Gisborne hospital is equipped to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak, although its only respiratory specialist is stranded in Queenstown.
Respiratory consultant Dr Peter Brown and his colleague Dr Tim Roberts, a consultant cardiologist at Gisborne Hospital, are locked in Queenstown after four canceled flights.
The couple attempted to return to Gisborne when the instant lockdown cut short their ski vacation last week, but were unable to secure a return flight.
An extended deadline for people to leave Queenstown and return home due to the national level 4 lockdown expired at the end of Friday.
Air New Zealand said its priority was to try to get passengers home within the timelines and restrictions set by the government.
Hauora Tairāwhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green said they have a team of people who can respond to Covid-19 in Gisborne and can access respiratory advisers in Waikato if needed.
Dr Brown had been “instrumental” in setting up systems and processes to respond to Covid-19 at Gisborne Hospital during last year’s lockdown, and these were still in place despite his absence , Green said.
“We are just reviewing and examining [the processes] now this is a different situation than last year given that we actually have no cases of Covid-19 to our knowledge in the [Gisborne] community or hospital.
“We would be very happy to have Peter back,” said Green. “We hope he can come back soon.”
Covid-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 which can affect the respiratory system which includes the lungs and airways.
Dr Brown said he was frustrated that he could not return to Gisborne under these circumstances.
“If there was a Covid crisis in the region (Tairāwhiti), then I would like to be there,” Dr Brown said.
“Fortunately, that probably won’t be the case in the next few days, but we don’t know what will happen in the next week or so.”
Dr Brown said New Zealand had taken the right approach to the lockdown, but essential workers still needed to be able to return home.
“I think this is the right approach, but essential workers still need to be able to get to where they work.
“I don’t think we’re the only two doctors who are stranded.”
Dr Brown and Dr Roberts are due to return home to Gisborne on Wednesday.
While initially concerned that Wednesday’s flight would not continue, Dr Brown said those concerns were fading with the news of the number of cases.
It comes after two of their flights, booked for Friday, were quickly canceled. They got to the airport at 6 a.m. on Friday for their third flight booking and found it canceled, while a fourth booking for Saturday was also canceled.
Air New Zealand said it had put in place additional flights to get people out of Queenstown and although many had been booked, there were plenty of seats available on the later flights to Wellington and Auckland.
A spokesperson for Air New Zealand said that following the government’s announcement of a nationwide Level 4 lockdown, they operated their full national and regional schedule for 48 hours to allow for people to return home, adding extra capacity where possible.
The government extended the initial 48-hour grace period by 24 hours to allow Air New Zealand to bring in more Kiwis from Queenstown, as that was where the greatest demand came from.
This exemption only applied to flights from Queenstown and did not allow them to operate a full schedule to all ports, the spokesperson said.
“Over 6,200 people responded to the government’s call and took one of our flights from Queenstown within the 72 hour period.”
Once the government announced that the entire country would remain on Alert Level 4, it adjusted its schedule accordingly.
Air New Zealand was operating a reduced schedule over the next few days to ensure essential workers and cargo could still move around the country. This did not include flights to or from Queenstown.
“We will then re-evaluate our schedule based on any further government decision.”
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest information service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers’ Association and NZ On Air.