25 Jan 2021

Covid community case: Northland businesses face anxious wait

10:39 am on 25 January 2021

Northland businesses are holding their breath over the possibility of a community outbreak of Covid-19.

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The Warehouse in Whangārei was one of 30 locations listed as places of interest. Photo: Supplied

A 56-year-old woman has tested positive for the virus after travelling widely in the region.

The Northland Chamber of Commerce predicted hundreds of staff would not come into work today after the woman visited about 30 locations across lower Northland and north Auckland.

The news that the positive case visited the South Head General Store on the south Kaipara Peninsula has owner Aaron Watson reeling.

He said he only opened the business late last month and he was gutted about what has happened.

"Absolutely devastated, we don't know what to do, we're shattered, absolutely shattered.

"We'll just have to try and get through this."

He said he has not been contacted by health officials, and only found out after a friend saw the store's name on the Ministry of Health website.

Watson said he was worried about the health of his father and family members who visited him at the store - which he runs solo - in recent days.

The woman left managed isolation at the Pullman in Auckland on 13 January and visited hospitality, retail and tourism businesses in Mangawhai and Dargaville, Helensville and Whangārei- among others - between 14 and 22 January.

Health officials said the women was assiduous in checking in, using the Covid-tracing app, and had its Bluetooth function activated.

Countdown general manager of safety Kiri Hannifin said staff working at its Countdown Helensville and FreshChoice Ruakaka stores when the woman visited would stay home until they got a negative test.

Larger than usual queues outside of Countdown Greenlane a day before the supermarkets shut on Good Friday.

Countdown staff in Helensville will remain at home. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephen Smith said he expected hundreds of workers would not turn up this morning - either because they work somewhere where the woman visited or they just feel too nervous to go to work.

He said supply chains could also be disrupted, and it was a blow to businesses desperately holding on after a brutal year last year.

"People are less inclined probably to be travelling into the north until they know more.

"And similarly, of course, one of the biggest tourist groups in the north are Northlanders - so I imagine they're going to be probably coming home or staying put."

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The sign on the door of the Ruakaka General Store in Northland. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Smith said he expected a swift decision from officials regarding upcoming Waitangi Day celebrations.

In the meantime, he said he had already postponed a regionally-significant hui between political, business and community leaders and the nationwide polytech body.

Smith said anyone else with large events or meetings planned for today or tomorrow should consider pulling the plug.

"If you're looking at putting together major gatherings the last thing you'd want as a result of that is for an explosion of outbreak.

"You just cannot do it, you just can't take that risk, you just can't gamble with people's livelihoods and lives."

There are queues down the road in front of a Covid-19 testing station in Ruakaka in Northland, due to open about 9am.

The centre at Marsden Point Oil Refinery is one of a number of new testing sites opening across the region today.

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The carpark is filling up at the Ruakaka testing station in Northland. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Kaipara District Mayor Dr Jason Smith said he was worried that people had been lax using the Covid Tracer app.

"People probably haven't been as vigilant as they ought to have been.

"It might have seemed that alert level 1, and the pandemic was a long way away.

"This particular case we're now brought up short, and we go 'yes, it's here. This is very real'."

Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said the community was extremely worried, and there has been chatter about cutting the region off.

She cautioned people not to overreact.

"But I completely understand [that] people will begin to feel anxious and do things that they may not normally do.

"So breathe, keep calm, and just trust the professionals and all of the agencies who are working really hard to ensure that this does not spread into our community."

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Motorists queue for Covid-19 tests at the Ruakaka testing station. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Health officials are working to open more testing locations across Northland and Auckland today.

Mai told Morning Report the decision on Waitangi Day celebrations at Ruapekapeka and Waitangi in Northland was yet to be made.

"I don't know the outcome of that. I'm hoping it won't interfere with the nation's celebration of Waitangi ... we'll have to wait and see."

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