18 Feb 2021

'Not quite job done' but Papatoetoe High School principal's anxiety easing

7:50 pm on 18 February 2021

No new cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the community today, following Auckland's move to alert level 2, and the rest of the country's shift back to level 1.

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault says the school is getting on top of the Covid-19 outbreak that has infected three students. Photo: RNZ

The good news will bring relief to many - but especially to those in one South Auckland suburb.

On Sunday it was revealed that one of the three confirmed community cases attends Papatoetoe High School.

Yesterday, two more students at the school were confirmed to have Covid-19.

Despite that, principal Vaughan Couillault said he was not anxious.

"Yesterday I thought crikey, but then we did a whole lot of number crunching, trying to work out who could be the potential new close contacts. But then as the day transpired, and we worked out what the infectious period was, we realised that that circle wasn't growing from a school perspective," Couillault said.

He could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Yesterday we went from anything could happen, to a little bit more calm. The alert levels went down, right? So in terms of job done - it's not quite job done - but we're certainly getting to the end of the woods," he said.

The school's testing centre remained relatively quiet throughout the day, but many of those who were tested were family members of students.

"My son's a student at Papatoetoe High School, and I work at another school, so I've come in to have a test so that when I go back to school on Monday I can show them that I've got a negative result and I can go back to work in a safe way," one man said.

A pop-up testing centre at Papatoetoe High School.

A pop-up testing centre at the school. (file pic) Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Another woman's daughter also attends the school. She said the new cases are concerning, but it's important people get tested.

"I'm worried about it yes, but it's our responsibility, our whole nation's responsibility to everyone," she said.

Another student's mother said while she doesn't have any concerns, she followed advice to get swabbed.

"My son's test came back negative, so that's really good for our family, but we have been advised that we need to come and get tested," the woman said.

Testing station surprisingly busy

One of the busiest Covid-19 testing centres during the current outbreak has been in the carpark behind Ōtara Town Centre.

Ōtara is just a few kilometres from Papatoetoe - and a Subway there had been visited by a positive case.

South Seas Healthcare chief executive Silao Vaisola Sefo runs the testing station.

He said despite the alert level change, the station was surprisingly busy.

"There's still some anxiety in the community, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it just goes to show that the community responds really really well," Sefo said.

Within just four hours on Thursday, 350 cars had come through the testing station, an increase from the day before when 322 cars went through for testing over the whole day, he said.

A Covid-19 testing centre in Otara.

A Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara remains busy despite Auckland's move to alert level 2. Photo: RNZ / Rowan Quinn

One local man was in line to get swabbed after following health advice.

"We're getting testing because we went to a location of interest, so I haven't been to work all week," he said.

He added that it's important people get tested both for the people of South Auckland, and the rest of New Zealand.

"It has come back up so I guess this is just stamping it out and making sure that everyone is doing their bit," he said.

Another man said the country has gone through this before, so we can do it again.

"We've got this, New Zealand," he shouted.

Papatoetoe High School will remain closed for the rest of the week. Staff, students and their families are required to isolate at home until Monday, and not return to school without a negative test.

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