Delta at our doorstep

The Delta strain of Covid-19 crept ever closer to the South yesterday, after confirmation of two community transmission cases in Christchurch led to a scare at the Macraes mine in East Otago.

The mine closed parts of its operation for deep cleaning yesterday afternoon when a site contractor learnt their partner was considered a close contact of one of the Christchurch cases.

Macraes operation general manager Mike Fischer said the deep clean of the common areas in the processing plant included crib rooms and meeting rooms, as well as buses used to transport workers to the mine.

"The operation has well-established and comprehensive protocols in place to manage this event and immediately commenced a precautionary deep clean of common areas."

The contractor and their partner had been advised to get a test and isolate until results were returned, and the mine’s health and safety team was working with the Ministry of Health, Mr Fischer said.

Despite the positive tests in Christchurch and the possibility that one of the cases could have been infectious in the community for almost two weeks, the Government kept the South Island at Alert Level 2, as health officials sought to identify close contacts and possible locations of interest.

"We already have public health measures in place," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

"We know where it came from and we are able to contact trace around that."

Common areas of the Macraes mine processing plant were given a deep clean yesterday. PHOTO:...
Common areas of the Macraes mine processing plant were given a deep clean yesterday. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Michael Butchard said it was a matter of when, not if, a case of Delta would be discovered in the Southern district.

"I cannot emphasise enough the importance of staying home and getting tested if people have any Covid-19 symptoms, however mild," Dr Butchard said.

The first of the two Christchurch cases was a woman who recently returned from Auckland after providing childcare there, something permitted under Alert Level 3.

She had tested negative before travelling north and again tested negative before returning to Christchurch on October 15.

The second case, a truck driver living in the same household, is believed to have made deliveries in and around greater Christchurch for as many as four days while infectious.

Neither had been vaccinated.

A community case was detected in Blenheim earlier this week, in someone who had travelled from Waikato.

Ms Ardern stressed the Christchurch woman had complied with all testing requirements, but said the Government had considered requiring travellers from places with active Covid-19 cases to provide proof of vaccination before departure.

It was not ruling out making that law change.

Three Christchurch households made up of nine close contacts have been identified, and the two confirmed cases were in isolation at home before moving into a quarantine facility.

University of Otago, Wellington epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker said the new Christchurch cases came as no surprise, given how easy it had been for a Covid-19 positive person to get to Blenheim.

"I think the wider question is how many other cases now are incubating the South Island," Prof Baker said.

Travel to the South Island could be limited to essential workers only and pre-departure screening of patients could be more rigorous, he said.

At least one Dunedin medical facility, Roslyn Health Centre, implemented new precautions for patients after news broke of the Christchurch cases.

Dr Butchard said the South Island cases emphasised the importance that Otago and Southland people get vaccinated.

"So far, 88.3% of eligible Southern residents have had their first dose of the vaccine, and 74.5% are fully vaccinated," he said.

"Southerners have done a fantastic job in getting vaccinated but we need everyone who is eligible who hasn’t already had the vaccination to do their bit.”

Southerners who had been in Christchurch in the past week should get tested if they had symptoms or had been to a place of interest, Dr Butchard said.

Places of interest include

• The Mad Dairy in Main South Rd, Hornby: 12.45pm to 1.15pm, October 18.

• Hornby Chinese Takeaways, Hornby: 12.45pm to 1.30pm, October 18

• Burger King, Sockburn: 4.30pm to 5.30pm, October 18.

• Z Curletts Rd, Sockburn: 5pm to 5.30pm, October 18.

• Supervalue Fendalton Village: 6.45pm to 7.45pm, October 18.

• Try’s Bakery, Islington: 7.30am to 8.30am, October 20.

• Caltex Riccarton: 5.45pm to 6.15pm, October 20.

• Gloucester and Stanmore Corner Dairy, Linwood: 6pm to 6.30pm, October 20.

• Pannell Discounter, Wainoni: 1pm to 1.45pm, October 22.

•  Waimairi Takeaway, Bryndwr: 4.15pm to 5.15pm, October 23.

• Kims Corner Dairy, Bryndwr: 4.30pm to 5.15pm, October 23.

• New World Bishopdale: 11.30am to 12.30pm, October 25.

•  Kens Takeaways, Bishopdale: 4pm to 5pm, October 27.

Southern businesses were relieved the South Island was not put back into lockdown yesterday, but remain on high alert.

A lockdown just in Christchurch would have put pressure on an already strained supply chain, Business South chief executive Mike Collins said.

"It is bad enough with Auckland out and Christchurch would have been another blow to the lower South Island business community."

Businesses were focused on working out how the Government’s new traffic light system would work for them and encouraging vaccinations, he said.

• There were 3,047,524 people fully vaccinated yesterday, 72% of the eligible population.