Surf life savers face summer vaccine deadline

Surf Life Savings New Zealand has set a date of January 1, 2022, for all staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19. (file)Vanessa Laurie/Stuff

New Zealand’s army of Surf Life Savers. including unpaid volunteers, will be required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by January 1, 2022, “if they wish to continue patrolling”.

“Surf Life Saving New Zealand is implementing a policy of mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for all surf lifeguards,” s ays a Surf Life Saving spokesperson.

“The decision has been made to reduce the risk of our paid and volunteer lifeguards contracting and transmitting Covid-19 during patrol and search and rescue operations, which minimises the chance of patrols being unable to operate due to lifeguards having to self-isolate.”

They say that if lifeguarding services had to be shut down during the busy summer period, “the risk of drowning at a patrolled beach is high”.

The spokesperson confirmed the mandate in the wake of a busy weekend for Surf Life Savings NZ, with two mass rescues, each of more than a dozen people caught in rips, have taken place at northern beaches on their first hot Saturday of the season.

The mandate comes in the wake of a November 15 deadline for teaching staff to have their first jab, and a January 1, 2022 deadline for them to be fully vaccinated.

The mandate for teaching staff, who were also required to have their first jab by November 15, has seen 1300 staff stood down.

They say Surf Life Saving NZ has already mandated that paid surf lifeguards, all lifeguards who are SAR [Search and Rescue] squad members and all lifeguards who are Beach Education instructors need to be fully vaccinated.

“We are now announcing the mandate is being extended to all volunteer surf lifeguards, including those in patrol support roles.”

The decision comes in the wake of consultation between the Surf Life Saving NZ medical director and the Ministry of Health which concluded that lifeguards are covered by the Government vaccination mandate for certain roles, says the spokesperson.

They say their own risk assessment also indicates vaccination is a necessary protection measure, and that Health & Safety at Work Act obligations mean they “have a duty of care to both our volunteers and members of the public”.

“All paid or volunteer lifeguards and those in patrol support roles are required to be fully vaccinated before January 1, 2022, if they with to continue patrolling.”

Hot Water Beach Surf Lifesaving Club head guard Gary Hinds told Stuff he backs the mandate as it “takes the pressure of us”.

“You’ve got to roll with it. It’s got to come down to employees and personal preference.”

Hinds is double-vaccinated himself, and says he doesn’t believe they will end up short of staff.

“We’ll definitely have enough bodies to do our duties.”

Stuff contacted a number of other Surf Life Saving staff who declined to comment, one saying it was “quite a touchy thing”.

“I’d prefer it [comment] comes from the head of the fish,” one says.

-Stuff/Benn Bathgate.


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