28 Jan 2022

Covid-19: Fears SoundSplash festival could be 'big superspreader event'

7:00 am on 28 January 2022

A teenager who tested positive for Covid-19 after attending the SoundSplash festival says with all the physical contact revellers had at the three-day festival, it seems inevitable that the virus spread to others.

Crowd at an outdoor music festival with outstretched arms

About 8000 people attended the three-day SoundSplash festival at Hamilton's Mystery Creek. (File image) Photo: 123rf

Five people who attended SoundSplash have so far tested positive for Covid-19, one of whom has been confirmed as the Omicron variant. Sixty-eight people are considered close contacts so far.

Health experts are warning it could be a super-spreader event which seeds the virus far across the country.

About 8000 people attended the three-day outdoor music festival, which ran from Friday, 21 January to Sunday, 23 January at Hamilton's Mystery Creek.

As people were packing up their tents and heading home to nurse their hangovers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called an unscheduled press conference and put the country at the red traffic light setting after mystery Omicron cases were detected in the community.

Hector Mcintyre, 17, is fully vaccinated, but ineligible for a booster shot. When he arrived home from the festival, he started feeling unwell and has since tested positive for the virus.

"I got tested on Tuesday, earlier on in the day when I felt a bit under the weather, so I decided to get tested to be safe. Then when I got back from the test, I went and had a sleep and woke up just feeling not good, just terrible. I had like a 40-degree temperature. I just didn't even want to be alive."

With the amount of physical contact that took place, he feared the virus could have spread widely among festivalgoers.

"Well, I mean it's a festival. What goes around comes around. Everyone is there just sharing water, sharing goons, just everything, sharing vapes and what not, bloody hooking up, you know, it's a festival, what can you expect? It's going to go around."

He went with a group of friends, four of whom have now tested positive.

"Everyone is getting tested and it's just slowly adding up and there's a lot of other people awaiting results, and some have tested negative but are going back to see."

Maia Wylie, who is also fully vaccinated, was with her friends at SoundSplash.

After returning home, she and a number of her friends started feeling unwell with flu-like symptoms.

"Myself and my friends got tested as soon as we came home from the event. We found out we were all negative, which gave us a bit of peace of mind, but after seeing all the comment sections, it did make us question if those tests were accurate to us, since we still have symptoms. We'd rather be safe than be sorry going back to school in a couple of days."

She said a lot of people at the festival were coughing, but they just attributed it to the dust from the dry ground at Mystery Creek.

"There were people sharing drinks and food. There wasn't very much spacing, if any, especially with the camp sites, we were right next to each other, very neighbour to neighbour to people."

University of Auckland microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles weighed in on social media, saying that it might be a "very big superspreader event".

University of Auckland microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles Photo:

She warned festivalgoers that nasal swabs may miss about one out of 10 positive Omicron cases, so if people had symptoms and tested negative, they may still be infected.

The news has many parents anxious about Omicron spreading to their families.

Anthony Billington's 17-year-old daughter attended the festival, as did some of his students at Waikato University.

He said there was still a bit of confusion around who needed to now isolate and for how long.

"The messaging was a little unclear because I was sort of expecting that anyone who had attended and therefore scanned in as part of buying their ticket, that they would have been notified that there was a location of interest. But they only found out by actually looking on the website."

Schools up and down the country have been telling students who attended the festival to stay home.

About 120 students from Auckland Grammar who said they had attended the festival were told they needed test negative before they could return to class, principal Tim O'Connor said.

"What we're saying for our school community is that we would prefer that they are socially responsible. Have a Covid test, produce a negative result, then return. It's just another layer of protection for everyone in the school community as we start the school year."

Anyone who was at the SoundSplash festival is asked to self-monitor for symptoms until Wednesday, 2 February, and get a test if any appear.

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