South prepared to deal with new outbreak

Southern health officials are confident the region and its people are ready for any incursion of Covid-19.

"We have been planning for this possibility for many weeks now, so we are ready to go," Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Susan Jack said.

Yesterday, 13 new cases of Covid-19 were found in Auckland, adding to the four community transmission cases identified on Tuesday evening.

Dr Susan Jack. Photo: suplied
Dr Susan Jack. Photo: suplied
Dr Jack said it could not be ruled out that someone from Auckland had travelled south with the disease, and a marked increase in people seeking Covid-19 tests was critical to ensuring there was also no community transmission in the region.

Tourism destinations such as Queenstown had testing efforts increased yesterday, and the SDHB was liaising with the University of Otago and other possible Covid-10 hot spots, Dr Jack said.

"We absolutely need people to go and get tested if they have symptoms; the more testing of symptoms, the better chance we have of stamping this out."

The re-emergence of Covid-19 did not stop dozens of Auckland holidaymakers pouring into Queenstown yesterday, and nine flights from Auckland landed at the town’s airport.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said although the resort was physically prepared for another outbreak, he was seriously concerned about the effect on local businesses of the inevitable prospect of few leisure travellers coming into the district from Auckland in the coming days.

Operators had just worked out how they might make their businesses at least viable in a strong domestic market, he said.

“But this is just a massive blow. I don’t think this current situation is going to last three days, I think it will last a lot longer than that."

St Clair resident Melanie Garthwaite signs into the Esplanade Restaurant on Thursday afternoon....
St Clair resident Melanie Garthwaite signs into the Esplanade Restaurant on Thursday afternoon. Photo: Gregor Richardson

Despite no official confirmation of any cases of Covid-19 in the South the rumour mill was swirling yesterday, and several people contacted the Otago Daily Times claiming they knew of people with the disease in the region.

Dr Jack said there was a lot of anxiety in the community.

"While we are pleased that people are taking the situation seriously, we are concerned that unhelpful speculation is fuelling community fears.

"Any new cases will be announced by the Ministry of Health, and as always we would ask that everyone who is affected by Covid-19 is treated with kindness and their privacy is respected."

Although there are no Covid-19 patients in the South, the SDHB will reinstate a designated ward on the sixth floor of Dunedin Hospital, which was set up before the first wave of cases.

On Wednesday, Covid-19 testing rates across the southern region increased almost sevenfold in a day, as more than 1400 people were tested for the disease.

Dr Jack said if any of the testing stations found a case of Covid-19 in the region, the SDHB’s contact tracing capability had been greatly boosted since the first wave of cases.

"We have been asked by the ministry to plan for up to a certain number of cases a day, so we have ramped up to even more than we had in the previous outbreak and we were still finding some extra staff.

"Now we are ready to go."

Rata owner Keith Clifford's shop in Dunedin displays the QR code for a tracing app. Photo: Gerard...
Rata owner Keith Clifford's shop in Dunedin displays the QR code for a tracing app. Photo: Gerard O'Brien

Businesses and customers throughout the South were yesterday readjusting to Alert Level 2.

The ODT visited about 40 Dunedin businesses yesterday, to find almost all in Stuart and George Sts had the QR code for a tracing app displayed.

Few had sign-in books, shop owners saying they believed most people used their phones these days instead.

Some shop workers were reminding customers as they came into stores about social distancing and sign-in, but others said customers were taking the initiative.

Very few people were wearing masks in a crowded George St about noon and social distancing was almost non-existent, despite reminders from the local council and Government about Level 2 rules.

In South Dunedin, several shops did not provide any means for customers to carry out contact tracing.

Other shop and cafe employees commented sign-in sheets were the most common method of contact tracing.

A cafe owner, who did not wish to be named, said she had many elderly customers who did not have phones.

"None of my customers have phones or know how any of that works.

"They’ve been filling in a notebook we have here on the front counter.

Dr Jack said hand hygiene remained critical and said if people were going to be in a situation where they could not do social distancing, such as public transport, then they should wear a mask.

Southerners had experienced Alert Level 2 before and Dr Jack was confident they knew what to do.

"It’s not the best place to be in but we know we can do it.

"We want to really strongly encourage people that if they are asked by public health to self-isolate or to get a test that they actually do that, because that is not only going to help them but also our whole community."


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