Scanning rates poor: academic

A Covid-19 scare in Wellington is a warning Dunedin is not exempt, a University of Otago academic says.

Dunedin bus drivers at work yesterday. Most wore masks, but some have exemptions from doing so....
Dunedin bus drivers at work yesterday. Most wore masks, but some have exemptions from doing so. PHOTOS: GERARD O’BRIEN
Lianne Parkin, from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, was co-author of a March New Zealand Medical Journal article which highlighted just how lazy Dunedin residents had become at scanning.

She and her fellow researchers found scanning rates were very low at several city venues, a mindset which needed to change immediately, Dr Parkin said yesterday.

"This case in Wellington is a reminder that Covid hasn’t gone away," she said.

"There are now more infectious variants and we have to be vigilant, because this is a dangerous time with travel bubbles opening up, and we need to be careful."

The March article recorded a median scanning rate of just 10% and at 12 venues, eight of which were bars, no-one scanned in at all during the survey period.

Supermarket customers were slightly better, recording scanning rates between 11% and 30%, but at one church service none of 57 worshippers present scanned in.

Ministry of Health figures show scanning rates peaked at an average of 2 million a day last year, but have dropped away drastically in recent months to a daily average below 500,000.

The visitor to Wellington had been an example of what to do, Dr Parkin said, as their diligent scanning meant epidemiologists and contact tracers had a massive head start investigating any possible community transmission.

"Unfortunately not that many New Zealanders are doing the same thing, so many of them won’t have got alerts as soon as they could have got them."

Several hundred flights had left Wellington for points throughout New Zealand while the Sydney visitor was in town, which demonstrated concern for possible spread of Covid-19 needed to be national, not just regional, Dr Parkin said.

"People in Dunedin might think we’re fine, there’s no Covid here, but that completely ignores that people are incredibly mobile."

The Otago Regional Council has reiterated that face coverings should always be worn on public transport at Alert Level 1.

ORC transport implementation lead Julian Phillips said mask usage in Dunedin was relatively good, albeit with room for improvement.

"Unfortunately, the use of face coverings in Queenstown is poorer, and we really encourage people in the resort town to wear masks," he said.

"We have recently refreshed our on-board signage reminding people to continue to wear face coverings."

Bus drivers are not required to enforce the use of face coverings, but will usually encourage passengers to wear a mask.

"It is up to individual passengers to do the right thing and follow the Level 1 guidelines," Mr Phillips said.

Most drivers wear masks, but some have exemptions from doing so.


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