Coronavirus: Tauranga fears for elderly residents after first confirmed case

Tauranga officials are concerned for their elderly population with the first case in the region confirmed.

On Sunday health officials revealed the city's first confirmed case of the virus is a man in his 30s who recently returned from the US. 

Mayor Tenby Powell says they have a different demographic than other parts of the country. 

"We're very conscious that we've got a duty of care to these citizens, and we're going to act on that very soon."

Since speaking to Newshub late on Sunday, Tauranga City Council has said it will shut all libraries, pools, halls, indoor sports centres, community centres and Trustpower Arena and Stadium from 12pm Monday. 

"The only exemption to the closing of facilities and activities is the Baywave Early Childhood Centre and childcare programmes that run in Bay Venues facilities, as these are deemed to be an essential service by the Ministry of Education," the council said.

Around 20 percent of Tauranga residents are aged 65 or over, and most at risk of being killed by COVID-19, compared to 15 percent of Kiwis nationwide.  Another 25 percent of Tauranga locals are aged between 45 and 64. The older you are, the more likely you are to die if you contract COVID-19, which has killed more than 14,000 people around the world so far. 

It's estimated around 80 percent of the dead are aged 65 or over, with almost all the rest between 20 and 64. Children can contract the disease and get sick, but there are still no reported deaths in anyone under 10. 

Health experts say self-isolation and social distancing - staying away from others - is the best way to stop the spread of the disease, which can be carried and passed on by young people even if they're not aware they have it. 

"We're looking at measures to ensure that senior citizens, while isolated for their protection, are not isolated to a point where their mental health starts to suffer," said Powell.

Age Concern chief executive Stephanie Clare said it's important to practise social distancing, but not social isolation.

"Now's a really good time to connect with everybody - aunties, uncles, your parents - check in regularly," she told The AM Show. "Phone calls, Skype, emails - whichever way you can do it. It's about making sure they haven't been forgotten, that they're connected, that they're safe while they stay at home."

Stephanie Clare.
Stephanie Clare. Photo credit: The AM Show

She said if your elders don't have technology, give them some - or adapt to their way of life.

"Spend more time on the phone. Read chapters of books over the phone to each other... letters in letterboxes, little notes, things on doors."

And especially stay in contact with those who aren't taking it seriously.

"Please don't think it's a joke - it's a serious outbreak."