Defence Health updates
A Message from the Chief Medical Officer 30 May 22
Kia ora team
As COVID-19 continues to circulate in NZ communities, the NZDF continues to test and adjust its response in order to reduce the impact on our people and our outputs. As COVID-19 becomes more widespread and endemic in its presence in NZ, things don’t get any easier for a military workforce.
If you contract COVID-19
A number of NZDF personnel have now had COVID-19 – a few more than once. Experience is that people have a miserable time while unwell and complete recovery from all symptoms is taking around 14 to 21 days. Critical is managing your symptoms well and not returning to work or physical activity before you’ve completely recovered. Please seek health advice early for your illness, and seek support if symptoms are persisting beyond that 14-21 days. Give your body time to fend off the infection completely through rest, so you do have the best recovery and no long term issues.
People’s lived experience with COVID-19 should remind us that this can be a significant illness, with potential for challenging health outcomes. We should continue doing all we can to protect ourselves and our workplaces from infection or re-infection. Infection spread in workplaces can have great consequence on our outputs as most of our work teams are greatly impacted when several people are off sick at the same time.
For the most part NZDF workplaces have not been a source of infection, as our Force Health Protection measures when in place, are working well to keep the workplace free of transmission events and a safe place to be.
The two most impactful measures we can take to keep workplaces safe are:
- Don’t attend the workplace if you have any un-investigated respiratory or COVID-19 like symptoms. Keeping people who have respiratory symptoms that represent a risk of infecting others away from the workplace has definitely contributed to stopping the circulation of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses at work. Heading into winter this will be even more important, as there will be a surge of COVID-19, influenza and other respiratory illnesses over the next few months.
- The next most useful FHP measure has been demonstrated to be mask wearing in the workplace. We have seen transmission occur when unmasked personnel have even short contact times with an unknowingly positive case prior to them testing positive, conversely, we have seen no transmission from infected personnel when their interactions with others have been masked. Indoor locations with close proximity to others is where transmission occurs freely. Wearing a mask is a very effective way to increase your personal protection and avoid spreading and catching COVID-19.
Commanders and managers of NZDF workplaces and activities are considering COVID-19 as part of workplace and activity Risk Management Plans, and close review of the success of these measures enables us to improve management of the risk while still ensuring effective sustainable outputs.
If you get symptoms, test positive or know about a high risk exposure event, the actions to take are in the NZDF Actions on Positive Cases document which will be kept up to date with any new information.
Global trends in infectious diseases
We are currently seeing domestically and globally, a surge in COVID-19 and other respiratory and infectious diseases, for example measles, polio and influenza are all increasing in numbers across the world. Along with ensuring you have had your COVID-19 booster to provide every opportunity for protection from serious illness with COVID-19, you should check your other vaccines are up to date (MMR, Polio - usually part of childhood immunisation schedules, but if travelling you may need a booster) and seek out an Influenza vaccine to protect you over winter. Talk with your health provider about what you can do to optimise your protection from these types of illnesses.
Travel risks and COVID-19
COVID-19 infection around the time you are due to travel is also a challenge for meeting evolving border requirements. If you are infected within 21 days of intended travel please seek health advice early to assist with documentation that may be required to clear you for travel. Personnel testing positive while overseas are also facing disruption to travel plans and contingency should be made for this eventuality.
Travelers or foreign visitors entering NZ are commonly becoming infected on their travels. The period 5 days after international travel is a high risk contact time and it is recommended that where possible, remote working is done for this immediate post travel time. Alternatively a good risk management plan (RMP) with effective alternative controls such as symptom screens, distancing, masks and testing should be adhered to if people are critical to be back in the workplace over this period. Consideration should also be given to a robust RMP and FHP measures that should apply when hosting foreign visitors.
