Winter illness surge as sick leave dwindles
For two years we’ve been told to stay home, rest and recover but what happens when sick leave runs out and workforces are strained by absenteeism?
Mōrena and welcome to The Bulletin for Tuesday, May 24, by Anna Rawhiti-Connell. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: NZ to train Ukrainian forces; new Indo-Pacific framework; calls for birthing centre to reopen; but first, winter is coming and some workers are already out of sick leave.
Health experts are worrried about a twin or tridemic this winter (Image: Getty Images)
Winter illness twin or tri-demic
As winter approaches, health experts are worried about a possible twindemic, or even tridemic of respiratory illnesses. There is a review of the traffic light setting today and officials are working with modelling that say a third of hospital ward beds in the country will be occupied with respiratory illnesses over winter. Covid cases in Auckland have risen by 75% in the last four weeks. After two years of very low levels of influenza, shut borders and lockdowns minimising possible spread, there are signs of a big flu season underway in Dunedin already. Director of the national influenza centre, virologist Dr Sue Huang, spoke to Kathryn Ryan yesterday, and said they are expecting a very busy season of winter illnesses and that we need to be very careful and very prepared.
Teachers already running out of sick leave
In a blog published on Friday, a group of public health experts from the University of Otago are asking the government to create a Covid action plan for schools as a precaution for winter. They want it to include isolation for all close contacts of cases. The problem? Teachers would need more sick leave to do it. NZEI Te Riu Roa primary teachers' union president Liam Rutherford says teachers are already struggling to take the mandated time off for household contacts. “We're only a quarter of the way through the year and we've got people who’ve already used their sick leave."
People away from work due to sickness up 67%
For those who can’t work from home, the questions about sick leave entitlements are only going to get louder over the coming months. We know the number of people who gave sickness or injury as a reason for being away from work was up 67% in the March 2022 quarter. What happens if people run out of sick leave? Countdown staff have already launched a petition asking for a Covid leave policy to be reinstated. For those of us who can work from home, hybrid work can create a kind of limbo – lines between work and home blur. We can technically work while sick.
Working through it
For two years we’ve had this new, healthy narrative about staying home, not because we don’t want to face anyone full of snot but because it’s right not to spread infection to others. We’ve also been told to rest and recover after getting sick, especially as a way to prevent long Covid. American writer, Anne Helen Peterson has just written this about the normalisation of working through Covid in the US. Our new understanding of illness and infection should be pushing us away from this. In the face of dwindling sick leave entitlements and pressure on workforces as more people get sick, the question now is whether it’s an approach that can be sustained.
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New Zealand signs up to Indo-Pacific Economic framework
World leaders are very busy catching up right now. US President Joe Biden and newly sworn in Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, were in Japan to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Jacinda Ardern zoomed in from the airport on her way to New York and signed us up too. The framework is not as ambitious as the CPTPP, the region-wide free trade agreement, and instead focuses on increased cooperation on areas like clean energy and internet policy. Katherine Tai, a top U.S. trade official travelling with Biden, told The Associated Press that the new framework is intended to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific region. If Ardern is able to meet with Biden on her travels to the US, “the Pacific’s geopolitical jigsaw puzzle” as Geoffrey Miller put it, will travel with her.
New Zealand to train Ukrainian forces
Just before heading off to the airport for her trip to the US, the prime minister held a post-cabinet press conference. She announced the deployment of defence force personnel to support Ukraine's defence against the Russian military invasion that is now entering its 89th day. New Zealand defence force personnel will be stationed in the UK and will not enter Ukraine. New Zealand had been asked to help train Ukrainian soldiers with a particular weapon – the L119 light gun. “We see this additional deployment as a way New Zealand can support Ukraine,” Ardern said. “There are very few armed forces that could provide this training.” About 230 Ukrainian forces will be trained via this new deployment. The deployment is expected to last until the end of July.
Business Is Boring, in proud partnership with Spark Lab
When Simran Kaur and Sonia Gupthan founded Girls that Invest two years ago, they didn’t expect that it would expand into the brand it is now, with one of the world’s most popular finance podcasts, over 150,000 instagram followers and now even an international book deal. This week, Simran Kaur joined Simon Pound on Business is Boring to talk about her fight to dismantle the patriarchy through financial literacy. Listen to the podcast here.
Calls to reopen recently-closed birthing centre in the Hutt
A follow up to a story last week about the closure of the Heretaunga Block at Hutt Hospital due to seismic concerns. As well as closing the building that provides 75% of beds at that hospital and a quarter of hospital beds in the region, it has also put a halt to work to upgrade the maternity suite there. National MP Chris Bishop has launched a petition calling for the recently-closed Te Awakairangi Birthing Centre, which closed last September, to reopen. Emily Writes covered the story of its closure, only three years after it had opened.
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