COVID-19 resources for the public
Amendment to the Health Act (COVID-19 Alert Level 3) Order - 29 May 2020
Many of you will have heard the announcement from Dr. Ashley Bloomfield today regarding veterinary services being added to the list of businesses able to offer contact services.
We would like to emphasise that the amendment to the Health Order he was speaking of is in essence a clerical change that doesn't mean any significant alteration in how veterinary businesses are currently operating.
The amendment has formally placed veterinary services in the list of Category A businesses or services in Schedule 2 of the Health Act (COVID-19 Alert Level 3) Order 2020 – this is effectively the list of essential services (which we already knew we were on, this just wasn't specified in the original order).
What this means for you:
- You still need to contact your veterinarian ahead of time – please do not just turn up to the clinic.
- You can access the premises (e.g. the carpark), but many clinics doors are still shut to everyone except staff. This is because we are still required to adhere to strict physical distancing and infection control measures.
We know the current restrictions are tough on everyone. Please continue to be kind and understanding towards your veterinary team during this time, as they continue to be there doing their best for you and your animals.
Veterinary services are considered an essential service in the New Zealand Government's COVID-19 response.
We provided an essential services plan to the Government to indicate how veterinarians would manage COVID-19 risks while providing essential veterinary services. A further, more detailed document to support the high level information provided to government is available to members.
Pets are part of your bubble too!
Stay in your bubble and save lives.
Walking your dog
The dog owners among us will no doubt be pleased of the opportunities to get out and walk the pooch in these times of restricted entertainment options. However, in the spirit of social responsibility, we also need to apply the principles of physical distancing to our furry friends – this means walking on lead/harness for the foreseeable future.
Keeping your dog on a lead reduces the chances of you breaking your bubble to retrieve them if needed, as well as lowering their risk of getting into trouble. Remember, only go walking with other people from your bubble, and walk from your house rather than driving somewhere else.
We know this will be a challenge for those of you with the more exuberant canines! Remember to include lots of other enrichment options for them throughout the day as well, so that they are still getting plenty of stimulation. Here's a few tips on spending more time with your pet due to COVID-19 to get you started.
The current restrictions means that those of you with young puppies are going to have to work a bit harder to ensure you are raising curious, confident dogs. Here are a few resources to give you pointers on ways that you can still provide meaningful experiences for your four-legged friend during this time:
- Puppy Socialisation During COVID-19
Courtesy of Dr Jess Beer of Kiwi Vet Behaviour
- Puppy socialization during a pandemic
- Puppy or rescue dog socialization during COVID-19
Your average Kiwi cat is probably used to coming and going as they please. However, if you have COVID-19, or are self-isolating, it is recommended that you keep your cat indoors as much as possible while you recover. Despite the current lack of evidence that pets can transmit COVID-19 to humans or animals, we still don't fully understand if pets can act as fomites and transfer the virus on their coat or skin. Therefore, it is still wise to be cautious and keep them at home.
This also needs to be balanced with how happy your cat is to be inside – many cats may find this very stressful if they are usually outdoors. To help make indoors a more appealing place for your feline friend, the SPCA has a couple of great pieces on enrichment tips, and the home environment.
Here are some useful resources from Hayley Squance, a consultant on Animal Welfare Emergency Management, and veterinary clinic preparations for COVID-19.
This piece on social distancing in veterinary clinics, includes a decision making flow-chart that might be helpful.
COVID-19 FAQs for the public
Veterinarians are considered an essential service and can continue to provide essential services at all alert levels. All essential service providers in the primary sector (including veterinary practices) must register with MPI by 5pm Friday 27 March if they wish to operate at alert level 4.
The Government expects veterinarians to behave appropriately in the circumstances. This means using good judgement to make decisions, based on the immediate or potential risk to animal welfare and/or food safety - and the immediate transmission risk of COVID-19. Veterinarians cannot continue to operate with a ‘business as usual' mindset.
Please refer to the document ‘Essential Service Provision' (in the member resource list) for NZVA advice on what services might be appropriate to continue providing at the various alert levels.
If essential businesses do not operate appropriately, they will not be allowed to operate at all. MPI are clear veterinarians are not exempt from this, meaning essential service qualification can be revoked on a case by case basis.
We support your decision to do whatever it is you think necessary to mitigate the risk to your team and clients. Our document is a guideline only, and we trust every business owner will consult widely with their team and make decisions that work for everyone.
Veterinarians can choose the level of service they wish to provide – there is not a mandated list! Your practice may choose to stop offering some listed services, or even close entirely. The status of veterinarians as essential service providers does not mean veterinarians must provide all or any service. However, your obligations to make arrangements for emergency services (as per VCNZ Code of Professional Conduct) remain the same.
Remember this list is not exhaustive. Veterinarians need to use their discretion to determine if providing a particular service is essential in that circumstance.
When considering if a service is essential, ask yourself if failure to perform the task could jeopardise animal welfare and/or food safety and security.
Our best advice around this currently is, if veterinary staff are deemed as close contacts of a known COVID-19 case, you need to follow public health officials' advice. We appreciate for some, this will mean many staff going into self-isolation, or possibly closing your doors. While there can be no doubt this raises significant worries around financial viability for many, we need to be aware of the 'greater good' the Government is trying to achieve.
We recommend you refer to our message from 18th March, where we outlined some steps that can be taken if you find yourself low on staff. Employment New Zealand also has good guidance for employers if they are faced with the possibility of staff being affected by COVID-19.
Finally, familiarise yourself with the COVID-19 Employer Support information on the Work and Income website.
In response to our message on March 18th, some members have asked if, given the recommendation to adopt PPE when handling animals from households that are self-isolating or symptomatic, if all animals should be considered as fomites and therefore all consultations reduced to urgent cases only and undertaken with PPE.
Our view on this is, given the current New Zealand situation, such an approach is not warranted at this time. The recommendations outlined are intended as a precautionary measure when dealing with animals from households with an identified risk of COVID-19, given there is a gap in our understanding of whether such animals pose a transmission risk.
The important point to note here is the qualifying statement that unless an absence of service leads to animal welfare or food safety risks, non-emergency services should be conducted remotely where possible. Our expectation is veterinarians will make good triaging decisions based on an initial remote assessment (phone call, video call etc.), before deciding to see an animal.