Vaccines have played a crucial role in protecting NZ and New Zealanders from the serious complications of COVID-19. It is likely that targeted vaccines will continue to be useful in future management of the virus, and the aspiration is that we will move to a more ‘seasonal’ vaccine that is able to better target future variants in the same way that influenza seasonal vaccines do. In the next few weeks we are likely to see fourth doses of the current vaccine offered for some people with vulnerable health conditions. NZDF will support those who fall into these categories in accordance with MoH guidance. Wider need for a fourth dose is not expected until we see some future targeted options for increased protection.
While it may feel like we are all “over” COVID-19, the unfortunate reality is that the virus is here to stay for a while yet. The good news is that we do know what types of measures successfully prevent and stop spread of the illness, so optimising those measures will help keep cases down and workplaces functioning and safe. At the same time those measures are generally effective at stopping other transmissible diseases and the structured way that NZDF personnel and workplaces are protecting themselves will help us stay healthy over winter.
Thank you for your contribution to following workplace FHP measures and looking after each other. Please continue to seek advice from an NZDF Health professionals to guide your command / manager decisions and keep supporting and protecting your whānau and colleagues.
Noho ora mai rā
CMO - Lt Col Charmaine Tate
A Message from the Chief Medical Officer 11 Nov 2022
Following a peak in COVID-19 cases in July 2022, NZ saw a steady reduction in cases during August and September 2022 which led to the Government’s decision to withdraw the National COVID-19 Protection Framework. Throughout October there has been a steady increase in COVID-19 cases, which the Government continues to monitor.
In line with the national trend, the NZDF has also seen a steady increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases over the past month, which we will also continue to monitor.
While most of our people are recovering from COVID-19 within 4-weeks, some are taking longer to return to full fitness. To protect our people’s health and operational outputs, it is important that we all remain vigilant to the threat posed by COVID-19 and remember the following key points:
- If you have respiratory symptoms:
- stay away from work; and
- complete a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), reporting positive results to your DHC and online through My Covid Record
- Managers, ensure symptomatic personnel are not at work. If staff have COVID-19, consider appropriate workplace risk mitigation.
Further advice on COVID-19 case management can be found on the NZDF Actions on document.
Noho ora mai rā
Lt Col Bob Duncan
- If you have respiratory symptoms:
A Message from the Chief Medical Officer 14 Apr 22
Kia ora team,
NZ has now moved to the ‘orange’ setting under the National COVID-19 protection framework. The major change with this is the restrictions on capacities for both indoor and outdoor public events has now been relaxed. Other measures such as mask wearing in most settings, isolation times and household contact rules remain in place. Check the Unite Against COVID website to see the changes in detail.
NZDF has been looking carefully at our own case numbers across camps and bases, and in particular we have been reviewing the incidents of workplace transmission.
The good news is, that workplace transmission events remain low in NZDF, particularly where the recommended Force Health Protection (FHP) measures are in place. From experience, the two clear control measures that have the greatest protective effect are – not coming to work if you have any symptoms or known recent exposures to positive cases, and mask wearing. In particular, where we have had people at work inadvertently testing positive, no transmission has occurred when that person and their workplace contacts have worn masks.
Transmission to workplace colleagues has occurred when masks were not worn, even for short periods, such as meal breaks, short meetings or socialising. We have adjusted the NZDF High Risk settings to reflect this, and as long as masks have been worn even in smaller indoor spaces we consider the risk of transmission from a positive case not to be high, and no stand down or testing is needed, just vigilance for symptoms, and test if symptoms do occur.
As the borders open up and more travel occurs we are seeing an increase in positive cases in people who have recently returned from overseas. We do consider the 5 -7 days after a person returns to NZ, to be high risk and encourage either working from home and day 5 test before return, or extra vigilance at work and testing to ensure travel has not inadvertently introduced risk to others in the workplace. The NZDF Actions on Positive Cases outlines these high risk settings, what to do if you test positive, and what actions to take as a commander/manager.
