Retirement village chiefs in the multibillion-dollar sector are meeting weekly to discuss plans to protect 43,000 elderly New Zealanders living in communities owned by the NZX listed businesses from coronavirus.
John Collyns, executive director of the Retirement Villages Association, said the CEO's taskforce met for the first time yesterday and he had blocked out dates till August for ongoing meetings.
"It's not in villages, touch wood," Collyns said of the virus which has so far affected five New Zealanders.
Ryman Healthcare's Gordon MacLeod, Metlifecare's Glen Sowry, Oceania Healthcare's Earl Gasparich, Generus Group's Graham Wilkinson, Arvida Group's Bill McDonald, Summerset's Julian Cook, the Aged Care Association's Simon O'Dowd, a representative from the Alpine Retirement Group and Bupa New Zealand's Maggie Owens were in the group, Collyns said.
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Collyns said nothing surprising emerged from yesterday's meeting but industry chiefs would work more closely together, sharing information to keep villages safe.
"We're preparing fact sheets, talking about how it's spread, and making sure people keep registers of ravel and registers of people visiting the villages. I don't think mass evacuations of retirement villages is even a likelihood. Villages are very self-containable - more easily able to be contained than the wider community with trained staff, residents supporting each other and now we've set up this pro-active CEO's task force," he said.
A special task force had also been established of the association he runs and NZ Aged Care Association and that is understood to have struck an agreement with district health boards over access to supplies and equipment including gowns, masks and gloves.
Collyns said aged care facilities could deal with viral outbreaks such as norovirus and influenza.
The World Health Organisation says coronavirus has proved especially deadly for older people. The fatality rate in China for those over 80 is an estimated 21.9 per cent, it says.
But for ages 10 to 39, the fatality rate is roughly 0.2 per cent, according to a separate study drawing on patient records of 44,672 confirmed cases. And fatalities and severe symptoms are almost nonexistent at even younger ages.
Oceania's Gasparich said some staff who had travelled to the countries affected by coronavirus had been in self-isolation for 14 days. They had been paid for that time away from work but whether staff who now travelled to countries affected by the outbreak would be paid was something to be considered.
Gasparich was confident villages could access DHB equipment and he cited gloves for staff, gowns and other personal protective items.
He has no concerns about that aspect of dealing with any possible outbreak. Around 3500 residents live in Oceania villages, staffed by around 2700 people, he said.
Oceania was following Ministry of Health guidelines on the outbreak and had implemented new policies more than a month ago, he said.
"If residents are coming back from overseas, we're talking to them about where they've been and if they have been in at-risk areas. We are well prepared," Gasparich said.
Collyns said it was not up to the association to decide on such matters but a case for each employer and workplace.
"We can't stop our residents going places, they're independent. But if you do, you need to understand how you could be placing the rest of the community at risk," Collyns said of retirement village residents and staff who left New Zealand.
A Ryman spokesman said: "Our main priority is to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community. We have not had anyone affected at this stage. We have asked anyone who is unwell with cold or flu symptoms, including high temperatures, to stay away from our villages. We are asking anyone who has travelled to any affected countries, to avoid visiting our villages and to self-isolate if they think they have been exposed to the virus."
Since January, Ryman had been working on infection control and contingency plans and got in extra emergency supplies of personal protective equipment. It had also prepared to help people through periods of self-isolation.
Any Ryman resident with COVID-19 symptoms would be isolated and transferred to public hospital if necessary, he said.
Anyone who the infected person has been in contact with would be isolated and looked after.
"Care centre residents will be isolated in their rooms, with infection control measures in place. We will ask independent residents to self-isolate in their homes, and we will support them in any way we can. Arranging for relatives to keep in touch with loved ones and providing regular updates on them," he said.
Metlifecare's Sowry said his business was watching the situation closely and also observing ministry guidelines.
"Any staff returning from high-risk countries are required to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to work. We are asking residents who have been travelling overseas to talk to their village manager on return and if necessary to self-isolate," Sowry said.
If any Metlifecare resident caught the virus, the business was well prepared and resourced to manage the situation, he said.