Northlanders are on “tenterhooks” as they await news of whether Covid-19 has spread through their community after a case earlier detected in Whangārei was confirmed positive.
A person who initially returned a weak positive Covid-19 test in Whangārei on Monday, was on Thursday evening confirmed to be a positive case.
The person, an Auckland-based essential worker, had since returned to Auckland.
It was the news no one wanted, Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said.
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Work was already well under way to find out where the case had gone and Northlanders had “everything crossed” in the hope the virus had not spread through the community.
“People were thinking that at some stage it was inevitable,” she said.
“We were hoping that it wouldn’t come to Northland, and we’re still hopeful that it hasn’t come to Northland.
“I’ll be on tenterhooks until we know what we’re really facing.”
Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said in a statement on Thursday evening signs pointed to the infection being caught early, which could help limit the spread of infection.
Locations of interest in Auckland and Northland would be updated as soon as they were confirmed, she said.
University of Otago epidemiologist professor Michael Baker said a gradual “spill over of cases” into regions outside of Auckland was to be expected, given the Government’s apparent transition from elimination to suppression of the virus.
If there was evidence of wider transmission within the Northland area, he said he would expect “the same strategy that applies in other areas with such transmission, which is a rapid increase to alert level 3, and then a very vigorous response from contact tracing”.
Baker said if the new positive case arrived from Auckland the situation could be easily managed, but if it was an unexpected case there could be a long line of transmission in Auckland, and many other cases.
“That’s more of a tip of the iceberg problem,” he said.
The feeling of inevitability was echoed by National’s health spokesman Dr Shane Reti, who said it had always been a case of “when, not if” the virus spread.
With many parts of Northland showing below average vaccination rates, Reti said it was a “blessing” the case had happened in Whangarei and not farther north.
“What we know is generally the further north you move, the higher the pockets of deprivation in low socio-economic communities,” he said.
“If it makes its way north, generally, we hit into more deprived areas and it becomes more challenging as we move further and further away from services.”
Both Reti and Mai were concerned Northland might move to alert level 3 if the virus was found to have spread.
While Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoff Milner didn’t want Covid in Northland, he said it shouldn’t stop people from getting on with getting their vaccinations.
“I think many people had their fingers cross it would come back as a negative, but certainly from a health perspective we need all the help we can get in the north,” Milner said.
“And if there’s a light in this dark announcement is that if that doesn’t spur Northlanders into action and out of their lethargy I don’t know what will.”
For Baker, the spread both north and south of Auckland’s boundary was a sign of things to come.
“I think the number one message we have to keep saying is if you’re in Auckland, or anywhere in New Zealand now, you have to assume you’re going to be exposed to this virus before Christmas, and so people must get vaccinated.”