Mayoral update on Covid-19

23 March 2020

Good afternoon Wellington – I’m Mayor Andy Foster – I want to give you another update on what’s happening in Wellington in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is safe to say these are momentous and grave times – and I am personally very pleased and relieved that the Prime Minister has made the calls today to go to pandemic alert level 3 and then level 4 on Wednesday.

That means essentially a national lockdown at this stage for a month, and quite possibly longer.

Personally I want to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government for taking these steps which will give us the best chance of getting through this while minimising damage to the health of our community.

We must all play our part. This is literally a matter of life and death, as we are seeing in so many countries around the world. We have a chance to minimise the impact if we act now, and we act together.

So to Council’s role. Over the weekend the Chief Executive reorganised the Council as an organisation.

First there are those functions which are directly related to the Covid outbreak.

Second, there are essential services such as water, waste and transport, and key support functions such as our call centre and financial functions.

At this stage the Council service centre in Manners Street is open, that will close on Wednesday, but the attached library (Arapaki) remains closed until further notice.

Third, we are reviewing which pieces of work can continue, and which have to be paused. It is vitally important that we also plan for recovery when we come through this challenging time.

Vulnerable staff are already working from home and of course most staff will be working from home very shortly.

The Council’s Pandemic Response Team has been meeting over the weekend. Their main focus has been on making sure the Council’s staff and resources are focused on critical services.

These services include:

• community welfare – making sure our most vulnerable people are looked after.

• Infrastructure – including water supply, sewage and roads – making sure our traffic lights are running for example.

• Waste operations – as I’ve already mentioned

• Public health – our staff will be doing their bit to ensure supermarkets and other essential services operate safely.

The Pandemic Response Team is also looking at options for the redeployment of Council staff – we have workers from, for example, our closed libraries and swimming pools who might be able to help out in critical areas that need more resources – for example our contact centre or in community welfare.

By way of a clarification from my last message on Saturday - I said that all community centres are closed. In fact some of the centres are offering ‘remote’ services – our advice is to give the centres a call or check their websites just to be sure.

We have changed your elected Council’s decision making arrangements to allow any democratic decisions to be made without meeting physically.

Probably of more interest and concern to Wellingtonians, the Southern Landfill, off Happy Valley Road, was closed to casual customers from 5pm today.

This means residents will not be able to take their household rubbish or hedge clippings, for example, to the waste transfer station at the landfill for the foreseeable future.

We’ve made this call to protect the health and safety of our landfill and rubbish collection staff – the risk of Covid-19 transmission between staff and the hundreds of people who cross the landfill weighbridge and hand over cash or use eftpos machines each day is too great.

I apologise for this inconvenience - we need as many of our Waste Operations staff healthy and on the ground as possible so we can keep our weekly rubbish collections going and the landfill operating – it is an essential service.

We have a FAQ page on the Council website on which we will endeavour to answer all your questions.

We are reviewing our budget and will make further announcements in due course. We are particularly conscious that we will need to avoid anything that impacts on ratepayers whose income is adversely affected by this crisis.

For our wider community non-essential services must close over the next 48 hours. Schools will be closed from tomorrow except for children of essential service workers. They will close entirely from midnight Wednesday.

Supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies will remain open and available. Please do not panic buy. We will not eat any more than we did a week ago. The stock will get through.

Yesterday I spoke with and visited some of our supermarket operators. I will take the opportunity of posting my visit and discussion with the supermarket owners later tonight. You will see well stocked shelves and literally hundreds of pallets of stock that have arrived in just the last 24 hours.

We are all instructed to stay home except to go out to the supermarket or doctor. We will be able to go out for fresh air or a walk or run – but it must be solitary or with those you are living with.

Maintaining isolation from other people is essential to stopping the spread of the virus. It is simply essential to saving lives, ours, our families, our friends, our communities.

Isolation gives us a chance - we have not escaped.

We are aware of community groups being established to help those who particularly need to stay isolated and are better to stay at home. That is wonderful and shows the strength of our community. We will need to continue to get advice as to how these arrangements can work in the level 4 scenario to keep people safe.

Please establish phone or other non-physical connections with your neighbours if you don’t already have them.

We will keep you posted with further information as the crisis develops.

In the meantime please stay safe, stay separate, follow all of the MoH health requirements. That way – we will get through this – together.