Public health warning


A Queenstown health expert believes “unbridled growth” is affecting the health of the resort’s workforce.

Recently-retired medical officer of health Doctor Derek Bell is concerned growth leads to over-crowding and combined with party lifestyles puts them at risk of serious infections.

“You’re sitting there, snarled up in traffic at Frankton, and you can see these planes coming in, one after the other, bringing more and more people in, and there’s simply no system of controlling it.”

That has a huge effect, he claims, on important health outcomes, like access to good housing.

“It’s not just the housing on its own, it’s the nature of the workforce that we’ve got. We have a lot of young, international travellers who are actually quite happy to live in fairly rough conditions, in what many of us would call overcrowded houses.

“If you put that together with something like just a bad winter for influenza, or an international event like a pandemic, then you’ve got a recipe for some major risk.

“When we had the swine flu risk, we were really worried about the way a lot of young people lived in Queenstown, and the much greater risk for cross-infection than you might get down the road in Alexandra, or elsewhere.”

About two years ago, he says a young worker who contracted meningitis was found to be living in a three-bedroom house with 16 occupants.

“When we went to do our contact-tracing, we found out they were all sick with colds, and they were all leading terrible lifestyles in terms of late-night partying and eating very poorly and all that sort of thing.

“It was a setting that was very ripe for an outbreak [of infectious disease].”

From his work on alcohol legislation, Bell is also concerned about Queenstown’s drinking culture.

“It seems to have been almost accepted as normal Queenstown culture but the degree of alcohol-related harm is really significant.”

His other concern is short-term workers in food premises who might work only casual hours, and don’t have access to sick leave.

“You’ve got the potential for people not declaring it when they’ve got, say, diarrhea or vomiting, and they might keep working because they need the money.”

Bell says he was impressed how well another resort, Whistler, in Canada, looks after its tourism workforce.

Their housing and health needs were looked after, he says, and there didn’t seem to be the same problems with alcohol.

“I would describe Queenstown as having lost its sense of balance – something akin to getting the speed wobbles.

“It’s very much up to the current council and businesspeople and all the government agencies to see if they can correct those speed wobbles, before it really crashes.”

Local councillor and doctor Val Miller says she agrees with Bell that “unbridled growth does cause health implications”.

“There are some of us that would like to see the growth slowed down, because growth for the sake of growth is not necessarily a good thing.

“But we are told that you can’t cap growth in an area.”

Miller says worker accommodation needs to be developed “in the right kind of atmosphere for people to live in a healthy way”.

Queenstown had to avoid the problems of European cities where apartments “turn into drug ghettos as time goes on because people have no pride or buy-in in the area”.