Coronavirus: Healthcare workers concerned that restriction easing will fuel more cases

Rowan Quinn for RNZ

Some frontline doctors and nurses worry the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland will fuel more cases in the community.

The government has kept the city at alert level 3 but from midnight tonight two households of up to 10 people can meet up outdoors and, over time, more easing is to follow.

Auckland GP Api Talemaitoga was taken by surprise at the new socialising rule.

"I thought, whoa, that's just fantastic - if they're all fully vaccinated," Talemaitoga said.

"But as we know, with our vaccination rates being low, it's just the potential to allow this virus to spread.

"It has shown us if we give it the opportunity, it will spread."

Talemaitoga worried about the networking effect; that households could meet one group one day and another the next, allowing the virus moving with them.

Intensive Care Society spokesperson Andrew Stapleton said he was extremely nervous because vaccination rates were low.

The health system, particularly intensive care, was not ready to cope with Covid-19 being widespread in the community, he said.

While the approach taken by the government was cautious, any signals the country was opening up made him wary, he said.

"It feels like this has been looming over us and with every announcement that means that there's more Covid in the community before people are vaccinated, we worry more," he said.

There must be more done to recruit nurses because without them there would not be enough intensive care capacity in a major outbreak, he said.

Auckland intensive care nurse and vice chair of the College of Critical Care Nurses, Steve Kirby, had seen the impact of the virus first hand.

"A lot of my colleagues are feeling the stress and anxiety of the outbreak as well as the constant pressure on the system," he said.

He urged a cautious approach to the further opening up that the government had signalled, checking at every step that the health system could cope.

Talemaitoga wanted each stage of opening up to come with set vaccination targets - if the target was reached, the restrictions would ease.

The government should have pushed harder to vaccinate more people in the lockdown, and must do more now, he said

But the easing of restrictions would have some benefits - he saw patients every day struggling in the lockdown and the changes could help their mental health, Talemaitoga said.

Turuki Health chief executive Te Puea Winiata was relieved the government kept Auckland in alert level 3.

Allowing people to meet in a measured way in outdoor settings would help them get used to the careful socialising that would be the norm when Covid-19 was eventually in the community, she said.

There now needed to be a dedicated and methodical approach to vaccinating Aucklanders, particularly Māori who had lower rates.

Even initiatives that only reached a few people were worth it because every person counted, she said.