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Covid-19: Who really needs to be wearing protective gear?

There’s been a lot of talk about PPE of late – do we have enough, is it getting to the right people, and who exactly are the right people, anyway? Here’s the latest official advice.

The Ministry of Health has now circulated updated advice on the appropriate use of PPE (personal protective equipment) for both healthcare professionals and other essential workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. This advice includes basic hygiene measures for everyone – hand washing and sanitising, physical distancing, cough etiquette, not touching the face and regular disinfecting of surfaces – but the government says not everyone needs PPE.

What is PPE ?

PPE includes gloves, gowns, medical and surgical masks and eye protection.

The Ministry of Health guidelines say of those in healthcare, only staff working with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 for more than 15 minutes and within two metres need to wear full PPE, including those taking swabs. Hospital or medical centre reception staff don’t need PPE.

For essential non-health workers, the recommendation depends on the job.

Who needs masks?

Those working in border control, police, fire fighters (in a first responder role), prison and courts staff, and those working in public safety and defence.

Surprisingly, community care providers, such as those who work in hospice care, disability care, or aged residential care, have been told they don’t need masks or protective eye wear, only gloves and aprons if dealing with bodily fluids.

For most people in the community heading out to do their shopping, the World Health Organisation says face masks are not recommended.

Who needs gloves?

Anyone cleaning accommodation or campgrounds, and police, first responders, courts and prison staff if having physical contact with someone.

Those working in delivery or food retail roles are not recommended to wear any PPE at all.

Click to download the full PPE requirements for essential non-health workers.

Do we have enough PPE?

The government has continued to assure us there is plenty of supply in New Zealand. In his update on March 2, director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said that 200,000 masks were being produced locally each day and that the Ministry of Health and DHB stores contained 1.9 million aprons and gowns, 2.7 million pairs of gloves, 60,000 sets of eye protection and 18 million masks.

However, it’s being reported that widespread theft of PPE in hospitals is diminishing supplies and putting frontline healthcare workers at risk. Furthermore, New Zealand’s major supplier of gowns told RNZ that stocks were running low and plans to fly more in from China have so far been fruitless.

Unions have expressed the concerns of healthcare workers to DHBs and the Ministry of Health that there either aren’t PPE supplies, or that they’re not being distributed properly.



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