3.5 hour wait, traffic jams as Northlanders scramble to get Covid tests

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 25 Jan 2021, 9:05AM
Long queues of people waiting to be tested at the Kamo testing station. Photo / Karina Cooper
Long queues of people waiting to be tested at the Kamo testing station. Photo / Karina Cooper

3.5 hour wait, traffic jams as Northlanders scramble to get Covid tests

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 25 Jan 2021, 9:05AM

text by Jamie Morton and Claire Trevett, NZ Herald

Northland residents have waited up to three and a half hours to get a Covid test this morning after the discovery of a community case in the region.

Kylie Moore, from Ruakākā, was at the front of the testing line at the Marsden Pt testing centre.

The 46-year-old had been waiting since 8:30am and was just getting tested at midday.

She said she was fortunate she bought lunch with her but said she felt sorry for a lot of the older people in the community who were waiting in their cars in hot northland weather. She said the wait was a bit frustrating and questioned why there weren't more testing stations open to account for the demand. "It doesn't seem very well organised."

Kylie Moore gets to the front of the line after waiting 2 hours. Photo / Tania Whyte

Kylie Moore gets to the front of the line after waiting 2 hours. Photo / Tania Whyte

Whangarei District Council said it was aware of long queues and congestions around testing sites in Kamo, Riverside and Ruakaka.

It made a plea on its Facebook page to those waiting in cars as the temperature headed to a sweltering 28 degree Celsius.

"Please be as patient as you can be - it is going to be a long hot day."

Ruakākā residents Allan and Lillian had been waiting since about 9:50 am to get a test after they learned they had visited one of the stores the Covid woman had visited in Ruakākā.

However, the pair weren't overly worried about the wait. "If that's what you got to do, that's what you got to do," Allan said.

There are also traffic jams at other Covid testing stations.

At one testing station, at Kamo, a young couple walked for over an hour to get tested as they had no other means of transport to get a swab. Queues at the station snake down the road and security was called in to assist with the situation.

One Maungaturoto woman, who did not want to be identified, said she had waited about half an hour at the Marsden Pt testing station to get a test as she was a worker in a store the Covid positive woman had visited.

She estimated there were hundreds of people at the testing station, making it a potential 4-hour wait, she believed. She had left the queue as she didn't want her dog, who was in the car, to wait for that long.

Maritime Union of New Zealand Northland representative Rex Pearce said he had just been to the refinery testing station and estimated the wait to get tested could be as long as two and a half hours. He feared this may impact the ability of border workers to get tested.

One person queuing for a test at Whangārei's Pohe Island station told the Herald it was a "shambles". He had been redirected from the Kamo station because of delays.

"Very few staff. Ridiculous wait times. People are leaving," the man said.

"We will be here all day," he said.

The new community case is a 56-year-old woman, who lives south of Whangārei.

She was released from MIQ in Auckland on January 13, developed mild symptoms on January 15 and tested positive for Covid-19 after her condition deteriorated.

Whangārei testing station at Pohe Island on Riverside Dr was "flat stick" just ten minutes after it opened, a testing station worker says.

The worker, who did not want to be named, said he arrived at the station at 7.30am ready for work and already people were in cars waiting to be tested.

Frustrations started to build as drivers became confused about the parking system and caused several traffic jams.

Workers helping to direct vehicles were feeling the pressure due to "people not listening".

A Ruakaka woman, who did not want to be named, had shopped at FreshChoice supermarket on January 14 at the same as the woman.

She was getting tested at Kamo today just to "double-check".

When the news broke she hoped she hadn't been in any of the same places as the positive case.

"I really feel that maybe they should've isolated for longer at home but she had had those tests done - it's just the way it is."

The woman who works for the Government will have to take time off but said her employer was extremely supportive and understanding.

She said she usually uses great Covid tracing app but didn't on this particular day.

"I just ran in to grab some bread and milk but when I'm in a place for longer I always make sure to use the app."

The close call has meant the woman will now be extremely diligent with her tracing app.

She had concerns about whether the positive case had been allowed to leave the country during border closures and return.

Nurses take the details of people at Pohe Island testing station in Whangārei. Photo / Karina Cooper

Nurses take the details of people at Pohe Island testing station in Whangārei. Photo / Karina Cooper

A Northland woman who works in Ruakaka was one of the many people waiting patiently for her test at Pohe Island.

She said the initial reports of a case in Northland had her "p***** off" that the government's border processes had failed.

