25 Feb 2021

Confusion continues over Covid-19 contact rules

9:01 pm on 25 February 2021

An evening shopping trip has ground life to a halt for more than 1200 shoppers, yet the ever-widening net of contact categories in Auckland's Covid-19 response is stirring up confusion.

No caption

Kmart Botany. Photo: Google Maps

As officials try to contain Auckland's community cluster, anyone who visited Kmart in Botany last Friday or Saturday evening has been upgraded from "casual plus contacts" to "close".

As well as needing to isolate for two weeks and get two Covid-19 tests, it means if they start displaying symptoms, members of their household must stay home too.

One tab on the Ministry of Health website also suggested they get three tests.

At the packed community testing centre in Botany today, people were heeding the calls to get a swab but told RNZ that they were largely unclear on the specifics, or did not know what category they were in.

Some 1236 contacts identified had contacted the Ministry of Health directly, while 954 devices received 'exposure notifications' after scanning into Kmart Botany or Dark Vapes in East Tamaki.

Kmart has not yet answered questions about the total number of customers who visited the store during the exposure events - or if it was working with the Ministry of Health to track them down.

It was also unclear what happens to customers who did not fall into Ministry of Health contact categories, like those who visited on Sunday or bought click and collect orders.

The Unite Against Covid-19 Facebook page has advised some to isolate for two weeks.

Auckland University associate professor Dr Siouxsie Wiles believed the new categories were a good response to recent "short transmission chains" but she said the messaging needed to be clear.

"We need to have a really clear idea of what actions people need to take. It is confusing because it depends on the settings, on what people know about the cases. People should be getting in touch with the public health unit if they have been exposed who will be able to give them the correct advice," she said.

"The thing that is a little confusing is when you have different people giving different advice... I'm not surprised people are confused."

Kmart's management team in Australia confirmed staff who worked with the recent case were isolating.

The Ministry of Health said eight out of 15 staff, now considered 'close plus' contacts, had already returned negative tests.

FIRST Union's retail spokesperson Tali Williams said it had been a frightening time for those staff.

"There is a lot of nervousness right now because people are still in this unknown 'what does it mean for me'. We have communicated to the company some of the concerns coming from staff 'what does it mean if I'm in an at-risk contact category' and we're communicating with Kmart about those categories and generally we're hearing back in a positive way," she said.

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

Covid-19 testing at Papatoetoe High School. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

At the cluster's hotspot, Papatoetoe High School, the third series of tests in two weeks was well under way.

Principal Vaughan Couillaut was feeling positive after a large number of students turned out for re-testing in the first 24 hours, with negative results coming through quickly.

"There are 185 people yet to return a test - that means they're yet to have one, or they've had one and the result hasn't been processed through and linked to our roll - which is a great number to get down given we started somewhere around 1500," he said.

Dr Wiles felt there was enough contact tracing, testing and isolation capacity to keep up with the latest cases, and avoid any move up the alert levels.

New locations of interest identified

There are two new locations of interest are connected to the Auckland cluster, according to the Ministry of Health's website.

They are Li'l Abners Takeaway and Choice Food Bar in Papatoetoe.

Both locations were visited last Friday morning, 19 February, between 1am and 1.20am.

The ministry said anyone who visited these locations at that time was considered a casual-plus contact.

They are advised to stay at home, get tested as soon as possible, and call Healthline.

The up to date list of locations and advice from the ministry can be found here.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs