Public at risk, confine infected sailors in rooms: expert


The best way to mitigate the risks posed by 15 crewmembers infected with Covid-19 at an MIQ facility is to lock them in their rooms without a break, a professor of medicine has said.

Des Gormans from the University of Auckland told RNZ Morning report program today that Wellington’s public had been exposed to undue risk because the system designed to prevent the virus from entering the country had not been executed.

Viking Bay Fishing boat crew members were transferred from the vessel moored in Wellington to the Grand Mercure hotel in the capital yesterday. One of the infected crew members was confirmed to have the virulent Delta variant.

The hotel usually keeps one floor with 10 rooms for infected people, but to meet the additional demand, it has opened a second level.

Gorman said the hotel was not designed to prevent people from breathing other people’s exhaled air and to keep their surroundings separate and that the whole episode posed an unnecessary risk that now needed to be minimized.

“I don’t think sailors should have been allowed to approach New Zealand waters without proper pre-departure testing and proper quarantine,” he said.

“This is not the first time that sailors have arrived here where we have been told that they have met our requirements before departure, which obviously is not the case.”

Having failed to keep them off, authorities should now ensure the sailors remain strapped to a room during their quarantine, Gorman said.

“There will be some who are not yet infected. I think the mixture and the mixture will just ensure that they are all infected. The reality is that we have imported an issue that should have been kept overseas with testing. before departure, etc.

“This has therefore put the people of Wellington at risk because the system has failed and I believe the public health needs of the people of Wellington demand that you take all possible precautions.”

Restricting sailors to their rooms without exercise or tea breaks within MIQ’s larger facility may seem draconian, but the public health emergency demanded that the greater good come first, Gorman said.

New Zealand was vulnerable to the risks of incidents like these, as nearly 90% of the population was unvaccinated, he warned.

New Zealand should learn from what is currently happening in New South Wales, struggling to contain a deadly community epidemic, he added.

“We’re incredibly vulnerable. If you look at the punt the NSW premier took a few weeks ago, look at how it turned out for her. She made a bet on that variant. Delta and she was wrong.

“And unfortunately paid a huge price. In fact, people have died from this punt and I don’t think we should take any risks that we don’t have to take while dealing with this particular variant.”

Gorman said it was almost inevitable that other crew members would be diagnosed with the Delta variant.

He understood that divers would need to fix a “gray water” leak from the Viking Bay and warned that they should wear personal protective equipment and be vaccinated.

He said the sewer material leak would contain the virus, but that it did not pose a great risk to general public health as it would not survive in the ocean. However, divers could be exposed.

“You think of the cascading risks here – the risks to the dive teams, the risks to the people who transported them to the hotel, the people who service the hotels,” he said.

“You are just adding layers to the risks, because our basic strategy of keeping this disease out of the country until we are vaccinated has simply not been executed.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said everything that could be done for infection control was underway and it was not a concern having the crew in Wellington rather than the Jet Park quarantine facility in Auckland.

“We have already had positive cases for Covid in different centers and of course we maintain the same infection controls that you would expect in any facility where we have people who might have Covid.

New Zealand had an obligation to assist people who might be in distress or need medical assistance in its waters, she said.

“It brings its complexity… so we have to provide facilities and care for those who are not New Zealand citizens.”

New Zealand was required to allow crew turnover when supply chains were concerned – for cargo ships in particular – she said, but had asked officials about fishing vessels foreigners.

“Do we have an obligation to re-equip foreign-flagged fishing vessels that ultimately fish a fishery of no economic benefit to New Zealand and contrary to our environmental interests?” It’s very different from the obligations we have if people get sick in our waters. . “

Earlier, public health professor Michael Baker told RNZ the number of infected people posed an increased risk, but could still be negligible if there was attention to detail and staff were properly trained.

“We know the risk is never zero and every time an infected person arrives in New Zealand and enters one of these facilities it increases the risk of border failures, but it can be managed.

“In general, there are two types of things that can go wrong. One is that facility staff are infected and other people come into facilities and get cross-infected… and then that person who was infected can go away. Obviously, aspects of the way they are … have to make sure these things don’t happen. “

Director of Public Health Dr. Caroline McElnay said Morning report she was confident that the managed segregation facility would be well managed.

McElnay said there is a well-developed system and protocols for handling cases.

She said the air conditioning systems were being evaluated for safety.

“We are considering taking measures to minimize this. The sailors are grouped together on specific floors. I have been informed by the public health department there, to whom I spoke to last night, that we have ensured this. that there is good spacing between the chambers and we are really focused on minimizing any risks that there might be. “

Sending the sailors to the Wellington facility instead of the Jet Park in Auckland was decided based on the risk posed to the New Zealand public, she said.

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