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Civil Defence prepares for flu pandemic

Bay of Plenty Times, 17 June 2009

Civil Defence is ramping up emergency plans in anticipation of having to back up health officials should swine flu cripple the country.

The news comes as it's also been confirmed the Bay of Plenty now has four confirmed cases of swine flu, and 74 people are being monitored.

The number of confirmed swine flu cases rose by 31 yesterday to reach 117 and is expected to rise further as it spreads within the community rather than just coming in with overseas travellers.

The Ministry of Health is set to abandon efforts to try to contain swine flu if the virus becomes too widespread to stamp out.

The Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group has said if the health sector became "overwhelmed" by swine flu, they would step in and help support the community by co-ordinating the delivery of groceries and meals through volunteers, including Neighbourhood Support.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board communications manager Carol Wollaston said about eight people a day had arrived at Tauranga Hospital's emergency department worried they had swine flu. None of the cases to date had turned out to be swine flu, Ms Wollaston said yesterday.

"Anyone who arrives with suspected swine flu is assessed very quickly, and taken to a designated isolation cubicle.

"At this time of year, we often get people coming to ED (emergency department) with seasonal flu."

Ms Wollaston said staffing levels at the hospital had not been affected by swine flu, with the number of staff off sick typical for this time of year.

Any staff member with an infectious illness was advised not come to work. "That would always be the case with any flu."

Meanwhile, Civil Defence is stepping into preparation mode in case swine flu does choke the health sector.

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group co-ordinator Greg Wilson said at the moment Civil Defence were just the "backroom boys" making sure things were in place should they be required.

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group encompasses the Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty districts, Rotorua district, Opotiki, Whakatane and Kawerau.

The centres man their own emergency operations centres, except for Western Bay and Tauranga City Council, who man one together.

Environment Bay of Plenty is also included in the group, and is the administrating authority.

The Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, through their welfare advisory group, would co-ordinate the delivery of welfare services during a pandemic.

Mr Wilson advised that residents should be prepared incase things worsened, and they were stranded alone for several days.

Thanks to Y2K and ads for Civil Defence, people are much more aware of the need to have an emergency kit and stocks of food in case of an emergency.

However, Mr Wilson said latest figures showed only about 29 per cent of the population were prepared for a civil emergency.

The health messages at the time of the bird-flu scare in 2005 should have alerted people to the need for hand-washing, smothering coughs and sneezes and face masks - basic but effective precautions to slow the spread of infection.

Mr Wilson said prior to the outbreak of Influenza A H1N1, Civil Defence was looking to update their 2006 pandemic plan.

The organisation now had a modified version and a draft pandemic plan for 2009.

The 2006 plan looked at responding to a pandemic like the one that hit New Zealand in 1918, when Spanish flu swept the country and killed 8251 people.

Mr Wilson said the 2009 plan was written to include a more "milder scenario" and include some scenarios from New Zealand's 1957 pandemic.

Organisations like Civil Defence and police could be stretched maintaining public order - guarding chemists' shops and supermarkets - if distribution breaks down, as it might in a major pandemic.

Again, the pandemic plan has considered these possibilities and there are measures in place to cope with varying degrees of economic and social disruption.

Mr Wilson said there should be a revival of neighbourhood watch groups, and everyone should have the phone numbers of neighbours on either side of their home and opposite them in the street.


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