25 Jan 2021

7-hour wait for some at Northland Covid-19 testing stations

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 25 January 2021

Some people in Northland had to wait more than seven hours to get Covid-19 tests today, describing the process as “chaos”.

Extra testing facilities were set up in the region after a woman who had left managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel tested positive for the virus and travelled around parts of Northland and visited about 30 businesses over nine days while unknowingly having Covid-19.

Thousands of people turned up to testing stations across the region, with additional stations in Helensville and Mangawhai to keep up with demand.

As one Whangārei testing station reached capacity, staff sent people to another swabbing centre across town, only for them to sit in cars for hours with no word on when they would be seen.

It has prompted calls for better communication and resourcing for the north, where tensions are running high.

"I would have thought that it would've been more organised. I knew there was going to be a wait, but I thought it was going to be more organised, there would have been more people here to help, but it's just chaos," Whangārei woman Janene told Checkpoint.

She was one of the first to arrive at the testing centre on Monday morning. She had been to one of the same places as the woman with the new case of Covid-19 in the community.

"Somebody needs to be down here telling people what's happening and there needs to be something done, because if I'm here until 4pm or 6pm and my test doesn't get done until tomorrow, then I'm not back to work until Thursday.

"They knew this was happening yesterday, they put it on the news at 4 o'clock… They've had at least two or three hours to get something sorted surely."

Lindsay Dunn is among those who waited in the 26C degree heat, but he saw plenty of others who have not.

"My simple view is that if people leave and they're asked again to do this, they just won't. I get it, it's a difficult time, but cripes, this isn't new for the DHB. They should, I think, be better geared up than this."

Whangārei was not his first port of call for a test on Monday, as testing stations across the region filled up. He had been turned away earlier from the testing centre at Kamo.

There were four medical staff testing and collecting details from people lined up at the central Whangārei testing facility on Monday when Checkpoint visited. People waiting said that at one point there was only one nurse for the hundreds waiting to be tested.

"Poor buggers they've [been] caught with their pants down haven't they," Alex Morgan said.

"They haven't got enough people, but that's not their fault. That's just how it is, and we just have to accept it."

Contact tracing of the Northland community case has identified 15 people as close contacts. People lined up for tests who spoke to Checkpoint described connections of some sort.

Northland DHB was not available for an interview, but in a statement it said community testing had been expanded in respond to public demand. An additional centre was set up in Helensville, in Tāmaki Makaurau and in Mangawhai.

It has been confirmed that the woman had the more infectious South African strain of the virus, which was an exact match to another returnee who was on the same floor of the Pullman Hotel as her.

She contracted Covid-19 after testing negative twice during her stay at the Pullman Hotel.

Health authorities are scouring CCTV footage to determine how Covid-19 was passed between two returnees in managed isolation.