Spaced out chairs, no handshakes and definitely no hugs.

That is the new normal for staff at Western Bay of Plenty District Council, responding to the coronavirus pandemic while also trying to keep on top of ratepayer services.

Western Bay of Plenty District Council's head office on Barkes Corner in Tauranga. Photo / Andrew Warner
Western Bay of Plenty District Council's head office on Barkes Corner in Tauranga. Photo / Andrew Warner

People and customer services group manager Jan Pedersen said the council was taking Covid-19 "very seriously" and taking steps to make sure it supported the national response while also delivering services the community relies on.

"We have assessed all our services and we will continue with all of these. It is important we balance economic direction with the safety of the public and minimisation of the spread of Covid-19."

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The council had already cancelled planned public events such as the free Hello Future District Future Fun Days. Smaller gatherings such as council meetings and ward forums remained operational for now.

"We are following social protocols where chairs will be spaced out accordingly to ensure social distancing and a register will be kept of who attended each meeting," Pedersen said.

"We are monitoring these protocols on a daily basis and should things continue to evolve could affect the way we run council with fewer council meetings."

Pedersen said the council was, where possible, encouraging people to contact them online rather than in person.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chief executive Fiona McTavish says it is monitoring the coronavirus situation very closely. Photo / File
Bay of Plenty Regional Council chief executive Fiona McTavish says it is monitoring the coronavirus situation very closely. Photo / File

The council had about 250 staff, 50 of who were currently working from home. To date, no offices or branches had been closed.

In Tauranga, the city council would close its Baycourt theatre from this evening, and performances there had been cancelled.

Manager of community services Gareth Wallis said the council was focused on continuing to deliver essential services for the city, such as water, wastewater, stormwater, transport and waste.

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Community engagement activities regarding council projects would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Wall said a team had been working on its readiness, should Covid-19 impact locally.

"We're also, of course, focused on looking after our people and ensuring they have the information they need, and processes in place, to keep themselves and their families healthy."

The council had increased its cleaning schedules and hand sanitiser provision.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chief executive Fiona McTavish said the pandemic would have a significant impact on Bay communities and industry.

"We are monitoring the situation closely and will move quickly as needed to support our community and protect the health and wellbeing of our employers..."

Tauranga City Council's Gareth Wallis says it's working hard in response to coronavirus. Photo / File
Tauranga City Council's Gareth Wallis says it's working hard in response to coronavirus. Photo / File

McTavish said the council's continuity plans had now been activated and it had tested staff's ability to work from home "and we are confident in our technology and practices".

The council had already cancelled a Happy Harbour Fun Day scheduled for this weekend and was reviewing other events and meetings on a case-by-case basis. This included council meetings "which we are exploring expanded video conferencing and recording options for".

The Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group Emergency Coordination Centre had been activated in monitoring mode to support the local health response which was being led by Bay of Plenty District Health Board and Lakes District Health Board.

"Regional council will maintain agility and respond based on evolving best-practice advice and will be [continuing] to make decisions in the best interest of our communities and staff," McTavish said.