Friends and relatives of some of New Zealand's approximately 43,000 retirement village residents are being temperature-checked, asked to sign health and travel declarations and stop non-essential visits.
The largest listed company, the 36-village Ryman Healthcare, told people at the start of this week that its approximately 11,000 residents throughout New Zealand would now be the subject of new anti-Covid-19 measures.
Non-essential visits should stop, Ryman said: "We are adding a security check-in at our village gates in addition to the reception check. Once these are in place, all visitors will be required to check in at the gates and reception, including having temperature checks."
Brien Cree, Radius Care managing director, sent a letter out this week advising of restricted access mode.
The 28-village Summerset Group with about 5000 residents is asking those who have been overseas in the last 14 days, those ill or with cold or flu symptoms, to stay away. A new sign-in process applies with a declaration from visitors and relatives that they meet Summerset's new guidelines.
Metlifecare, with more than 5000 residents, has cancelled all open days and is asking external groups not to visit until further notice, restricting visiting hours to hospitals "to protect our most vulnerable residents" and asking all visitors to sign a declaration "to ensure they are well upon entering our villages, have not travelled overseas in the last 14 days, and are not living with someone who is in self-isolation".
The World Health Organisation says those over aged 80-plus suffer mortality rates of 20 per cent.
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Ryman's David King said: "We have been checking temperatures at reception with a thermometer since last week. We are using electronic ear thermometers which are very reliable. We are doing this at our offices as well."
On Monday, he issued a statement saying: "We are introducing new measures at all our villages to guard against the spread of Covid-19, including restricting non-essential visits and suspending communal activities."
King said older people were the most vulnerable and Ryman wanted to ensure villages remained a "safe haven" for residents.
All non-essential visits should be put on hold along with all visits to Ryman hospitals by children.
Group activities in villages would be stopped "including happy hours and Triple A exercise classes", his statement said.
All Ryman sporting and community events, including bowls and club meetings, were suspended.
"We are adding a security check-in at our village gates, in addition to the reception check. Once these are in place, all visitors will be required to check in at the gates and reception, including having temperature checks. We know these measures may be isolating for some residents. While they may cause a degree of disruption, we think it is the right thing to do in the face of this pandemic," King wrote.
"We have seen the impact on older people and the health systems overseas once Covid-19 takes hold. We have had strict infection safeguards in place so far, and we were pleased to see the Government's new measures come into force at the weekend. We think restricting visits and communal activities will help keep Covid-19 out," King said.
On Thursday last week, in an investment analysis headed "Covid-19 risk hangs over sector", Stephen Ridgewell, Adam Lilley and Sam White of Craigs Investment Partners released a detailed review of five listed retirement companies.
"Retirement villages/aged care facilities appear to be at high risk of infection from Covid-19. See for example outbreaks at rest homes in Sydney, New York and Washington State and elderly are at risk of high mortality rates of 15 per cent-plus, which is materially higher than for younger age demographics," they wrote.
Debt levels and longer-term plans by Ryman, Summerset, Metlifecare, Oceania and Arvida Group were all questioned in that piece. This week, Ridgewell said Government measures had given some comfort and there was less concern after the weekend announcement of new measures.
John Collyns, Retirement Villages Association executive director, said last week a new group of retirement village chiefs had been formed to discuss new issues on the pandemic: Ryman Healthcare's Gordon MacLeod, Metlifecare's Glen Sowry, Oceania'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.