15 Feb 2021

Déjà vu for Papatoetoe High School with new lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 15 February 2021

Papatoetoe High School has gone from classes to Covid-19 tests for the next three days as its 1400 students rush to get tested.

The school year has just started back, but there's already a sense of déjà vu for students, who spent periods of last year studying home alone instead of with their classmates.

On Monday morning, masked medical staff had set up a student-only testing station inside the school gates.

Pupils have been ordered to drive through or walk up for a test, after one of their schoolmates and her parents contracted the more transmissible UK strain of Covid-19.

Cars were stretched down the road and around the corner from the front of the high school. Deputy head boy Zyron Prasad walked to avoid the hours-long wait in a car. 

"A lot of people are worried for our own safety, we just hope there's not another lockdown because it'll really, really affect students negatively."

Prasad said he was in disbelief after hearing his school was at the centre of Auckland's latest Covid-19 community cases.

"It was absolutely terrifying and nerve wracking. One minute you're just chilling getting ready for school, next minute you have to stay at home and social distance again. So many flashbacks.

The 2021 school term is just two weeks in and after the widespread disruptions caused by Covid-19 last year, some students are clearly sick of potentially more disruptions to come. 

"Honestly it pisses me off… I'd rather come to school than stay home sitting in my room," one student said. 

Others said locking down now was best and that keeping the school open was simply too great a risk.

"It was very unexpected, but it's necessary to lockdown obviously because even if it's one of two or three cases, it can get out really quickly," another student told Checkpoint. 

Principal Vaughan Couillault said the community simply could not afford to be the centre of outbreak.

"It would be disastrous for the country. But... disadvantage doesn't land evenly across a country, it doesn't land evenly across a community, and there will be people that will be fine… But there'll be other people that just survived last time, they'll be devastated."

Couillault found out about the case connected to the high school on Sunday morning.

"I had just been out for a lovely walk at Maraetai, a bit of breakfast with my wife for Valentine's Day. It was about 11:30 I got the call from the Ministry of Health to let me know about the notification. 

"Then it was full on from there, planning and communicating, making sure we got the right message to the right people at the right time. Looking at the queue that's out there, it looks like we've got the right message to the right people at the right time."

While it was busy at Papatoetoe High School, the suburb's main street was virtually empty. 

Two of the locations visited by the family at the centre of the new outbreak were Bunnings Warehouse and Pakn'Save in Manukau. Both were open and operating under Covid-19 alert level 3 restrictions. 

It is a familiar reality in Auckland's south, one locals hope they will only have to put up with until 11.59 on Wednesday night.