More than 800 hit by norovirus hospital lockdown

More than 800 people have been affected by emergency measures imposed at Dunedin Hospital today in the face of an outbreak of the highly infectious norovirus.

Over the past three weeks, 57 patients and staff have been diagnosed with norovirus, which can cause stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Over the weekend, a further 17 cases were reported.

All outpatients clinics, elective surgery, planned admissions and investigations scheduled for today have been postponed, affecting more than 800 people.

Security guards on the door yesterday turned away casual visitors, allowing in only hospital personnel bearing identification and visitors where there were exceptional circumstances.

Visitors with flowers, clothing or other items for patients were asked to leave them in a shopping trolley at the hospital's main entrance.

Only the emergency department remained open to the public after the lockdown was imposed about midday on Saturday in an attempt to contain the spread of the norovirus.

Visits to Wakari Hospital have also been restricted.

Dunedin Hospital operations manager Megan Boivin told the Otago Daily Times staff spent the day yesterday attempting to individually contact the 800 people whose appointments would be affected today.

Hospital managers plan to meet this morning to decide to what extent the hospital can reopen.

The situation would be reassessed every day and the public kept informed, she said.

The decision to postpone outpatient clinics, planned admissions, elective surgery and investigations scheduled for today was very difficult, Mrs Boivin said.

"There's pressure on the hospital but we are managing the best we can.

"We will remove the restrictions as soon as the situation is under control."

Meanwhile, the Service and Foodworkers Union felt a lack of resources was partly to blame for the outbreak.

The union's southern regional secretary, Campbell Duignan, said there had been issues over cleaning service provisions in hospitals for years and what was being seen now was the outcome of a legacy of cost-cutting and contracting out.

"For too long, cleaning has been viewed as a cost to be minimised and a substantial investment in the cleaning sector is urgently needed."

Mrs Boivin said she had no concerns about the standard of cleanliness in the hospital.

- NZPA

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