The number of testing sites in Wellington has doubled after a Covid-19 scare prompted by an Australian tourist who visited the capital on the weekend.
The Wellington region shifted into alert level 2 at 6pm last night and is expected to stay there until at least 11.59pm on Sunday. Cabinet will review the alert level decision on Sunday morning.
The Australian tourist visited a series of restaurants, bars and tourist attractions in the capital on Saturday and Sunday before returning to Sydney on Monday morning and subsequently testing positive for Covid-19.
Health authorities are still waiting for full genomic sequencing, but the strain is assumed to be the delta variant. The man had four close contacts in New Zealand who have all now returned negative tests.
About 420 people have been identified as contacts but only a handful of tests have come back. They have all been negative so far.
In a media briefing, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there were no new cases of Covid-19 found in the community today.
Hipkins said that was despite nearly 7000 tests being processed yesterday with about 2100 in the Wellington region, which was about five times more tests than the day before.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said there were also no new cases of Covid-19 to report in managed isolation.
Wellington testing sites and Healthline ramp up
Capital and Coast District Health Board (DHB) has doubled the number of testing sites in the Wellington region after long queues.
It prompted the local DHB to bring in five new pop-up testing centres around the Wellington region, bringing the total number of community testing sites to 10.
It appeared to ease the pressure at at least one of the new pop-up centres at Haitaitai Park this morning, where there were modest queues of a few dozen people and cars in line – with wait times up to an hour.
Pascal was one of those waiting and seemed to take it in his stride despite having spent hours on the phone last night waiting to book an appointment, and facing 14 days’ isolation with additional tests on day five and 12.
“I’ve been tested a couple of times so I know what’s ahead. So yeah, it feels pretty much like business as usual just – ‘okay, get tested, lockdown again’.”
Also in the Hataitai Park queue was Wellington man Jacob – who was at Te Papa at the same time as the infected man.
He said there was some confusion with his booking yesterday.
“I called yesterday morning once I found out that I was a casual-plus [contact] and waited for probably like half an hour on the phone. And then I left my name and number and apparently something happened with the system so my details got lost.
“So I called back in the afternoon and this was the earliest booking I could get.”
Healthline experienced its fourth-busiest day yesterday answering nearly 3500 calls, with just under 1000 of those from the Wellington region.
It said the Covid-19 info line spiked immediately following the news of the Australian traveller.
There was an average wait time of 49 minutes.
People were urged to contact the service only if they were in a location of interest or have symptoms of Covid-19.
“That information is on both the ministry website and the Covid-19 website. Please go there first,” he said.
Wellington quiet on first day of level 2
Many Wellington businesses told staff to work from home today and the downtown area was subdued.
Cafes that were usually humming were noticeably quieter – with some managers saying business was down by as much as 80 percent.
One barista told RNZ they went more than a full hour with without a single customer coming in.
Under alert level 2, hospitality venues must keep groups separated, seated and served by a single person with a maximum of 100 people at a time.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Arcus said the hospitality sector would wear the worst of the alert-level change.
“Hospitality’s at the pointy end of this always, that’s who we feel for in these situations. They obviously have the most rules to follow and they have the risk … of food wastage and other impacts on their businesses.”
Hospitality New Zealand president Jeremy Smith, who owns three Wellington bars and the Trinity Hotel, said at least at alert level 2 there was the ability to keep trading but they were uncertain about what to expect.
Kahungunu ki Pōneke Community Services which works with some of Wellington’s most vulnerable people said it had seen huge demand since the change in alert levels.
Chief executive Ali Hamlin-Paenga said the city’s poorest were also the most vulnerable to an outbreak of Covid-19 and some, with no access to TV or internet, did not even realise it had happened.
Government did not act fast enough – health expert
University of Otago public health expert Professor Nick Wilson told Morning Report the government had become complacent and did not act fast enough to suspend travel with Covid-19-hit New South Wales.
He said a review of the travel bubble settings was now needed, as well as an urgent upgrade of the alert-level system.
Wilson also said it had been a mistake not to make indoor mask-wearing mandatory as well as the use of QR scanning in higher-risk settings as Wellington went into alert level 2.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told First Up that New Zealand reacted as quickly as possible based on the information provided by Australian authorities.
However, he warned that if level 2 restrictions had to be extended for seven days Treasury estimates suggested it would have a $10 million effect on the economy.