Then when she discovered she had shopped in the Ruakaka FreshChoice store at the same as the positive case she felt compelled to do her "bit to keep others safe".

"Initially I wasn't too worried. I more feel inconvenienced because I felt like I needed to come and do this testing to be on the safe side. The chances are so slim, I just wanted to make sure there is no doubt."

Emergency service workers alongside DHB workers are being prioritised at testing stations.

'Increase testing'

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has this morning asked all GPs to increase testing for Covid-19.

"GPs are at the frontline of the fight against Covid-19... this is a stark reminder of the issues we confront with COVID-19 and the need for vigilance throughout the year," President Dr Samantha Murton and Medical Director Dr Bryan Betty said in a message to 5,500 GP members with a reminder for how to keep staff and patients safe.

NEGATIVE TESTS

The husband of the Northland community Covid-19 case and another close contact of the infected woman have tested negative for coronavirus, Chris Hipkins says.

The 56-year-old, who lives south of Whangārei, was released from MIQ in Auckland on January 13, developed mild symptoms on January 15 and got tested on January 22 after her condition deteriorated.

Hipkins told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB the woman's husband and her hairdresser have since tested negative.

The genomic sequencing would take a bit longer and help identify if there was a clear link to another existing case, or a link to other international cases.

Asked if she got it at her managed isolation facility, the Pullman Hotel, the Covid response minister told Newstalk ZB it was "more likely" that she did.

"We can't really make a conclusion about where she got it yet. It's possible it's an ultra-long incubation period, although unlikely, it's probably more possible that she picked it up at the MIQ facility but at this point I wouldn't rule any scenarios in or out," Hipkins said

The woman visited 28 locations (including one location twice) while travelling around southern Northland.

The list includes supermarkets, clothing and electronic stores, cafes, restaurants, a gallery, plant centre, museum, pharmacy, vehicle testing station and tavern. It includes locations in Whangārei, Ruakaka, Parua Bay, Mangawhai Heads and Helensville. The full list is published below.

It covers a period from January 14 - the day after she left MIQ - to January 22 - the day she got tested.

The Ministry of Health said anyone who visited the locations of interest during the relevant times is considered to have had a low risk of exposure but should isolate and call Healthline about when and where to get a test.

Hosking told Hipkins the Government was too soft, but he rejected that.

"No, I don't think so when you look at overall, what we've dealt with. We've had more than 100,000 people come back through those isolation facilities, we've picked up about 600 cases, those 600 cases have all been isolated. There's very little evidence that there's been transmission between people within the facility," Hipkins said.

Hipkins said they wouldn't be able to confirm if there would be any lockdown in Northland for up to 48 hours.

"Everyone wants answers, everybody reaches their own conclusions and starts hypothecating about what might have happened but we do have to wait for another 24 to 48 hours to draw some conclusions."

Hipkins wouldn't comment about any change in alert levels but said the test results of close contacts would decide what would happen next.

"The testing results from the close contacts and those who are coming forward because they were in the same place at the same time, the test results from that group will very much inform what happens next."

Hipkins said they couldn't stop Kiwis who lived overseas coming home.

"I think it's too early to draw conclusions and I think we do need to take a breath and find out what has happened here ... but the woman here has followed all the rules and done everything right."

Hosking said that was just luck and what happened if the next person didn't do that.

"Well that's one of the reasons why we're asking people to do that, it is important, it does matter and one of the reasons why we have the freedom ... that we have at the moment," Hipkins replied.

Asked what the woman was doing overseas, Hipkins wouldn't say, but he did rule out that she had not been on holiday.

First community case since November

It is New Zealand's first reported community case since November and has sparked a rush to identify how the woman got infected, and whether the virus has spread further.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the woman had only four close contacts, who were now isolating for 14 days.

However, she had been to almost 30 different places while potentially infectious - including in Mangawhai, Dargaville and down to Helensville as well as Whangārei.

Anybody who had been at the same businesses at the relevant times was asked to isolate, call Healthline and get a Covid-19 test.

The low number of close contacts has Covid-19 experts optimistic that a lockdown will be avoided - but they warn the test results of those contacts could be critical.

Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said while the new case was concerning, there were only four close contacts.

"Going forward, it will be important to determine whether the person acquired the case in managed isolation and quarantine, as this might mean there are other returnees who could have been exposed and officials will want to tighten any procedures that could have led to exposure."

The names of the businesses the woman visited were going onto the Ministry of Health website but only after the businesses themselves were advised of the contact: a delay that has prompted criticism given many people were returning from holiday over the past week.

