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COVID and the Aged Care sector

On the announcement of a snap lockdown on Sunday 14th February, 45,000 residents in 400 Retirement Villages entered New Zealand’s strictest lockdown. Family visits and group activities were restricted as the country awaited news on whether the new strain of COVID had spread further into the community.

Retirement Villages – and Aged Care facilities more broadly – have borne a heavy responsibility toward keeping their residents safe and curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The safety measures adopted by Aged Care Centres are particularly important in light of the new COVID variant. Reported to be more contagious and deadlier than the original COVID strain, this mutation has resulted in 111M coronavirus infections globally.

The impact of COVID on elderly populations around the world has been devastating. We know that of Europe’s 800K+ fatalities, 90% occurred among people aged 60+ years. We are truly fortunate in New Zealand where 2,350 total cases of COVID have been reported, at the time of writing. Of the 26 people who passed away in New Zealand, 23 people were aged 60 years and above.

A number of these fatalities have occurred in nursing homes, where an increasing number of Kiwis are spending their final years. In spite of these tragic deaths, we are incredibly fortunate to live in New Zealand where geography, decisive policies, broad social cohesion and data integrity have resulted in manageable case numbers.

Consider the situation in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing calls for resignation for providing misleading data around COVID deaths in nursing homes. While initial reports indicated that 9,154 residents of New York nursing homes died as a result of the virus, that figure was adjusted following investigation a few days ago: a total of 15,049 residents of New York nursing homes from the virus.

There’s no telling exactly how the latest mutations of COVID-19 will impact the Aged Care sector. Warnings that new and more infectious strains would emerge have been reported for months. It’s alarming to see how under-prepared some Aged Care facilities overseas have been, particularly over the past six months. Spare a thought for the staff who do their utmost to protect their residents from the intrusion of COVID.

From the relative safety of Aotearoa, this situation seems to have played out in strange, slow motion. While you may have read of the funds spent on ineffective PPE, recently, we’ve escaped the harsher realities of wasting precious staff time, resources and protective gear that larger economies like the US currently face.

Like you, we’ve been following this week’s news about vaccines and distribution closely. As relief sets in, we must take a minute to acknowledge the efforts of the Aged Care staff and other frontline workers whose diligence has kept our communities safe. Using data from the past month, we know that tracing, testing and personal vigilance are key to slowing the spread of COVID, even as vaccines are rolled out.

We also know that contactless service delivery is a part of the solution. Beyond their efficiency, contactless services provide barriers of safety that’ll help protect our most vulnerable populations – long after New Zealand’s immunisation programme has commenced. Like many of the tools we adopted during the lockdowns of 2020 – video conferencing, food delivery apps, and QR scanners – contactless service platforms have already demonstrated their value beyond the pandemic. An example of things to come: a revolution in the way that Aged Care providers interact with their residents and the wider community.

21 February 2021


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