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Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Tauranga could have cases this week, health board says

Covid-19 may be in the community as early as this week but Tauranga is as ready as it can be, the health board says.

The virus was detected in Taupō on Saturday and Rotorua on Sunday and was also detected in Tauranga wastewater samples from November 11 and Mount Maunganui from November 10 and 11.

Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said this was a “critical week” if people wanted to be fully protected by Christmas.

People need five weeks to be fully protected – three weeks between the first and second dose and two weeks after that to have maximum protection.

“The whole country needs to brace itself in a sense to prepare for being exposed.

“You don’t want to meet this virus if you are unvaccinated.”

Baker also suggested people plan ahead for social events and the inevitable traffic light system.

“Visualise social events they are going to have and make it a fully vaccinated event. Assume the traffic light system. It’s not here but will be soon.

“Start to talk to family friends. The virus may be washing over the entire country. Start planning on that basis.

“It’s sensible now for sake of your health and family and friends to make it clear it’s fully vaccinated or nothing … so people get the message they can’t put it off any longer. This is a critical week.”

A record 207 new community cases were announced yesterday as well as one death in Auckland.

Chief executive Pete Chandler said Bay of Plenty District Health Board had been working on the basis Covid-19 would arrive any day and he was expecting cases in the area as early as this week based on the direction of travel.

“We’re as ready as we can be for a situation we don’t know what will look like until it’s here.”

Chandler said the DHB had been readying itself and adapting to changing circumstances for weeks and had been focusing on a home care model for potential Covid patients who don’t need to be in hospital.

“Both hospitals (Tauranga and Whakātane) are both pretty full at the moment … so we’re having to be really thoughtful about how we will react to outbreaks and make sure we’ve got multiple plans for different scenarios

“We’ve been going full pelt for a couple of weeks and the one thing we’ve started to do is pull back on remaining non-essential general business … to ensure we’ve got the widest pool of people available to help with outbreaks.”

In October the board started work to increase its capacity to take Covid-19 patients, converting ward 4 into a Covid ward.

Chandler said this would be finished by Christmas but the board wasn’t concerned as modelling showed uncontrolled outbreaks took a few weeks before putting stress on the system.

He said the DHB’s emergency management team had experience with crises like the Whakaari / White Island eruption and Edgecumbe flooding.

“There’s an immense togetherness. When hit with a major challenge or crisis everyone pulls together. We do what needs to be done.”

Western Bay of Plenty mayor Garry Webber said the council had been keeping a close eye on developments in areas around it.

“It’s best we prepare in the event something happens and if it doesn’t that’s a bonus. The critical thing we’re working on is getting our vaccination rates up to as high as we can. That’s the only way we’ll be able to get ahead.”

He said health providers had been working with mayors in the wider Bay of Plenty to mobilise the communities and to be informed.

Tauranga City Council Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley urged people in the community to get vaccinated.

“The clock is ticking, we have confirmed cases in Hamilton, as well as Taupō. The time to act is now.

“It is also crucial for everyone in our community to keep wearing face coverings, socially distance, maintain good hygiene and use the NZ Covid tracer app. Let’s do everything we can to keep our whānau and friends safe.”

Waiariki-based Labour List MP Tamati Coffey believed the area was as ready as it could be for Covid-19.

Coffey said it was safe to assume Covid-19 would spread throughout the Waiariki district and into Tauranga but they were forward-planning for these scenarios.

“Vaccination rates are low across the Bay of Plenty and Lakes DHBs but that’s not to say we are not going to hit these targets.”

He encouraged people to also reach out to the vulnerable people in the community to see if they needed help.

Meanwhile, Toi Te Ora Public Health has doubled down on its advice for people living in the greater Tauranga area to get tested for Covid-19 if they have any symptoms following the detection of the virus in wastewater.

The Medical Officer of Health at Toi Te Ora, Dr Lynne Lane, said the results could be due to recently recovered cases returning to the region from MIQ shedding the virus, transient visitors to the region, or could signal undetected cases in the community.

“People need to get tested even if they only have mild symptoms of Covid-19.”

Contact tracing is under way for the Rotorua cases and locations of interest will be added to the Ministry of Health’s website when they become available.

Anyone living in the area or any recent visitors with Covid-19 related symptoms, no matter how mild, should get tested.

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