At the end of April there is likely to be a shift for NZDF workplaces to really be able to tailor their FHP measures to reflect the context and events occurring in that workplace. Risk management plans will continue to form the basis of safe practice and the hazard of COVID-19 will be considered for all activities with FHP tools being applied as appropriate. Most workplaces will start to see more people at work after the Easter/ANZAC break. Some distancing is still encouraged in workplace set ups and certainly the key concepts of staying away from work if you have any symptoms or exposures and wearing masks at work will remain in place. Your commanders/managers will let you know when and what changes may apply to your workplace.
Lastly, please still keep in mind that catching COVID-19 matters. We want you to stay well and by now we really do know the ways to avoid catching the virus. If you do get COVID-19, it is very important that you take time to fully recover. There is a difference between minimum isolation time and the time before you might be fully recovered to return to work. Evidence shows that optimal rest and a slow gradual return to physical activity no earlier than a week after you recover, really reduces the chance of longer-term problems from your COVID-19 infection, even in those people with very mild illness. A period of light duties can be expected after your infection period to ensure you are really recovered before returning, particularly to physical roles in NZDF.
Take care and reach out if you need assistance or support. The reporting lines in the NZDF Actions on Positive Cases document and support networks remain in place, and we need to keep looking out for and supporting each other.
Noho ora mai rā
CMO - Lt Col Charmaine Tate
A Message from the Chief Medical Officer 30 Jun 22
As we progress through winter, COVID-19, influenza and other winter illnesses are proving to be very prevalent in the NZ community and our NZDF population. We are doing a good job limiting impact in the workplace with FHP measures, particularly through keeping symptomatic people out of workplace, effectively testing and isolating COVID-19 cases and preventing onward transmission of illness through our behaviours. A couple of additional tools are available for people from this week.
A fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose (second booster) is now available for: people who are seen as potentially more vulnerable to exposure and severe illness, meeting MoH criteria; those over 50 years of age; and anyone working in the health, aged care and disability sector who is over the age of 30 years. They can receive a second booster a minimum of six months after their last COVID-19 vaccination. Further information can be found on the MoH website (health.govt.nz).
For those not in these categories, the two primary course doses and one booster continues to provide good protection. For those who haven’t had a booster, now is the perfect time to seek maximum immunity from your vaccine course by getting the third dose.
Recent studies are highlighting the lack of immunity gained from infection, with Omicron variants in particular, this means having had COVID 19 does not make you immune to future infection. Vaccines are the key to optimising your immune response and lessening the impact of circulating infection.
For uniformed personnel, Defence Health Centres will have stock of vaccine in the next week, however, if you get a COVID-19 vaccine externally please send through the details of the vaccine to email@example.com, to have the information placed on your medical record.
- The email should include your service number, NHI number and the date vaccinated.
- If you have the batch number and expiry date of the vaccine from your vaccine appointment that is ideal. If you don't have those full details, still email to advise you have been boosted.
The Influenza vaccine has now been made free for a greater number of New Zealanders. NZDF also refunds the cost or provides (for uniform personnel) your Flu vaccine. Please be active in seeking vaccination to protect you and your whānau from what is a very unpleasant illness that will keep you out of work and not able to continue your daily activities for potentially some weeks, with the chance that you can infect others while unwell.
Please continue to follow the recommendations in the NZDF Actions On document if you get symptoms, test positive or know about a high risk exposure event. Note that if you have symptoms you should be repeating your RAT tests after a few days with symptoms, as early in infection course the RAT tests can be negative. Commanders and managers are also required to review incidents of workplace transmission of COVID-19 in order to ensure applied FHP measures remain effective.
In terms of international travel the requirement for pre departure tests to RTNZ have now been removed, however the expectation that you do not board a flight knowing you have an infectious disease is part of international health regulations, so expect that your travel will still be disrupted if you contract COVID-19 either pre-departure or while away.
Noho ora mai rā
Col Charmaine Tate
During this time of working remotely, please use NZDF mobile devices in preference to RAS where possible to ensure efficiency and effectiveness for remote users. Please be conscious of peak times of log on for remote users and avoid staying logged in to RAS when not in use. Please also use appropriate meeting and collaboration tools.