29 Sep 2021

Possibility of Covid-19 in Tauranga so people with symptoms should get tested - Verrall

10:15 am on 29 September 2021

People in Tauranga are being urged to get tested if they have symptoms of Covid-19 after the virus was detected in a wastewater sample collected last Thursday.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Yesterday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the result could point to a recovered case still shedding the virus, or an undetected acute case.

Further wastewater samples have been taken and results are expected tomorrow.

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall told Morning Report a cautious approach is being taken and anyone in Bay of Plenty with symptoms should get a test.

"We're just eager that people in Tauranga who do have symptoms do get tested just in case that turns out to be a true positive result in the waste water," she said.

"There's a possibility" Delta could be in the area, she said, but there has been false positives in wastewater in the past.

Several thousand people contribute to waste water to a single sample so it's not wise to try to read the tea leaves on what level of PCR positivity there was, she said.

Asked if the truck driver who recently tested positive after travelling from Auckland border to Tauranga was an area of concern, Dr Verrall said there was a wide sweep of locations of interest following the case.

The locations of interest in the area were BP Tauriko in Tauranga on 11 September and Uppercrust Bakery in Mt Maunganui on 11 and 24 September.

"[From] the investigation of his movements and behaviour you'll recall he was very diligent with using PPE and protection distancing while he was working," Verrall said.

Verrall also said routine vaccination and testing is required of all workers at the port, she said.

"And I know extensive work has been done in the Bay of Plenty port recently but to my knowledge no leads there as to what the positive wastewater result would be."

Epidemiologist professor Rod Jackson says he's concerned about the possibility of a case outside of Auckland.

"I'm not surprised that it's happened, it's going to happen again and it's going to get worse as soon as we relax any border restrictions."

There's two things people in Tauranga should do, he said, and that is; get tested and get vaccinated.

If cases are found, Rod says there's there no other way to deal with Delta than for the area to be put in level 3 or level 4.

"When Delta hits, if you don't suppress it, it just rips through the community rapidly, you overwhelm the health system, it doesn't matter how many ICU beds you've got, it's going to be bad news."

More information about the wastewater result in Tauranga will be released today at the 1pm Covid-19 update.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley says people are anxious and want to avoid any rise in alert level heading into the summer, when hospitality and tourism sectors make most of their money.

But he was hoping it was a false positive or the virus being shed from historical cases who had completed MIQ.

"Let's all follow the rules but also get vaccinated that's the only way to buffer ourselves from the psychological and economic costs of the lockdown."


With the next level announcement looming, so is the target for a 90 percent vaccination rate across Tāmaki Makaurau.

Verrall says they always knew the last 10 percent of people they need to reach would take the longest.

"As the campaign has gone on we are continuing to offer different and more individualised ways of people being able to get vaccinated.

"The types of things that are being done across the country includes more in-home vaccinations for people who can't make it to a larger centre, it includes very detailed work with the data that we have to make sure specific neighbourhoods or communities are being reached out to."

She says close work with Māori and Pacific providers includes making sure they have access to the data that is relevant to their communities.

Verrall says GPs are ringing around the remaining over-65s to get them in for a shot.

"Currently, I think, 93 percent of over-65s have either been vaccinated or have a booking."

Rod thinks that 90 percent vaccination is not enough as leaves almost 1.5 million people, including those under 12, still unvaccinated.

"Unlike many other countries that have reached 90 percent, and there's quite a few now ... most of these other countries have had a lot of infections so there's a lot more immunity in the population."

He thinks people shouldn't be allowed to leave Auckland, board a plane, enter a nightclub or enter the country without being fully vaccinated.

"I don't want anyone to freak out but we have to get serious, this really is a war, it's a world war and in New Zealand we're not protected enough."

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