Slip, slop, slap and scan – that was the message given to New Zealanders as they entered their first summer without international tourists in decades.
But with many New Zealanders hitting the trails and exploring the great outdoors, trampers are questioning why Covid-19 QR codes aren’t available at popular DOC huts and toilets.
Nelson resident Jan is one of them.
She’s visited the Heaphy Track, Elaine Bay campsite, and Tauranga Bay as she explores day walks both in her region and on the West Coast this summer.
But she’s been baffled that the familiar bright yellow striped QR code signs are nowhere to be seen at popular DOC toilet stops or facilities.
“How do you do it if they’re not there? I mean it’s a very visual reminder as you pop into your potty spot, to go ‘on my gosh, the QR, shivers, we’ll scan in’ or my phone’s back in the car, I’ll just do a manual entry. But it is that visual reminder as well,” Jan said.
“So government has stressed its point and I think that it’s a very valid one. To not carry through with their own department…”
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health urged people not to become complacent after daily QR code scanning rates almost halved compared to November.
Jan said it made no sense to push for people to scan and then not have codes available at well-used huts and toilets.
“They have been pretty hard nosed with businesses about getting these codes. Actually there was one spot that we went to that was a private campground toilet and QR codes everywhere. They were great. But the DOC ones are the ones that have smacked us in the face and said actually there’s nothing here to scan in.”
The Department of Conservation confirmed there are QR codes in all DOC campsites with a ranger present and at all visitor centres, but they’re not required at all other visitor facilities including huts and on tracks.
Waikato Tramping Club president Selwyn June said his members would certainly scan if there were a QR code available.
“We certainly have a QR code on our hut which is on Mount Ruapehu. We would expect them to be on DOC huts really because people are crammed in together in the huts and you don’t always know who the other people you meet with are if they’re outside your own group,” June said.
With 250 members and trips planned across both islands, June said scanning was one way to help keep members and the public safe.
“Well it just makes us more vulnerable doesn’t it if there is a community outbreak and, of course, we had to curtail our activities during the lockdown and certainly follow DOC requirements. We weren’t allowed to go into DOC areas during the main lockdown and afterwards so we’re pretty much aware of why we’re doing these things and following requirements.”
Marlborough Tramping Club president Mary Jobberns said she’d scan in if there were QR codes available.
“Once again it’s everybody takes responsibility for themselves – number one – and you just carry on making sure someone knows where you are and by doing that you can be traced anyway,” Jobberns said.
DOC heritage and visitors director Steve Taylor said the department had good systems in place to keep people safe, but visitors needed to play their part.
“It is up to individuals to play their part in keeping themselves safe, choose what activities they are comfortable with, to stay home if unwell and to keep a record of where they have been,” he said.
“Ministry of Health advice is that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is low in places in the outdoors like huts, campsites and tracks. At huts, visitors are encouraged to use the intentions system, hut books or to book (where the hut is bookable) and those methods are used to contact trace.
“It’s an unprecedented time and so DOC is keeping a watching brief over facilities and experiences, particularly during the busy holiday period. We are grateful for public feedback on experiences and that people are being proactive on the use of QR codes to stop the virus. We encourage people to report back to us where they see issues arise, so that we can take action where needed.”
The Ministry of Health referred questions regarding what DOC is required to display, its expectations for QR codes in the conservation estate, and whether it should be extended to more DOC facilities to the department.
In a statement, the ministry encouraged people to scan QR codes where ever they could.
“The more we scan, the safer we’ll be. More scans facilitate a faster response. The faster we respond, the faster we stop Covid-19,” a spokesperson said.
“Continuing to use the Covid-19 app when out and about is especially important when on holiday because you may not remember all the locations you have visited. Keep your phone handy to make signing in quick and easy.”
DOC’s advice for those heading to the trails this summer:
- Stay healthy – Keep a record of where you’ve been in case contact tracing is needed, and use QR codes where they are available. Remember to practice good hygiene to reduce the spread of illness and stay home if you are unwell.
- Know your limits and choose the right activity for you and your group.
- Check DOC’s website, pop into the local visitor centre, and know the weather and track conditions before you set out.
- On the day, tell someone your plans and make sure you take all you need including appropriate clothes and shoes, plenty of food and water, extra clothing and a distress beacon, whether you are heading out on land or water.