As hospitals fill with Covid-19 patients, surgeon warns against driving stupid

7:30 pm on 19 December 2022
AUCKLAND - FEB 20 2016:Auckland City Hospital at night.

Already this year 359 people have been killed in road accidents, more than 2020, 2021 and 2022. Photo:

With the latest Covid-19 wave continuing to worsen, a top surgeon is begging New Zealanders to drive safely these holidays - because our emergency departments are already bursting at the seams.

It's the first summer since 2019/2020 with the borders open - a boon for tourism, but more people on the road means more risks.

"There's going to be a lot of trouble around the country," Li Hsee, consultant trauma and acute care Surgeon at Auckland City Hospital, told Checkpoint on Monday.

"Our worry is that there is going to be an increase in the number of road traffic crashes over the summertime. Our borders are open, there's going to be more tourists around and people may not be familiar with our road code.

"The message out there is really to take care this summer, over the holiday period, to prevent road fatalities and severe injuries."

The Tourism Export Council has previously said it expected about 2 million overseas visitors to New Zealand this summer, after two years of the border being tightly shut and Covid-19 restrictions largely gone, despite the current wave.

Hsee, who is also chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' Trauma Subcommittee, said the likely increase in accidents over summer will put pressure on hospitals which are "full pretty much, all the time" already.

There are currently 581 people in hospital with Covid-19, nearly six times as many as there were at the start of October. About 6000 new cases are being reported each day, which some experts have said is likely to be well below the real number of infections.

Already this year 359 people have been killed in road accidents, more than 2020, 2021 and 2022. In 2013, the road toll was only 253.

"We are expecting to see an increase in accidents and injuries during the holiday period," Hsee said. "But you know, we are here. We are ready to do our best for our patients.

"But we just need to bear in mind the fact Covid is still around - there is a lot of sickness still within our healthcare staff - while we are busy, we are short of staff."

Hsee said there are three main things drivers need to remember before hitting the road.

"Make sure you stay alert - don't drive when you are tired or distracted by your mobile phone, for instance.

"It is important to stay sober - don't drink and drive. And definitely observe the speed limit.

"Make sure you slow down. We know that about two-thirds of road deaths occur in 100km/h speed zones or above. The faster you go, the higher impact, the risk of fatality and severe injury… causing a longer hospital stay and rehabilitation."

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