Covid-19: Government defends home isolation scheme after three deaths

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Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay announces 201 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.

The Covid-19 home isolation system is not overwhelmed with patients, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Roberston says, despite the nurses’ union warning there could be more deaths as the scheme grows at a “rapid rate”.

A man in his 60s was the third person to die while isolating at home with the virus in Auckland in the past week. A 40-year-old man with the virus was found dead in his Manukau apartment by a family member and a man in his 50s also died while isolating with the virus in an apartment block in Mt Eden.

“By and large I think the system is working well but clearly there are some examples that are coming through where we do need to tweak the system – that is happening,” Robertson said during a Covid briefing at the Beehive in Wellington on Friday.

But the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation said there was a real concern the health system didn’t have the capacity to care for people in home isolation. There were 2,998 people isolating at home across 929 Auckland households on Friday, as 201 new community infections were reported.

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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay hold the Covid update press conference on Friday.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay hold the Covid update press conference on Friday.

“There are now several hundred such referrals every day and demand for service is growing at a rapid rate,” lead organiser Christina Couling said. “It is a real concern that the system simply does not have the capacity to handle this and that this could result in more deaths among Covid patients isolating at home.”

Auckland's three district health boards had between 300 and 400 nursing vacancies each, she added.

Robertson said the Government speaks daily with hospital leaders about how the system is coping and had been told it was managing with the rise in cases isolating at home.

“One of the things we talk about every single day is the capacity of the system... and the assurances that we've been given by the district health boards is that they are able to manage,” he said.

“I'm not going to accept that the system is overwhelmed. What I'm going to accept is we've got some examples where things have not gone the way that we would like them to go. We have a process of continuous improvement” Robertson said.

Director General of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said there may have been communication issues with the latest death and the daily phone call checks might not be the most appropriate method for everyone.

“Messages can be given but sometimes that might not be understood or it's not received, or people may need a different way of communication with them. And that's one of the things that we're looking at as part of the extra tweaks to the system that we've currently got in place,” she said.

People isolating at home should immediately call for help if they are worried about their condition, McElnay said.

“This is the advice that's given to anyone and everyone who has been cared for in the community with Covid,” she said. “This is a very real reminder that the more people who get Covid-19, sadly, the more deaths we are likely to see.”

McElnay said providers had assured her that they phoned people isolating at home every day, went through a number of questions specifically asking for symptoms, and offered additional health professional support.

Investigations into the three deaths are ongoing.