Gastro outbreak: Crisis questions for Hastings mayor

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The Hastings District Council and the mayor Lawrence Yule have come under fire for the handling of the gastro crisis in Havelock North and the manner in which the community was informed. Hawke’s Bay Today put 10 questions to Mr Yule.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule.

1. What day and time were you first told that a test of the water was positive and what action did you take?

On Friday at 2.30pm I received an advisory from chief executive Ross McLeod that we had a potential issue: that we had received a positive e-coli indicator reading in the Havelock North water supply and that the health board had signalled an outbreak of illness in the same area.

At 4.30pm I was advised that it was believed the two could be linked and a decision had been made to chlorinate the water supply in that area.

I was also advised that DHB, MOH and HDC were meeting to discuss a boiled water notice and incident management. I asked to be kept informed and was advised that a communications strategy would be enacted once decisions were made.

The chief executive and I continued to communicate during the evening and then again on Saturday morning.

I was then in my office from midday on Saturday and most of Sunday working with the council team.

2. What day and time were you first told that there were people getting ill in Havelock North and what action did you take?

Same answer as question 1.

3. Do you think Hastings District Council has been negligent in its duty to provide safe drinking water to the community?

There is a duty for council to provide safe drinking water. Something has gone wrong here but as yet we do not know what that is, or why. We are determined to find out how and why, and ensure it never happens again.

4. Why did you offer to potentially pay compensation and have you worked out how you would do so?

As I have said, compensation is something council will consider and may be insured for, depending on the circumstances. How that will manifest itself will depend a lot on the outcome of the inquiry. No assessment criteria has been set.

5. Are you going to introduce new protocols for the testing of water in the district?

The protocols are set by Ministry of Health (the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand). We take more samples than are specified by the standards.

6. Who is advising you and have you had any emergency council meetings with your full council?

A full team of staff from a number of organisations including council, the district health board, emergency management, Ministry of Health and MPI are working on this matter.

There have been no meetings of full council regarding this. Councillors have been kept fully appraised of the situation. I held an informal councillor briefing at 4pm yesterday and they have had regular updates from staff and myself.

7. Are you concerned that any legal action could be taken against you?

To be fair, I have not even considered this. My focus is totally on the health of people and the securing of the water supply to ensure that.

8. What do you think you personally could have done better in this crisis?

From my perspective, I believe our staff have worked extremely hard to manage this crisis. Personally, I have been wherever I can that is of help but, in the end, it is the staff who can make the real difference to people's health and well-being.

I don't really want to comment any further than this, as I don't want to pre-empt the coming inquiry.

9. You have said that you don't think this is an election issue. Do you still hold that view and do you think you will lose votes because of this?

I refuse to politicise this emergency. I have temporarily suspended my campaign activities in order to keep the focus on our residents who are ill, helping to manage this crisis, informing the public, getting to the bottom of how this happened and making sure it cannot happen again.

My role as mayor in an emergency is more important than campaign activities.

10. What can you say to assure Hastings District residents that the council is doing all it can to keep the community safe?

We've increased the level of monitoring, chlorinated Havelock North water and issued a boiled water notice.

To reassure people, we have also increased testing monitoring across the network to daily monitoring.

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