The list was released about 9 o'clock last night.

National's health spokesman and Whangarei-based list MP Shane Reti said there was a sense of disbelief among the community and he was very disappointed the almost 30 sites were not revealed immediately.

"In matters of urgency like this and on a weekend - so you are not going to maybe get people until Monday in their business hours - I think urgency trumps some of the other concerns."

Mangawhai is a popular holiday spot for Aucklanders and many could have left the area to return to work over the past week.

Extra testing stations will be set up in Northland, especially around Mangawhai.

The woman had used the Covid tracer app, so others who had scanned or had bluetooth activated would be alerted.

The woman's case also sparked concern about potential transmission in the MIQ facility.

She had stayed at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland for her isolation period until January 13, and the Covid-19 team were scanning CCTV footage to check for any possible instances of infection transmission.

Genomic sequencing was also taking place to see if it was the same strain as other cases from the Pullman.

Bloomfield said until that was known, they were acting on the assumption it was one of the fast-spreading UK or South African variants. About a dozen others at the Pullman in Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19 during the woman's stay and several had those variants.

Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank said the case was different from the August Auckland cluster, given authorities were dealing with just one case with a probable link to the border - rather than several with no connection.

"But it's a little bit of a waiting game to get the results from testing of close contacts - that's the key thing at this stage - and once we get those test results, we'll know whether it's spread more widely."

The woman left the Pullman on January 13 and told health officials she got very mild symptoms, such as muscle aches, on January 15 but did not associate them with Covid-19 until they worsened over the week. She got tested on January 22, and the positive result came through on Saturday night.

The woman had returned from a work trip for about four months in Spain, and visited family in the Netherlands on the way back. She returned via London where she stayed in an airport hotel, and transited through Singapore.

The woman was isolating at home with her husband while she recovered, rather than moving into the quarantine facility at the Jet Park with other Covid-19 cases.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said the Northland District Health Board Medical Officer of Health had decided that was appropriate in their case.

"The situation will be monitored closely to ensure there is no public health risk."

Hipkins said all staff at the Pullman who had not had a test in the last few days were being tested. About 600 others who had stayed at the Pullman over the same period were also being asked to isolate and get tests.

The full list of locations is:

  • FreshChoice Ruakaka - January 14 - 3.03pm-4.33pm
    • Aesthetic Clothing Store - January 15 - 8.48am-9.53am
    • Noel Leeming Whangarei - January 15 - 9.02am-10.12am
    • Bendon Whangarei - January 15 - 9.03am-10.30am
    • The Warehouse Whangarei - January 15 - 9.28am-10.58am
    • Flaming Fires - January 15 - 10.24am-11.34am
    • Whangarei and Kamo Testing Stations - January 15 - 10.40am-11.45am
    • Bed Bath and Beyond Whangarei - January 15 - 10.54am-12.04pm
    • Fat Camel Cafe - January 15 - 11.34am-1.34pm
    • Parua Bay Tavern - January 15 - 3.20pm-5.20pm
    • Bream Bay Butchers Ruakaka - January 16 - 11.02am-12.07pm
    • Ruakaka General Store - January 16 - 11.08am-12.10pm
    • FreshChoice Ruakaka - January 16 - 11.10am-12.15pm
    • Urban Remedy Cafe - January 17 - 8.17am-9.47am
    • Joseph Taylor Homewares - January 17 - 2.08pm-3.18pm
    • Eutopia Cafe - January 18 - 8.55am-10.55am
    • Maungaturoto 2nd hand shop - January 18 - 10.06am-11.36am
    • Maungaturoto Four Square - January 18 - 10.44am-11.49am
    • White Rock Gallery - January 18 - 11.15am-12.24pm
    • The Kauri Museum - January 18 - 11.21am-3.21pm
    • Gumdiggers Cafe Matakohe - January 18 - 12:39 pm - 2:39 pm
    • The Dune Restaurant & Bar - 18 January - 4.47pm-7.17pm
    • Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens - January 19 - 11.04am-1.04pm
    • The Ville Turkish Cafe Helensville - January 19 - 1.08pm-2.38pm
    • Countdown Helensville - January 19 - 1.46pm-3.01pm
    • Super Liquor Helensville - January 19 - 2.03pm-3.08pm
    • South Head General Store - January 19 - 2.44pm-3.49pm
    • Macnut Cafe Helensville - January 21 - 10.20am-11.50am
    • Orrs Unichem Pharmacy Ruakaka - January 22 - 11.21am-12.26pm