Kate Hawkesby: Large public events are a coronavirus risk

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Wed, 11 Mar 2020, 11:24AM
Pasifika Festival organisers hope they aren't going to get anyone sick - and they should worry. (Photo / File)

Kate Hawkesby: Large public events are a coronavirus risk

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Wed, 11 Mar 2020, 11:24AM

The Prime Minister was seeking official advice yesterday over two major public events coming up this weekend: the Mosque attack memorial in Christchurch, and the Pasifika festival in Auckland.

She wanted to know, given the Covid-19 situation, how to manage them. She was reassured by the Ministry of Health the events can go ahead as there's no community outbreak.

Well, there isn't yet, but surely that's just a matter of time.

And is there really any way to 'manage' large scale public events? In the very city where the cases of Coronavirus are, the Pasifika organisers have said they're rightly nervous, they don't want to feel responsible for anyone falling ill.

But surely the more you gather in large groups of people, in a city already grappling with five confirmed and two probable cases, with 47 under investigation and 2334 people still in self isolation - the more risk you take?

The Auckland Council tried to reassuringly suggest they were on top of things. They said they were 'being vigilant'. What they mean by that is they're briefing people about hand washing.

The advice for these public events is, if you feel sick, stay home. But how do you police that? And at what point do you feel sick?

Some cases we know of say they felt absolutely fine, had no idea they were carrying the virus at all.

The official advice is these events are manageable, but all you're relying on is people voluntarily doing the right thing, to cough into their elbows and stay home if they're sick.

Although I’m largely in the ‘don’t panic’ camp, I take that view from the luxury of not being in the high mortality risk age group and of not having any pre-existing conditions.

Not everyone fits that criteria. I met a guy yesterday whose pre-existing bronchial condition means that he can't afford to risk catching Coronavirus as his chances of surviving it, according to his doctor, would not be very high.

Now that’s scary. If you’re in that category, or have a weak immune system, the risks for you are far greater. Likewise for many older people.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said that, "Now is the time to be even more vigilant.“ He said, “All of us have a role to play in stopping further spread."

Given that, surely then the goal is to protect as many people as possible, and that includes not taking any risks with large scale public events.