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Everything Kiwis need to know about the indoor air quality crisis

How to protect yourself in New Zealand from harmful pathogens and viruses.

As people start to adjust to what we call "The new normal," we hit yet another roadblock with the spread of the Omicron virus. Although we have managed to keep the virus at bay in New Zealand for quite some time now, we eventually must face the grim reality that Covid-19 is not going anywhere and the virus is here to stay. According to the CSIRO, we have been planning the emergence of "The Disease X" for quite some time now, long before Covid hit. They described the event as "the critical threat to the human race by mysterious pathogens and viruses.

Disease X is now a reality, with COVID-19 causing untold suffering throughout the world. For quite some time now, the virus has dominated us all worldwide. Research into how the virus behaves has allowed us to respond to the outbreak quickly. Although Australia along with many other countries are at the head of the curve in terms of managing the virus, and are now adapting to the grim reality, Covid-19 is here to stay and is not going anywhere.

New Zealand on the other hand - has delayed the inevitable as a result of a ‘COVID zero’ approach. Now as other countries are getting back to some normality through safe Covid-19 practices such as social distancing and best hygiene practices, including a 360-degree approach to handsurface, and air hygiene.

While Australia has progressed to the new subvariant BA.2, it is yet to reach New Zealand. We as New Zealanders have a lot to learn from Australia, and from the rest of the world.

How can we keep ourselves and others safe, during the pandemic? What do we need to know according to the experts in hygiene?

According to Professor Bruce Milthorpe, "Air purifiers are vital in keeping indoor air quality clean and safe from viruses and pathogens. In a radio interview with NZNews Talk, Professor Bruce Milthorpe responds to the question of ‘indoor air quality in New Zealand classrooms and in indoor places’.

Research commissioned by global hygiene company Rentokil Initial has revealed that 87% of Kiwis feel at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses in educational institutions, while 45% of Kiwi parents are concerned about attending or letting their child do face-to-face learning due to the risk of COVID-19 airborne transmissions.

Professor Bruce Milthorpe, Former Dean of Science at the University of Technology Sydney has been looking into the importance of ventilation in the classroom. Joined by Lloyd Burr Live, Burr asked the Professor, “how vital are air cleaners, in keeping indoor air clean in places”?

"Yes, they are vital in keeping the air clean. Basically, we need to breathe clean air, we've obviously designed a lot of buildings over the years to be mostly sealed up and not very well ventilated."

"Most buildings nowadays are poorly ventilated, and the outdoor air is polluted. As such we need to clean the inside air. That’s where good air purifiers with Hepa filters come in, as the main pillar for air hygiene designed to reduce airborne transmission”. According to Professor Milthorpe, Hepa filters are designed to clean out particles down to about 0.2 microns, equivalent to 100th of a human hair in size. Therefore, getting most nasty viruses, bacteria, and mould out. You can also obtain other air cleaners that have additional features like carbon filters that take out Formaldehyde gases and other household toxins from furnishings in the home. Some of those units include:

UVC reactors, that work to oxidize some of the compounds, designed to kill viruses’ bacteria and mould, etc., that make their way through the HEPA filter. How useful are these systems in preventing Covid -19, and other nasty viruses?

Shouldn't we have had these hygiene solutions in our classrooms, and in other public places a long time ago given their long-standing range of benefits, and a big push for this?

"The answer to that is yes again, it's been a cost-benefit analysis as people are having to worry about it. We need to get back to normal life and now Covid-19 has proven the only way to progress forward, is with clean indoor air. How can you tell how well a room is ventilated? and what are the risks of contracting the virus in an enclosed space?"

Tips on keeping safe while indoors

In the winter months, it's too cold to open doors and windows, hence, a good air purification solution is the way to go. There are many ways to measure indoor air quality- the first is by measuring the CO2 levels in a room, a portable CO2 monitor costs about a few hundred dollars, and the unit can be moved around the room to measure the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. If the CO2 levels are anywhere above 800 parts of a million, you know the room has poor ventilation. Another way to gauge the quality of the indoor air is if  the place smells, that's a clear indicator of poor ventilation in a room, suggesting poor indoor air quality.

Where is best to sit in a restaurant now that New Zealand is moving into the winter months?

"That's a difficult one, as you'd hope there is still a bit of a spacing mandate, It also depends a little on the design of the restaurant, if the kitchen space is contiguous with the restaurant space, that means the kitchen is probably generating a draft from the vents over the cooktops, and that's a good thing if you are sitting close to the doors". And if you are not fortunate to be seated in that space, you can ask the restaurant if they monitor CO2 levels in a room to ensure your safety.
Listen to the full interview with Professor Bruce Milthorpe here.
NewsTalk ZB national news bulletins -  aired 3pm and 8pm on Sunday April 3.

  • 3pm bulletin: 1.54 in
  • 8pm bulletin: 2.23 in

Why should we care?

Do we want to revert to lockdowns - missed milestones, border closures, travel restrictions, an absence of work and social events, increased absentees, disrupted industries, and the feeling of abandonment between family and friends?

Rather than reverting to how life used to be pre-covid 19, we need to start thinking of simple and obvious solutions to best practices in hygiene, and social distancing in order to socially, protect one another.

We need to be proactive in taking responsibility for ourselves and for the safety of the wider community by reducing the risk of germs and viruses, that are easily transmittable from person to person through “hand, air, and surface”.

While one ponders. Are we doing enough to safeguard ourselves against pathogens, diseases, and killer viruses like Covid-19? Is the lack of responsibility and complacency in hygiene practices, social distancing, and poor safety measures placing us all at greater risk of becoming ill?

