Coronavirus: Accommodation fund announced for health care workers living away from home during the pandemic

The Government has announced three initiatives to support health and disability workers, including an accommodation fund for those needing to live away from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The value of all care workers has shone recently as New Zealand grapples with the outbreak of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Nearly 1500 Kiwis have been reported as infected with the illness and 21 have died.

With the elderly and immuno-compromised particularly at risk if they contract the virus, many frontline workers, including those in healthcare, have chosen to live away from vulnerable family members out of concern of potentially passing on the illness if they should become infected themselves.

Health Minister Dr David Clark announced on Tuesday a $10 million ring-fenced accommodation fund for health and disability workers who need to live away from home during the pandemic as they have vulnerable people living at their house. It covers workers in roles where they may be in close contact with patients.

The fund is also accessible to those who have been deployed to other parts of the country to provide additional support.

"We want to help you keep your families safe. This fund will help protect vulnerable loved ones, and help staff to continue delivering essential health and disability services," Dr Clark said on Tuesday, which is also International Nurses Day.

On top of the accommodation fund, a phone counselling service has been set up for health staff requiring extra mental health support during what Dr Clark said was a "stressful time". It will be funded for nine months. 

An 0800 COVID-19 line has also been organised to provide clinical advice to community health providers. 

"This dedicated number ensures that community clinical staff can access advice directly from their peers," Dr Clark said.

"Every frontline health and support worker, whether they're in primary health or community, at a hospital, in an aged care facility, Maori or Pacific provider, NGO or in any other organisation delivering essential services are appreciated for their efforts and we want to support them."