26 Jul 2021

Taranaki dodges another Covid-19 bullet - for now

6:30 pm on 26 July 2021

Taranaki appears to have dodged another Covid-19 bullet - with no cases found after the virus was detected in New Plymouth wastewater.

Covid-19 testing station at Taranaki Base Hospital.

Covid-19 testing station at Taranaki Base Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

But locals are not taking anything for granted, with hundreds turning up to be tested at clinics across the province.

Taranaki has been on edge since positive wastewater samples taken on Tuesday and Thursday last were announced.

After a slow response over the weekend, vehicles queued around the block at the Taranaki Base Hospital Covid-19 testing station today as dozens of people waited to do their bit to rule out community transmission in the province.

Geologist Tom Sommerville had recently returned to New Zealand.

"I just came back from Australia a week-and-a-half ago so I thought I'd better be safe rather than sorry and do the right thing."

A man, who preferred not to give his name, said he was feeling off colour.

"I haven't been feeling well this past week and we heard it advertised that you have to come in and have a test."

A bank worker was in the same boat.

"I'm symptomatic so take a step back, but yeah, I've got to deal with customers everyday so that's why I'm here."

A prominent rugby coach, who also asked not to be named, was also in the queue.

"We've just come back from Australia about three weeks ago so we're just answering the call."

Cars queue at the Covid-19 testing station at Taranaki Base Hospital.

Cars queuing at the Covid-19 testing station at Taranaki Base Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

In a media release today, the Ministry of Health said all the Covid-19 tests processed in New Plymouth since Friday had so far returned negative results.

Only 80 people were tested on Saturday, but double that number turned up to have a nasal swab taken yesterday.

A quarter of Sunday's tests were negative and results for the remainder should be known later today.

The Taranaki District Health Board said a further 200 nasal swabs were taken today.

There was good news on the wastewater testing front too.

The Ministry of Health said preliminary results from new wastewater testing had comeback clear of Covid-19.

New Plymouth deputy mayor Richard Jordan said the results were good news.

"We're very relieved that the tests have so far come back negative, but we still encourage everyone that if they have any symptoms, please get tested, please continue to use contact tracing and if in any doubt self-isolate."

He said this incident reinforced how important wastewater testing was in keeping tabs on what is a very dangerous virus.

"We're not out of the woods yet and we'll continue to keep a close eye on the situation as further test results are expected in the coming days."

Taranaki Chamber of Commerce chief executive Arun Chaudhari said this latest incident was a reminder to remain vigilant.

"We have the virus lurking dangerously close to us. Any seaport or airport could be a conduit for it to enter and what's really kept it at bay all this time is us being disciplined more than most other nations."

He said people should continue to use the contact tracing app and get the vaccine when it is offered to them.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer wants wastewater testing to extend beyond New Plymouth. Photo: RNZ / Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the Taranaki District Health Board had indicated to her the Delta variant was most likely the strain in the wastewater.

"By Wednesday they have some tests coming back that should tell them a little more I guess, but we did ask what particular strain is it and the response was that the only strain going around at the moment is the Delta strain."

A Ngāti Ruanui leader, Ngarewa-Packer also wanted wastewater testing to extend beyond the New Plymouth district.

"We sought assurance that South Taranaki waters were being tested and to be honest I think the answer was no, so yeah, we wanted to have confirmation that all parts of Taranaki were being ruled out."

The Ministry of Health said results from wastewater samples taken from wider Taranaki were expected tomorrow.

It said no attempt has been made to find out what variant of the virus was present in the wastewater in New Plymouth because initial results indicated this would be unsuccessful due the low amounts present.

It continued to ask that people in Taranaki who were symptomatic or who had recently returned from Australia to get tested.

Taranaki has recently found itself the focus of Covid-19 scares involving foreign-flagged fishing vessels with infected mariners onboard.

Earlier, a family travelled to the region after a member tested positive after leaving managed isolation.

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