Why should we care?

Improving indoor air quality in the classroom

We take the proactive approach of a group of dads as the inspiration for keeping their kids safe from the virus by improving indoor air quality in the classroom.

An article by Janelle Miles and Ciara Jones – talks about a group of dads, a marine ecologist and a school principal’s approach to improving indoor air quality in the classroom to keep kids safe.

Posted Fri 1 Apr 2022 at 6:47am describes a group of dads at an Independent School in Brisbane, who have prevented an outbreak of COVID-19, despite the Omicron and B.A 2 wave by using air purifiers.

A marine ecologist from Brisbane named George Roff, notes the group of dads, a medical specialist, and an engineer initiated the experiment to try to curb the spread of COVID-19 in a school of 71-students in December in Pullenvaleused. The group used portable Carbon Dioxide meters to discover "dead spots and low ventilation areas in the classrooms. They also utilised a smoke machine to determine airflow patterns in the classrooms and in the main administrative areas.

With that knowledge in hand, they purchased high-efficiency air purifiers with medical grade (HEPA) filters — to mitigate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 particles that might be circulating in classrooms and other indoor areas of the school.

Although a teacher and at least two students in most classes have had COVID-19 during Queensland's rampant Omicron wave, no in-school transmissions have been detected.

You can find out more about how early learning services, schools and tertiary organisations can develop their own pandemic plans to protect students and staff in the NZ Government guide to Planning for an epidemic/pandemic event here.

Watch how its done here>

Improving indoor air quality in the classroom

Perceptions of air quality

What does the research tell us in NZ?
The below key findings from research conducted by Global Data Research firm Dynata between 18th and 21st February, engaged over 1,000 Kiwis aged 18 or above via an online quantitative survey, with data weighted to the latest population estimates.

Aged care facilities - Almost half of Kiwis (49%) feel moderately to highly at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses when visiting aged care facilities.

Medical practices - Over half of Kiwis (60%) feel moderately to highly at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses at medical practices.
More females (36%) than males (28%) feel moderately at risk of being exposed to exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses.

Workplaces -  Over 4 in 5 Kiwis (87%) feel at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses in workplaces, including offices and warehouses.

  • Almost half of workers (43%) aged between 25 to 35 felt moderately at risk of exposure.
  • Nearly two thirds of workers (65%) agree that they would be more comfortable being in a shared workplace if it had an air hygiene protocol.
  • Over half of Kiwis (56%) believe that businesses and organisations should be doing more to protect customers and staff from the airborne transmission risk of COVID-19 variants.

Educational institutions - Most Kiwis (87%) feel at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses in educational institutions.

  • Nearly half of Kiwi parents (45%) are concerned about attending or letting their child do face-to-face learning due to COVID-19 airborne transmission risks.

Shopping centres and other retail outlets -  90% of Kiwis feel at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and/or other airborne viruses in shopping centres and retail outlets.

General -  Almost three quarters of Kiwis (71%) agree that ensuring enclosed spaces (such as workplaces, schools, shopping centres and medical waiting rooms) have adequate ventilation is crucial to life being able to return to normal after COVID-19.

  • 72% of Kiwis believe it should be mandatory to have an air hygiene protocol at New Zealand aged care, medical and hospital environments.
What can New Zealand businesses do to help improve air quality?

What can New Zealand businesses do to help improve air quality?

Most recently, Rentokil Initial has partnered with global innovator Radic8 to bring VIRUSKILLER™ air purifiers to the New Zealand. VIRUSKILLER™ is more than just an air purifier. It is an air purification, filtration and decontamination solution that goes beyond the bare minimum of HEPA filtration. As well as a HEPA filter it contains a medical grade pre-filter to filter dirty air, a carbon filter to neutralise toxic air and a patented UV-C reactor chamber to safely and efficiently decontaminate airborne viruses and biological pathogens that traditional filters do not, to effectively address the risk of sick air.

With almost two decades of globally validated research and development, the legacy of VIRUSKILLER in treating infectious air is strong and the challenge of poor indoor air quality is being solved one space at a time. VIRUSKILLER™ was initially developed in collaboration with the Korean Aerospace University in response to the 2003 SARS epidemic.

  • VIRUSKILLER™ is proven to Kill *99.9999% of Coronavirus in the air
  • InspireAir 72 HEPA 13 generates healthier, cleaner air by removing over *99.95% of harmful airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses, from indoor environments.
  • Initial’s InspireAir 72 treats infectious air via a medical grade, four-layer HEPA filtration system that removes harmful particulates and gases, including the average respiratory droplet from a dry cough, as well as mould spores, allergens, dust and smoke particles.
  • Cleans an area the size of small apartment (36m2) in just 10 minutes, using less energy than a 100w lightbulb.

Rentokil Initial supports collaboration between industry, government agencies and air quality and ventilation experts to address the New Zealand’s air quality crisis via the establishment of minimum indoor air quality standards and guidelines to keep Kiwis safe. While the pandemic has accelerated our awareness of indoor air quality and the risks posed by sick air, we need to use this momentum to safeguard Kiwis from the broader health risks that toxic and dirty air also pose to our mental and physical health.

Find our more about our full range of air purification solutions here and contact us to find out more about improving the indoor air quality in your business.

Air hygiene

Initial provides a wide range of highly effective and afforable air purification to help protect your indoor environment from sick, dirty and toxic air.

  • Reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission
  • Plug and Play Highly Effective Solutions
  • Create a cleaner safer indoor space
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