Covid focus on student parties

Cars queue along Victoria Rd in Dunedin yesterday as occupants wait to receive Covid-19 tests....
Cars queue along Victoria Rd in Dunedin yesterday as occupants wait to receive Covid-19 tests. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Health authorities have abandoned hope of stamping out Covid-19 in southern communities, and are awaiting test results from attendees of several student parties to assess how extensive the spread of the disease is in Dunedin.

Clutha is the only part of the Southern District Health Board region without a case of Covid-19, after positives were recorded in Waitaki and Central Otago yesterday.

Although the main locus of the outbreak so far has been Queenstown Lakes, where a further 23 cases were reported yesterday, including multiple cases at Wakatipu High School, attention switched to Dunedin in the afternoon after two Castle St parties, on Saturday night and Monday night, were listed as close contact locations of interest.

Late yesterday, the Ministry of Health revised its close contact list to include another party in Howe St.

Southern District Health Board officials have previously described cases in the Dunedin student community as a potential nightmare scenario for containment of Covid.

Board acting quality and clinical governance solutions director Dr Hywel Lloyd said the overall number of cases in the South meant that the initial "stamp it out" phase of the Covid control plan was over and authorities were now trying to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

"The more exposure events we have the less likely it is that we are going to be able to flatten the curve, and if you don’t flatten the curve then we are going to get the worst-case scenarios predicted, which will be more hospital admissions," Dr Lloyd said.

Students traditionally hold some of their biggest parties at this time of year, during Flo Week and Orientation.

University of Otago vice-chancellor David Murdoch asked students to do the right thing by themselves and the wider community and not hold huge parties.

"We have used a variety of communication channels to inform students that large gatherings are risky to health and that large informal events are a serious concern.”

Senior Sergeant Anthony Bond, of Dunedin, warned that large student gatherings could have a Covid-19 cascade effect, and the motto on campus should be now was not the time for large parties.

He hoped news of the parties and the potential danger they posed to community health would serve “to bring students back to reality”.

About 3200 students were expected to arrive in Dunedin later this week, he said.

"I hope their parents give them a good talking to.”

Hundreds of Dunedin residents heeded the call to get tested yesterday.

Both the Te Kaika centre in Victoria Rd in St Kilda and the WellSouth centre in Malcolm St, North Dunedin, were swamped during the busiest day for testing in the city yet.

By 6pm, an hour from closing, 534 tests had been done at the Malcolm St centre, 676 at the Victoria Rd centre and more than 120 tests at Dunedin GP clinics.

Te Kaika and WhiteStone Family Practice are setting up a community testing centre in Oamaru, scheduled to open at Awamoa Park today.

Otago Boys’ High School became the latest facility to record a case.

Rector Richard Hall said the Covid-positive person lived at the school hostel and had

not been in regular contact with pupils or staff.

Current information suggested the risk to staff and pupils was minimal but the school was taking all precautions, he said.

Columba College recently spoke to pupils who had been considered casual contacts, principal Pauline Duthie said.

The pupils were tested as a precautionary measure and returned negative results.

Wakatipu High School has three confirmed Covid cases after one pupil was identified as a positive case on Wednesday and a further two suspected cases were confirmed yesterday.

Principal Steve Hall said the first case was not infectious and so did not generate any close contacts at school.

The school would be taking a cautious approach and had identified 47 close contacts of the two new cases, which included four teachers.

— Additional reporting by staff reporters