More New Zealand campgrounds are banning unvaccinated campers as the holiday season approaches despite the lack of a government COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
However, health experts are concerned that the virus can spread rapidly in camps that are not adequately protected.
Department of Conservation campgrounds and huts will require permits from December 15. The majority of holidays parks in the top ten list will only accept vaccinated campers with varying dates in December.
Holiday Parks New Zealand Chief Executive Fergus Brown estimates that about 70 percent of the camping grounds have mandatory passes. He predicts that the numbers will rise.
Government mandates apply to hospitality establishments and gyms, but not accommodation providers, including campgrounds, that allow people to gather in dining, kitchen, and bathrooms. Children younger than 12 are not yet qualified for vaccination.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said the lack of a directive for camps was a lapse by the government and could contribute to its spread virus during the summer.
“Of course, it is an environment for spreading the virus. I think most environments can be made safe if the operators are very careful. I am sure it is an ongoing effort for those people operating these facilities.”
Baker said he doubts everyone would take the same security measures while on vacation.
“There may be crowds all mixing, vaccinated or not. These people may not be particularly good at wearing masks, particularly those eating and drinking at shared facilities.”
He suggested it could be a nightmare in contact tracing when the virus is spread in large camps.
“I would have thought they [short-term accommodation] should have been included in the mandate, especially in the holiday period coming up.”
Royal New Zealand College of GP Medical Director Bryan Betty said he did not understand why campers were not required to be fully inoculated.
“We know that although you can catch Covid and transmit it, you are less likely to catch it and less likely to transmit it, that’s the effect of the vaccine, so that’s really important for the protection of other people in the campsite.”
Betty added that the “prime motivation” of campsite managers is to ensure that guests are safe.
In other words, they could be “potentially putting people at risk, who … could be immune-compromised or have indications that could lead to worse outcomes from COVID,” he added.
South Brighton Holiday Park in Christchurch is among those requiring permits. Manager Sam Hawkins said it would not be feasible since they have around 40 permanent residents in an open public domain.
“Our permanent residents are in both camps—some are vaccinated, and some are not.”
“There’s 360-degree access, there’s a tennis club here, and we can’t stop people coming in 24 hours using our facilities. It would take a lot of extra manpower and cost to put something like that into place.”
Hawkins said that campers were required to wear masks and keep a social distance in communal areas.
“We’ve had a lot of questions about the new traffic lights system and vaccine pass. There have been calls from both sides of the fence.”
Christchurch City Council will require permits for its larger campsites starting Friday but not for smaller campsites or privately-owned sites on council land.
Kylee MacLeod, manager of the council-owned Duvauchelle Holiday Park on the Banks Peninsula, expressed that some weren’t happy with the vaccine mandate.
“We’ve had a very mixed reaction. Some people have called to ask about what we are doing and then said they couldn’t come because they’re not vaccinated.” One potential camper who booked in Kaiteriteri’s Bethany Park for January said she was shocked when she discovered that it didn’t require vaccination passes.
The woman who did not wish to be identified claimed that her husband was immuno-compromised and that COVID-19 could be devastating for him.
Bethany Park’s website claimed they were”not anti-vaxxers but want to have an inclusive approach”.
Bethany Park board chairman Richard Cheeseman stated that it would be too complicated to enforce the “no vax, no stay” policy as there were several ways to access the park.
Safety measures included the closing of two indoor spaces, wearing masks to different indoor areas, and social distancing.
Glendhu Bay Motor Camp is another camp that does not require passes. General manager Phil Hunt said they were full with 1,800 guests around the Christmas season.
“We welcome everyone to our camp, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. We are taking the best safety precautions.”
They also mentioned social distancing, wearing masks, and signing in to the COVID tracer application, he explained.
Hunt stated that it was up to individuals to take the appropriate steps to stop the spread.
“It is everyone’s personal responsibility of who they allow in their bubble at the camp and to take the right safety precautions.”