More campgrounds ban unvaccinated campers but experts fear a summer spread
Unvaccinated campers are increasingly being banned from camping grounds as the holiday season looms, despite the lack of a Government Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
But health experts are worried the virus could spread quickly in unprotected camps.
Department of Conservation campgrounds and huts will require passes from December 15, and most holiday parks in the Top 10 group will take only vaccinated campers from varying December dates.
Holiday Parks New Zealand chief executive Fergus Brown estimates about 70 per cent of camping grounds so far have mandated passes, and that the number will climb.
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Government mandates cover hospitality outlets and gyms but not accommodation providers including camping grounds where people gather in kitchen, dining and bathroom areas. Children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said the lack of a mandate for camps was an oversight from the Government and could boost the spread of the virus over summer.
“Of course it is an environment for spreading the virus. I think most environments can be made safe, if the operators are very careful ... I am sure it is an ongoing effort for those people operating these facilities.”
Baker doubted every occupant would take the same careful precautions while on holiday.
“There may be crowds all mixing, vaccinated or not. These people may not be particularly good at wearing masks, particularly those eating and drinking at shared facilities.”
He said it could be hectic for contact tracing if the virus breaks out in big camps.
“I would have thought they [short term accommodation] should have been included in the mandate especially in the holiday period coming up.”
Royal New Zealand College of GPs medical director Bryan Betty said he did not understand why campground guests did not need to be fully vaccinated.
“We know that although you can catch Covid and transmit it, you are less likely to catch it and less likely to transmit it, that's the effect of the vaccine, so that's really important for protection of other people in the camp site.”
Betty said he thought the “prime motivation” of camp site operators would be to keep guests safe.
Otherwise, they were “potentially putting people at risk, who ... could be immune-compromised or have indications that could lead to worse outcomes from Covid”, he said.
South Brighton Holiday Park in Christchurch is one of those not requiring passes. Manager Sam Hawkins said it would be impractical as they have about 40 permanent residents and are in an open public domain.
“Our permanent residents are in both camps – some are vaccinated and some are not.
“There’s 360-degree access, there’s a tennis club here, and we can’t stop people coming in 24 hours using our facilities. It would take a lot of extra manpower and cost to put something like that into place.”
Campers had to wear masks and social distance in communal areas, Hawkins said.
“We’ve had a lot of questions about the new traffic lights system and vaccine pass. There have been calls from both sides of the fence.”
The Christchurch City Council will require passes for its bigger campsites from Friday, but not for small camps or those privately owned on council land.
Kylee MacLeod, manager of council-owned Duvauchelle Holiday Park on Banks Peninsula, said not everyone was happy with its vaccine mandate.
“We’ve had a very mixed reaction. Some people have called to ask about what we are doing, and then said they couldn’t come because they’re not vaccinated.”
One would-be camper who booked into Kaiteriteri’s Bethany Park for January said she was shocked to find it did not require vaccine passes.
The woman, who didn’t want to be named, said her husband was immunocompromised and Covid-19 could be devastating for him.
The camp could become known among unvaccinated people as a safe haven over the holidays, boosting the numbers and further increasing risk for everyone, she said.
Bethany Park’s website said they were “not anti-vaxxers but want to have an inclusive approach”.
Bethany Park board chairman Richard Cheeseman said it would be too difficult to implement a “no vax, no stay” policy because there were various access points to the site.
Safety measures included closing two indoor areas, wearing masks for other indoor areas, and social distancing, he said.
Glendhu Bay Motor Camp is another site not requiring passes. General manager Phil Hunt said they were fully booked for 1800 guests around Christmas.
“We welcome everyone to our camp, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. We are taking the best safety precautions.”
Those included social distancing, wearing masks and signing in on the Covid tracer app, he said.
Hunt said it was up to individuals to take the right steps to stop the spread.
“It is everyone's personal responsibility of who they allow in their bubble at the camp and to take the right safety precautions.”