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Coming out of lockdown safely – A view from New Zealand

How our lives have changed. Over two months ago we published a popular blog on the effect of COVID-19 on our surgical practice (https://www.bjuinternational.com/bjui-blog/covid-19-and-urology/). In many ways it informed us as to what to do during challenging times to keep our patients safe.

As we gradually take careful steps out of lockdown, our minds are focused on the most important of all words – SAFETY. 

While every nation will have differences and nuances, the principles of learning from each other, remain the same as they did when lockdowns started.

I am not surprised by new and ever changing information about the disease almost every day and see international collaboration as a powerful and positive tool in this situation.

With this in mind I requested our friends from Italy, China, Germany and New Zealand for their own perspectives.

Here are their thoughts for your reading pleasure.

Please feel free to insert your comments under the blog and share on social media.

Yours in friendship,
Prokar Dasgupta
Editor in Chief, BJUI

It is hard to believe that 9 weeks ago as USANZ President the ASM was cancelled, due to the impending wave that was the Covid-19 global pandemic. Health and safety, reputation and finances were considered, in that order. USANZ 2020 ASM was the first major medical conference cancelled – others followed lockstep. There was no blueprint for this global black-swan event!

On our return to New Zealand an island country of 5 million, where 60% of health care is delivered via the public health “free for all” system, the remainder in the private sector. Our visionary Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern initiated a “go-hard go-early” level 4 lockdown with only essential services open – elimination was the goal.

We were all un-prepared, and it lasted 5 weeks. A surgical pause in both health sectors allowed planning, preparation and training in PPE for the disease surge that did not arrive. We zoomed in our pyjamas and made sure we were free for the 1pm daily national television briefings featuring Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield, DG of health, who has achieved cult status, and now features on a range of t-shirts. Cell phone tracking data indicated over 90% reduction in movement. Our “team of 5 million” has been a large part of the evolving success story. Elimination was possible, is possible and was confirmed! During this time manual contact tracing was expanded, testing snowballed, and Covid cases fell to zero.

During level 4 we undertook only non-deferrable surgical cases, with case definitions agreed by all specialties. We lost only 10% of our theatre volumes. OPD were completed by phone or video, and only patients that needed a procedure were seen face to face. Medically we have had no actual Covid cases in the surgical service, a handful of Covid patients in ICUs nationally. The majority of deaths did not reach ICU due to their age and co-morbidity.

We have now welcomed stepdown, level 2 with open arms, although concerned about a second wave of cases, however our unquestionable advantage of living in this unique country – our island fortress with a salt-water moat – sees us optimistic. We’re adjusting to sign in manually to all retail premises in light of no electronic tracing App and 80% of our businesses are open with the exception of bars, gatherings are restricted, and our hard borders remain.

Currently we enter the hospital via a staff entrance, with hand sanitiser but no masks. Patients are allowed 1 visitor only and have to sign in, use hand sanitiser and have restricted duration of visit. Normal surgical volumes have now resumed with no restrictions on the type of cases allowed.

We are advised to stay home if we have any respiratory symptoms, get a swab and cancel activity – no more kiwi grit or soldiering on! Patients are screened 7 days pre op by a phone call, delayed if international travel or a Covid contact within 14 days. A swab is only recommended if the patient is symptomatic, and if negative surgery can be completed. Patients are cancelled on the day of admission if they are unwell. Cancellations are now acceptable. A 20% operating theatre throughput reduction has been observed. We feel lucky, for now. From a USANZ perspective we are looking into innovative virtual meeting formats along with cancelling or postponing all face to face meetings.

Our international borders remain hard with a 14-day voluntary lockdown for all incoming. This will be in place until a successful vaccine is available. We accept international isolation will be in place for a while and hope to enjoy this pause, while implementing any useful learned strategies. We are proud of our inspirational leader, intelligent government and unprecedented international success – at least up until now. We wait, watch, listen and hold our breath… remember we are all in this together!

Stephen Mark, USANZ President

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