'No-one’s going to isolate properly': Student sentiment appalls epidemiologist

A mattress is delivered in Castle St near post-party debris after partygoers were notified they...
A mattress is delivered in Castle St near post-party debris after partygoers were notified they were potential close contacts of a Covid-19 case. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Students at the centre of Dunedin’s latest Covid-19 scare expect many will continue to party, ignore isolation rules and avoid getting tested.

University of Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker has criticised the attitude of students not putting a handbrake on their partying.

One told the Otago Daily Times she had made a pact with her friends not to get tested.

Prof Baker was particularly appalled at the suggestion some would catch the virus on purpose to get it over and done with.

"There’s a reason we no longer have chicken pox parties and measles parties. It’s because we have a vaccine."

He encouraged students to take precautions to protect the vulnerable and to avoid overwhelming the health system.

On Wednesday night, before news of the Covid-19 case on Castle St broke, a student, who did not want to be named, told the ODT she was not worried about the risk of catching the virus.

She had come from Auckland where she had been careful not to go out because of the risk of transmitting the virus to family members if she caught it.

But when she came to Dunedin, "the first thing that everybody agreed to" was that if they felt sick, they would not get tested.

The mentality was "so bad" but that was just the way it was, she said.

She said it would be hard to isolate properly in student flats, which might lead to a "chickenpox party" mindset as students felt it was inevitable they would catch it anyway.

Her friend said people would be put off getting tested because of the length of time they might have to isolate.

Students spoken to by the ODT yesterday said partying would take precedence over following Covid-19 rules for many and felt it was inevitable they would catch the virus.

A student who was isolating with flatmates yesterday believed others would simply continue to get together.

"No-one’s going to isolate properly.

"It’s Flo Week, they want to go out and let loose.

"They’ll all get tested but Saturday will come around and they’ll want to drink."

Student Cobe Howell said he was isolating along with his four flatmates.

They had been to some smaller parties held by friends in Castle St which had been flagged as possible locations of interest.

The flatmates did not know anyone who had tested positive.

Mr Howell felt the university was doing a good job of monitoring the situation and said they had been notified by text.

Most of them were boosted, which he believed would be the case for most students.

He had talked to many others who were close contacts and said they were doing the same thing by "chilling tonight" as they waited for test results.

He thought some people would be annoyed at having to isolate but thought most people would be "pretty smart about it" and would follow the rules, especially if they had the virus.

Prof Baker said there was a "certain inevitability" to the Omicron variant spreading in Dunedin.

"It is going to be an intense two-to-three months. We don’t know what the future holds," he said.

Immunity would fade, and he encouraged students to get boosters, describing them as "vital".

At 8.30pm yesterday, several small student parties were taking place in North Dunedin, including one in Castle St.