The big concern of the HB Emergency Civil Defence Management Group (HBEMG) is that people getting “level 4 fatigue” will start leaving their bubbles and venturing out around the region, forcing Police to ramp up their enforcement.

Coordinator Ian Macdonald says there’s already evidence of that happening, but ignoring the rules and treating Easter “as if it’s a normal holiday” could rapidly change the currently equilibrium in the number of Covid-19 cases in Hawke’s Bay.

“Police are clear about this and that’s why we’re increasing our messaging,” says Macdonald.

While HBCDEMG has been given “extraordinary powers” in this state of emergency, it has only used those to shut down parks and public places, as under existing legislation that would have required councils to publicly notify that action first.Its role is largely dealing with welfare needs that sit beyond the ability of most organisations and agencies to deal with quickly. That includes working with existing agencies to coordinate delivery of food, household goods and medicines where there’s no other option.

The emergency management team, based in its new facilities adjacent to Hastings City Council’s premises, is viewed as the centre of a hub with about 40 spokes out to a network of networks.

Teams of eight people in two shifts operate from 7am – 10pm daily monitoring what’s happening from Central Hawke’s Bay to Wairoa and keeping in virtual touch with key people in the region’s councils, agencies and community groups on a daily or at least twice-weekly basis.

It works with individuals and groups who are part of its “strength-based-system” which uses the resources and contacts needed to meet people’s needs, ranging from Oranga Tamariki or vulnerable children to Age Concern and all points between.

“Macdonald says HBCDEM supports and reinforces these groups, provides some funding and makes sure they have what they need to meet the needs of people in their own networks. “There are hundreds of people who are being helped by organisations they are in contact with.”

It has close links with tangata whenua through Ngati Kahungunu Inc (NKII) and the taiwhenua groups and works with the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the Police, Fire and Emergency.

HBCDEM only steps in when these networks have exhausted all other options. “It’s a community-led response and we are the safety net.”

“It’s so far so good, but who know where this is going to go. If people don’t stick to level 4 lockdown potentially it could get far worse.”

Covid-19 caught the local group off guard and the current scenario was not something it had trained for. “I don’t think anyone in the country had thought about a lockdown based on a pandemic. There had been pandemic planning mainly by DHBs.”

Consequently it can’t operate the way it might in an earthquake, tsunami or flood. “We can’t have 40 people in here working away, so we can only have about eight people in here at one time and we have virtual teams that work for them.”

Having the main councils working on a shared services model and using the latest technology is a major plus. “We’re all on the same song sheet and working together with electronic tools, pulling up maps and using Microsoft Team so we can set up a video conference with everyone at the drop of a hat,” says Macdonald.

“I think this will be a big change to the way all the councils and agencies in Hawke’s Bay work in the future.”

The main call on HBEMG has been on coordinating the distribution of food resources on behalf of those, who for various health, disability or age reasons can’t get to the supermarket or don’t have someone who can go for them.

Initially it met some of those distribution needs itself, including delivering food, but now in partnership with the supermarkets it’s become a more automated logistics process once people have been assessed.

“The supermarkets deliver on our behalf and the government ends up paying. That’s begun ramping up from 50 to about 80 a day.” Over Easter that demand is expected to increase.

With that “Fit for Now” process operating fairly smoothly despite “creaks and groans occasionally” and aiming to deliver online shopping needs within 24-48 hours, it’s moving into the next phase “Fit for the Future”.

That, says Macdonald, is a kind of contingency plan to increase capacity “so we can deal with a lot more if we have to” being rolled out ahead of a similar national programme.

It’s a public-private partnership approach geared to handle the welfare consequences of any major escalation of Covid-19 cases and the impact on families and their support networks.

That will include not only providing food but also vital household goods such as clothing, blankets and prescription medicines. “At the moment we can deal with hundreds of people, but we want to be able to deal with tens of thousands across Hawke’s Bay.”

“We’ll still do the needs assessment; then we hand it over to a private sector organisation to deal with it from there.”

From Wairoa to Central Hawke’s Bay, the local councils have a more hands-on approach with strong support from Ngati Kahungunu and the taiwhenua groups.

While Government has made money available to Maori communities, support is being offered there also, particularly to help the elderly and those in poverty or who don’t have the resources for whatever reason.

Under certain criteria some groups can receive support to set up a foodbank and we are helping fund that for tangata whenua and for groups like Age Concern and Salvation Army as ‘essential services’.

Part of that will also help relieve the pressure on the MSD, which on April 1 processed 100,000 applications for employment benefits and wage subsidies, with massive delays at the Work and Income call centre of up to 80 minutes.

While more staff had been moved to the front line, Macdonald says the problem was there weren’t a lot more resources to call on.

That was part of the national needs assessment system about to be introduced to help MSD, Whanau Ora and others.

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