Hospital staff, including anaesthetists, are considering living away from their families for the foreseeable future after being called up to resuscitate Covid-19 patients when an expected surge of cases hits frontline services.

Now the country is on alert level 3 - and soon to go to the highest level, 4 - elective surgeries and procedures in the public system are being deferred, with health workers moved into other areas that will come under immense pressure if Covid-19 cases keep increasing.

The Herald understands some workers are now looking to book accommodation, such as via Airbnb, so as to stay isolated from their families and not risk transmission of the virus. DHBs are also considering accommodation options for staff.

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Anaesthetists are among those set to be moved to the frontline to help resuscitate people. Paediatric teams will also be called on to treat adult patients.

Figures put before Cabinet ministers show New Zealand could treble its current number of ICU or ventilated beds – which stood at fewer than 180.

Dr Craig Carr, the New Zealand chair of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, told the Herald hospitals were similarly racing to triple the number of staff trained to use ICU equipment like ventilators.

He previously warned the threat may mean the country's ICU capacity needed to double to meet the threat.

"Now we may need to go to an extraordinary measure and triple it - and what's happened in Italy has shown us that even that may not be enough."

Yesterday, Ministry of Health director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said he was "encouraged" by figures from a nationwide stocktake – which included public and private hospitals.

"The idea there is to not just be prepared, but complement measures we are putting in place to reduce the risk of that worst-case scenario."

The country's 39 private hospitals have also pledged help if the public system nears capacity.

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There are nine private hospitals with intensive care units, with a total of 37 ICU beds (one-to-one nursing). Across all 39 private hospitals there are 1269 inpatient beds, and 44 high-dependency unit (HDU) beds, which allow more extensive treatment but at a level below intensive care.

The private hospitals have a total of 174 operating theatres and 31 procedure rooms. They employ 2661 registered nurses. Doctors usually also work in the public system.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Health workers have pleaded with New Zealanders to take the new restrictions seriously, including Dr Paul Young, a doctor at the intensive care unit at Wellington Regional Hospital.

Following Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's historic announcement yesterday, Young took to Twitter, saying, "I have never felt as scared as I do now."

"Please stay home. If New Zealand embraces this challenge we will together save tens of 1000s of lives," Young wrote.

"The worst thing you can do is visit the supermarket. Hundreds of people together in a supermarket will spread this disease and the consequences if that happens will be worse than you can imagine.

"Hospitals being completely overwhelmed means that people die of heart attacks, strokes, accidents, etc. They die of everything because the kind of healthcare we take for granted will not be available if our hospitals are full.

"The healthcare system can't save us from #COVID19 but people staying at home can."