the DHB's "Covid hospital", Dr Watson said, adding the intention was to keep the Manukau SuperClinic virus-free.

While visitor rules had been tightened, Dr Watson stressed South Aucklanders suffering from conditions other than Covid-19 should still head to hospital.

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