Te Awamutu has become the epicentre of the Waikato’s Covid spread with at least 32 infected people linked to the rural town.
With secondary students heading back to school tomorrow, the deputy mayor of the district says the community was feeling anxious and unsettled.
But, she said, she remained confident in controlling the spread as the community were taking precautions “very seriously”.
Last Tuesday, Te Awamutu had seen a total of six cases. Now, there were at least 32.
Today, the Ministry of Health revealed one new person from Te Awamutu had tested positive for the virus.
Health officials have been urging the town’s residents to get tested if they have symptoms, saying testing sites throughout the region would be operating through the Labour Weekend.
Waipa District deputy mayor Liz Stolwyk said the last few days showed Covid cases in Te Awamutu were dropping which was a positive sign.
“I was in Te Awamutu yesterday doing my grocery shopping and as a rural community you do see a lot of people and you get sense quite quickly as to what the mood of the town is.
“There is still a real high degree of anxiousness, particularly because our senior secondary school students are heading back to school tomorrow and you can’t imagine that’s a quite unsettling time,” Stolwyk said.
She said she was disappointed Covid had spread south and urged the residents to stay put “as tempting as it might be” to bolt to the Mount or elsewhere.
It’s unclear if the man linked to the Te Awamutu cluster who tested positive in Blenheim had breached the rules, if he was an essential worker and where he resides.
“Testing stations are running smoothly and we are seeing a good range of people getting tested as we all understand how important it is,” Stolwyk said.
“We are absolutely taking it very seriously, we all know what we need to do and we need to get vaccinated.”
According to Stolwyk, Te Awamutu and Kihikihi needed 2274 more people needed to start their vaccination process to reach its 90 per cent target.
“That’s achievable, that’s really achievable.”
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The two cases in Ōtorohanga, announced last night, were also confirmed to be linked to the Te Awamutu cluster.
A young man infected with Covid, who is linked to the Te Awamutu cases flew from Rotorua last Thursday before travelling to Blenheim where he tested positive for the virus.
He became the first Covid case the South Island has seen in 12 months.
Investigations into the case were ongoing, the ministry said.
On Saturday, the ministry said: “The individual flew from Rotorua and arrived in Blenheim on [Thursday]. The individual sought a test upon arrival after developing a sore throat. The initial test, including a follow-up swab, returned a weak positive result.
“Investigations into the source of the infection are underway. However, initial case interviews suggest the case is linked to the Te Awamutu cluster.”
It’s unclear how long the man was infected while in Te Awamutu and how he managed to travel out of the town during alert level 3.
Three close contacts had returned a negative Covid test result and are now isolating and being managed by Nelson Marlborough Health, the ministry said this afternoon.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker was calling for mandatory vaccine passports for all domestic flights in New Zealand to help prevent spread between regions.
“I also wonder if this Blenheim case was an essential worker then why wasn’t he tested before he travelled and what screening was there before he jumped on his flight?”
The Herald has put questions to the ministry about this.
Baker said getting the Covid spread in Waikato under control was important on a national level.
“Because unlike Auckland, we can’t put a very good boundary around the Waikato, we all know that.”
Getting people vaccinated, speedy contact tracing and following alert level 3 were the three legs of stamping out the virus from the region, Baker said.
“If all these systems were working well, then there’s no reason why we can’t get it under control.”
As for secondary students heading back to school amid an outbreak, he said internationally that had be the single biggest debate.
His advice for parents worried about sending their kids back to school was to make sure they are vaccinated, wear a mask at all times while inside and social distance as much as they could.
“Getting vaccinated was one of the most important actions for these students, it means if they have exams and other things they need to study, it’s entirely less likely to be disrupted if they are fully vaccinated,” Baker said.
Timeline of Te Awamutu cases:
• Tuesday October 12 – first positive detection found in Te Awamutu wastewater.
• Friday October 15 -second wastewater detection found in the area.
• Tuesday October 19 – the ministry confirms 6 cases of Covid.
• Wednesday October 20 – another 2 confirmed, the town’s total jumps to 8 in total.
• Thursday October 21 – new cases 8, total 16.
• Friday October 22 – new cases 5, total 21.
• Saturday October 23 – new cases 7, total28. Ministry confirms infected man in Blenheim linked to Te Awamutu cluster.
• Sunday October 24 – new cases 1, total 29. That evening a further two cases confirmed in Ōtorohanga, south of Te Awamutu, linked to the cluster.
• Monday October 25 (Labour Day) – new case 1, 32
Te Awamutu locations of interest
Another supermarket has been added to the list of locations of interest in Te Awamutu.
Pak’nSave Te Awamutu: 670 Cambridge Rd. Wednesday, October 20 between 5.15pm and 7pm.
Caltex Super Service, 98 Ohaupo Rd. Wednesday October 20 between 7.20am and 7.50am.
Top of the Town Dairy Te Awamutu. Wednesday October 20 between 10am and 12pm,Monday October 18 between 2pm and 6pm, Sunday October 17 between 6pm and 8.30pm.
Paper Plus Toyworld Te Awamutu. Monday October 18 between 3.23pm and 3.58pm, Tuesday October 19 between 1.22pm and 1.55pm.
VTNZ Te Awamutu, 1423 Alexandra St. Thursday October 14 between 1.45pm and 2.19pm.
Mobil Te Awamutu, 133 Arawata St. Wednesday October 20 between 4.15pm and 5.15pm.
Countdown Te Awamutu: 180 Sloane St. Friday October 15 to Sunday October 17.
Fresh Choice Te Awamutu: 39 Rewi St. Tuesday October 12 to Wednesday October 20.
College Superette Te Awamutu: 943 Alexandra St. Wednesday, October 13 between 12.30pm and 1.30pm and Tuesday, October 12 between 12.30pm and 1.30pm.
If you visited one of these locations of interest on the day and time stated, the advice from health officials is to self-monitor for Covid-19 symptoms for 14 days after you were exposed at this location of interest. If symptoms develop, get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result and until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
Waikato region's case numbers
The Waikato region now had 87 people infected with the virus, with six cases for which epidemiological links remain under investigation. One person in the region is in hospital.
Waikato District Health Board was calling for people to take advantage of the holiday break to get vaccinated, with walk-ins available at many sites across the region, the ministry said in today’s statement.
Yesterday 4820 tests were processed for Waikato. While vaccinations dropped to 939, this was expected over the long weekend with fewer sites operating.
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