Taranaki residents worry level 2 not enough

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Opinion is split in New Plymouth over whether New Plymouth should be in Covid-19 alert level 3 along with Auckland.

People queue for a Covid-19 test at Taranaki Base Hospital, where a line of cars hundreds of metres long snaked along Tukapa Street.

People queue for a Covid-19 test at Taranaki Base Hospital, where a line of cars hundreds of metres long snaked along Tukapa Street.
Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Members of a Papatoetoe family infected with the UK variant of the virus travelled to Taranaki over Waitangi Weekend. The mother and daughter visited several tourist destinations and eateries in and around New Plymouth between 6 and 8 February.

Officials have asked that only people who were at those places at the same time, or who have symptoms, seek a test for Covid-19.

At Taranaki Base Hospital testing station today, a queue formed before it opened and shortly after 9am a line of cars snaked along Tukapa Street, hundreds of metres long.

Contractors needed to be brought in to manage the flood of people wanting to have a swab taken.

Many in the queue and beyond were surprised New Plymouth was still at alert level 2.

“I expected us to be at level 3 with Auckland, little bit disappointed that we’re not,” said one.

Another said it was the uncertainty.

“I would have expected us to be at level 3 at the moment just because nobody knows really where it’s at.

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Some said they were happy with the decision however.

“I’m comfortable with it at the moment, because I think that we’ve got systems in place.”

Official advice is that alert level 2 is adequate as Taranaki is perceived to be at low risk because two close contacts who travelled with the mother and daughter have tested negative.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Ministry of Health confirmed today the community cases were a more infectious variant that first appeared in the UK.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom said considering that he would not be surprised to hear alert level advice change.

“Now that they know what strain it is they’ll make decisions and that’ll have an impact on where we end up. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up at level 3 but certainly in terms of where we’re at right now we’re confident that the ministry’s doing a really good job and handling this.”

However, at a post-Cabinet briefing this afternoon Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they believed restrictions were sufficient to contain the spread of Covid-19, even given the increased transmissibility of the UK variant.

New Plymouth has quadrupled its usual testing capacity, Bloomfield said.

“It’s very important that the right people are tested, so please don’t rush to a centre if you are well or haven’t been to one of the locations of interest.”

Downtown, the co-owner of the Crowded House Bar and Cafe, Doc Van Praagh was breathing a sigh of relief that the city is at level 2.

“I’m quite happy Taranaki hasn’t gone to level 3, at level three our doors are closed obviously so we get hammered.

“Wouldn’t like to go back to level 3, I feel sorry for the Auckland businesses that have to.”

Nick Bull of the Shoe Clinic was more flexible though.

“I think level 2’s still okay at the present time, I mean it hasn’t been proved that it’s in the Taranaki region, so yeah I mean at the moment definitely precautionary with level 2 but if anything comes of it we can definitely move up.”

The mother and daughter with the virus hired bikes at the Cycle Inn on Devon Street. Shop manager Mark Bradshaw said that he was following Ministry of Health advice and it was business as normal under alert level 2.

“We always sanitise helmets and grips and the saddles and stuff like that anyway so we’ve got no real cause for concern. the people can come in, we can work as social distancing, put the names down, wash our hands. It’s not like we’re all sitting round a table eating or something like that.

“I do feel for perhaps some of the eateries but I mean we’re happy with how it is at the moment.”

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