23 Jun 2021

Up to 2,500 isolating after Covid-19 case visited Te Papa

From Checkpoint, 5:26 pm on 23 June 2021

Wellington's Museum of New Zealand Te Papa is having to close for two days for a deep clean after a Covid-19 positive tourist from Australia visited the museum and its Surrealist Art Masterpieces exhibit while they were probably contagious. 

Up to 2500 people who were there at the same time now have to isolate for anything between five and 14 days, depending on what part of the museum they were in.

The exact details are on the Ministry of Health's website under current locations of interest, but the visitor from Australia was at Te Papa on Saturday between 3.05pm and 5.45pm. 

"I'm isolating at home," Te Papa chief executive Courtney Johnston told Checkpoint. 

She does not yet know how many days she will have to isolate. "I'm booking in for my test and I'll know more after that."

She found out the museum was a location of interest when the list was made public on Wednesday morning. 

Johnston said she did not think the museum's CCTV had been checked yet, and officials were working from contact tracing information. 

Anyone who was on the fourth floor of the museum at the Surrealist Art: Masterpieces exhibition, from 4pm to 5.45pm, is considered a close contact. Johnston is one of those. She was at the exhibition at the same time as the positive case from Sydney. 

"At the moment, we've been in direct contact with almost all of our staff who were working on Saturday afternoon, so we had venue staff, plus our front of house staff.

"The rooms are our normal exhibition galleries, so they're quite spacious. People were moving very carefully because the artworks are very precious, but it was a busy afternoon."

On an average day, the museum would have a few dozen staff on the floors, depending on how busy it is with functions as well as normal exhibitions. 

"We're closed today and will be closed tomorrow as well. We're doing a deep clean, we're contacting all of our staff, making sure they're following the Ministry of Health guidelines, and we'll keep reassessing tomorrow as we get more information, so we know we're able to open as soon as possible."

Last year, Te Papa got advice on deep cleans for its Covid-19 plan. 

"It does mean being very careful with [valuable exhibit items]. Luckily in surrealist art, everything is glazed or it's behind vitrines - clear boxes. So we'll be cleaning around all of those surfaces. 

"All of our cleaning so far has been done normally, we also put in a heightened cleaning regime that we've kept in place last year. All those common contact points like handrails we've been cleaning really regularly."

Johnston said management was still working through staff numbers to see who was available for the museum to reopen, because many of them who worked on Saturday would be self-isolating. 

"This is what we've got really used to, we know we are resilient. We know that we'll bounce back. I'm really proud of the way that the team pulls together at these times, it's all about keeping the public safe and keeping our staff safe.

"We know that these situations are a bit ambiguous. We just have to kind of keep spirits up and work through it."

Johnston is working from home as best she can.

"I've got my laptop in front of me, I brought a lot of books home, and a lot of post-it notes. So yes, ready to go again."