24 Jun 2021

Wellingtonians rush to get Covid-19 tests as region moves to alert level 2

7:23 am on 24 June 2021

At least one Wellington community testing centre is fully booked as thousands rush to get tested.

Wellington's Taranaki Street Covid-19 testing site on 23 June, 2021.

People queuing at Wellington's Taranaki Street Covid-19 testing site yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Socially distanced queues mounting into the hundreds, phones running hot, and chaos as the capital city tries to clear itself of Covid-19.

At 6pm last night the Wellington region went into alert level 2 after an Australian man who spent the weekend in the city tested positive for the virus after returning to Sydney.

The traveller covered extensive ground in the central city, visiting heavily populated bars, cafes and tourist attractions like Te Papa, leaving masses of people potentially exposed.

As more information came out, thousands went to testing centres, and hit the phones, overwhelming general practices and Healthline.

Some were direct contacts, while others just erred on the side of caution, Wellingtonians queued late into the dark hoping to ease their nerves.

City GP's practice manager Lorraine Wood said following the announcement the phones were wild, and staff were struggling to clear the messages.

"We are certainly being stretched," she said.

"It's busy, our phone queues and our messages are just going pages and pages down, if you scroll it just keeps going, so to be honest, I couldn't give you a number.

"My admin staff have just come to me and said 'we've still got so many phone messages to answer', and normally we'd have cleared them and be winding up for the day."

It was a sharp jolt against the increasing Covid-fatigue and complacency, but she said people are worried.

"We're getting a lot of inquiries about people who have been in the places of interest and trying to get a swab, we're also seeing people who are concerned there might be people who have been in contact with people who've been in contact, so the casual contact, other casual contact, as it were.

"And people who may be 'worried well', they're just concerned because it's in the neighbourhood or around and about, plus all the people that we normally get at this time of the year, the people with colds and flu symptoms."

Wood said today was the start of many 'day five tests' and if it was going to be anything like Wednesday, it would be huge.

Wellington's permanent community testing centre on Taranaki Street had queues of up to 100 on Wednesday and was fully booked for today by early yesterday evening.

Some casual contacts told RNZ they were waiting on hold for more than 90 minutes to get an appointment, while others could not even get through to Healthline.

Further out into the suburbs, Dr Jeff Lowe from the Karori Medical Centre said normally the practice did about six swabs a day, but by early afternoon they had done 66 and were booking appointments two minutes apart for Thursday and Friday.

"It's been a 10 fold increase in the number of swabs, and that's quite appropriate because that is what the public have been advised to do.

"So clearly that presents issues around how we increase our surge capacity and meet that demand. We've been through this before and we know how to swab we just need to stand up our systems again."

While they were looking to re-establish and expand their services, it would really depend on what results come through, he said.

"If we do see positive results coming through, clearly, there's going to be a significant increase on top of that, then we'll start needing to look at do we need to mobilise sites such as, we used our local church as a swabbing centre last time and we can do far more from there."

But until those results start to come back, the health sector is still uncertain about just how busy the coming days will be.

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