24 Feb 2021

Covid-19 testing staff brace for influx after new cases

7:22 am on 24 February 2021

Exhausted Covid-19 testers in South Auckland are bracing for a big surge after three new cases of infection were confirmed in the cluster around Papatoetoe High School.

The Ōtara testing centre before opening on Wednesday morning.

An Ōtara testing station early this morning. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Yesterday, a student considered a casual plus contact was confirmed to have the coronavirus and last night, two siblings, a teenager and an infant, also tested positive.

The teenager recently finished school and had been working at Kmart Botany. They were at work on Friday 19 February and Saturday 20 February between 4pm and 10pm. People who visited the store during those times are being asked to isolate and call Healthline.

The parents and a third older sibling have returned negative tests so far, the ministry said in a statement. The family has been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

Papatoetoe High School opened on Monday and Tuesday this week, having been shut all last week and now school remains closed until further notice.

Principal Vaughan Couillault said it was tough but they just had to get on with it.

"We're probably feeling a little bit crestfallen, but once you get over yourself, because it's not about you, the team just clicked back into action," he said.

Papatoetoe High School on Thursday 18 February.

Papatoetoe High School is closed until further notice. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gregan

The school is re-testing all staff and students.

When asked whether the school should have remained shut this week, Couillault said they followed the advice from authorities.

"I'm not one to second guess Dr Bloomfield and Minister Hipkins. They've done a pretty good job of keeping New Zealand safe up to now, as has the Prime Minister, and it's just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

"I don't believe it's the decisions that are wrong, it's the virus that's the pain," Couillault said.

'Our schoolwork is messed up' - Student

On Wednesday morning some 1500 students were being asked to stay home and complete their classes online.

Year 13 student Yash said the situation was difficult.

"Our schoolwork is messed up, it's like we're supposed to be doing stuff for our class that we can't do, it's getting delayed, so it's stressful," he said.

"A week of school being closed was good and all, but then having another week closed, it's just too much," Yash said.

Security ramps up ahead of Covid-19 testing at Papatoetoe High School on 23 February.

Testing was under way again at Papaptoetoe High School on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Joseph, 17, hopes things return to normal as quickly as possible.

"To be honest it's pretty dumb, because I come to school to enjoy myself and come and learn as well. Since it is my last year I was hoping to end it with a good year, but I guess I can't," Joseph said.

Faazio, also in his final year of high school, said he was coping but finding things tough.

"Right now it's kind of difficult because we're getting assignments slowly and lockdown came in, and yeah, it's kind of hard for me right now but the support from the teachers is really helping," said Faazio.

Ata, 16, is also feeling stressed.

"It's not easy to learn from home. If we get confused with questions, there's no one to ask. Everyone is kind of sad as well, because we're going to be stuck in lockdown again," Ata said.

A sign on the door of Kmart Botany notifies customers the store is closed for cleaning due to a Covid-19 case.

A sign on the door of Kmart Botany notifies customers the store is closed for cleaning due to a Covid-19 case. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

The Ministry of Health has said everyone in a Papatoetoe High School household should stay at home until advised otherwise.

Nearly 700 students were tested at the school on Tuesday.

Household contacts are asked to get swabbed at a different testing station, with many heading down the road to Ōtara .

South Seas Healthcare chief executive Silao Vaisola-Sefo, who runs the testing station, said they had doubled worker numbers to cope with the expected influx today - and staff are exhausted.

"It's more the mental thing than anything, to be honest. It is tiring, it's long hours, but yeah, it's just getting as many swabs as possible," he said, adding that it was tough on the community.

"You can just feel the tension. But I think what's really pleasing is that people just know what to do straight away. I think when we go up to level two and three, people just know what to do - and I'm not just talking about the workers, I'm talking about the public.

"As soon as that announcement came, I saw people with masks already in the town centre," he said.

Anyone who feels unwell, should stay at home and call Healthline for advice.

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