15 Dec 2021

Taranaki's Eltham Covid-19 cluster expected to grow

8:54 pm on 15 December 2021

A Covid-19 cluster has cropped up in the South Taranaki town of Eltham - with 16 confirmed cases in the community.

Ngāti Ruanui Healthcare's pop up clinic at Eltham

A pop-up Covid-19 testing centre in Eltham Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

All but one of the cases are in children - 14 from Eltham Primary School, 11 of them from a single class.

It's a cluster that's left some dumfounded the school was allowed to reopen after a positive case was discovered at the weekend.

A single case has quickly turned to 16.

An Eltham primary school pupil tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday.

In the days since, about 40 percent of the towns 2000-strong population has been tested, with 15 more cases identified so far.

While the index case been isolating at home - the school reopened on Monday.

Mark Bellringer, who represents the Eltham ward on the South Taranaki District Council, was at a loss to understand why.

"Well, I think it's bloody terrible. They should've closed the school as a precautionary measure and because there were only two days left of the term why the heck didn't they take it as a precautionary measure just to look after the community.

"You know, they've just said it's Eltham and we're not going to worry about it and I think it's pretty terrible."

He said he raised the matter with the Mayor Phil Nixon at a meeting on Monday.

"And he had been told apparently, you know, because the kids at school were not a direct contact of the case - as far as I'm aware that's what he said - that the DHB weren't going to close it, weren't going to do anything about it."

Bellringer thought the DHB had dropped the ball and he hoped the cluster did not blow out of control.

Taranaki medical officer of health Dr Jonathan Jarman said it was not necessary to close the school.

"The usual process is that you don't close schools if there are cases of Covid. At times you might look at classroom settings, but in this situation it looks like there was some kind of transmission event that occurred last week, so closing the school on Monday wouldn't have made any difference."

Dr Jarman said classmates of the index case - some of whom were now infected - did not return to school this week.

Isolating at home over Christmas will be tough for those with the virus, but he was not too worried about the severity of the disease in the children.

But Dr Jarman was concerned about the cluster growing.

"The issue is, of course, they are infected and their brothers and sisters and their parents are likely to catch Covid as well and, of course, Covid in older people particularly if they're not vaccinated is much more likely to be a severe disease.

"We are expecting more cases to emerge over the next few days and weeks."

Dr Jarman would not be drawn on how many cases could be expected.

Meanwhile, Eltham Primary School's acting principal Sonia Vind said the emergence of the cluster had come as a shock.

"We were surprised because we've been following all the procedures within the school, but our community has responding very well."

She said everyone was rallying around the school which finished up 2021 with the Year 8 graduation ceremony yesterday.

"We are getting wonderful support from all the community and the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and our families are being supported in every possible way."

At this stage contact tracers had been unable to find where the Eltham index case caught the infection.

The DHB was hoping genome sequencing of their positive test would give clues about where the virus came from.