24 Feb 2021

Hundreds of Aucklanders home after Covid-19 case's Kmart shift

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 24 February 2021

Hundreds of Aucklanders have been making the familiar pilgrimage to Covid-19 testing centres after three new community cases were confirmed yesterday.

All were all linked to Papatoetoe High School - a grouping of cases which also comes with new locations of interest.

Everyone at the school is being retested, as well as staff and shoppers at a Kmart and a vape shop.

There was was a huge queue at the testing centre in the Ōtara town centre. 

Most people were getting a test merely as a precaution - many linked to the Kmart store in Botany where one of the latest cases was working on 19 and 20 February. Up to date locations of interest and advice to people can be found here.

Health officials have advised casual-plus contacts of the Kmart in Botany to isolate for two weeks and get tested tomorrow, and then again on 4 March.

Ōtara testing centre on Wednesday morning.

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

But some were lining up today.

"Just a little bit worried and trying to get tested," one said. 

"Yeah a bit overwhelming because we were there at K-mart", another said.

"I was at Kmart on Saturday night."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said going a day early was not a big problem.

"That first test should ideally be at least five days after the initial exposure and then we do another one at day 12 anyway. As I said, in this instance we are taking this very cautious approach of isolating them for the full 14 days, so even if that first initial test may have been premature, they will still be isolated and require that follow-up test anyway." 

For those lining up in cars, there was a wait of between half an hour to several hours. 

Lines of cars at Ōtara testing centre on Wednesday morning.

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

There has been a huge demand for Healthline too. The phone service was swamped with calls when last night's two new cases emerged.

One of those callers told Checkpoint she waited more than seven hours to speak to a health professional.

Dr Bloomfield has urged people to hold off calling Healthline unless they need to.

"There was a huge surge in calls and there is additional resources, healthline is very good at connecting up other people but many are from people who just want general information on Covid. Please let Healthline be reserved for people who need specific health advice or maybe involved in one of the places of interest." 

At Papatoetoe High School testing was still ongoing, 328 tests had been done by lunchtime today.  

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault

 Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault Photo: RNZ

That still leaves a large group left to be tested. Principal Vaughan Couillault was urging them to come forward as soon as possible. 

"I'm hopeful and encouraging everyone to do just that. There are a number of people who have conciously made the decision to self isolate since last Wednesday, but students who have been at school this week, we need everyone doing the right thing so we can open up school ASAP." 

He said the school would be closed at least for the rest of the week, with a deep clean planned for tomorrow.

"I'm guessing we're not opening before Monday so we've still got testing happening ... then after that testing stops that all needs to be cleaned properly and we're also doing another deep clean around all the classrooms, but you can't start that until your own staff, the cleaning staff have got negative test results."