Shoppers at Pak’nSave in Queenstown on Thursday were asked to take part in Covid-19 swab tests, to help the Government assess whether to lower the country’s alert level.
Queenstown was one of four places selected by the Ministry of Health for ‘‘sentinel testing’’
— random checking of people for disease symptoms to determine if there has been community transmission.
The others were in Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury.
The resort has been one of the hot spots for Covid-19. Nurses at Lakes District Hospital tested positive to the disease and one of its hotels played host to the World Hereford Conference, an event which created a cluster of cases.
Queenstown Lakes has 86 of the southern region’s 213 Covid-19 cases.
No new cases were reported in the region on Thursday, but the South still has more recorded cases of Covid-19 than anywhere else in New Zealand.
Nationally there were 1401 cases in total on Thursday.
Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Susan Jack said random testing of people without symptoms was an important additional step to understand the extent of Covid-19 in the community.
‘‘Most of our cases are from the infection spreading from individuals to close contacts, increasingly those with whom they are sharing their bubbles.’’
She said such cases were easily identifiable, but it was important to check for ‘‘community transition that has not yet reached our attention’’ through the 5326 tests already undertaken by the DHB.
Chief executive of WellSouth and co-ordinator of the pop-up testing site Andrew Swanson-Dobbs said there had been an “absolutely stunning” response by the public.
“The DHB public health physician rang and said we need your help. Can you please swab 300 people randomly in Queenstown.”
He received the call at 2.30pm on Wednesday and by 6am Thursday, Civil Defence staff and healthcare professionals arrived to set up the centre.
There were 29 members of staff involved, including nurses, GPs, pharmacists and administrators from as far away as Invercargill, Mr Swanson-Dobbs said.
Each staff member had been given personal protective equipment in order to stay safe.
Fabiano Vaz-da-Silveira was one of the shoppers who agreed to take part.
“I think it is a very good idea. They told me the Government wants to be sure it can drop the alert level.”
He said he was happy to be involved, but fellow volunteer Michele Becker said she was slightly nervous about the swab.
The aim was to test 300 people as quickly as possible. More than 60 tests had been completed within 90 minutes of opening at 10.30am.
Well South medical director GP Stephen Graham said he swapped a more organisational role for frontline testing to help move along the queues.
He said testing had gone well but admitted people “don’t like having it done very much”.
Dr Graham said there had been fears at the start of the crisis over having enough staff to carry out testing, but paid volunteers such as Tom Stokes had “stepped up and realised how important” it was to fulfil administrative and other roles.
Yesterday’s testing was aimed at people without symptoms. Healthcare officials urged people with signs of Covid-19 to contact their GP or Healthline.
Meanwhile, a postmortem was carried out on an Invercargill man in his 70s to determine if he was the first New Zealander to die at home from Covid-19.
Until those results were available, Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield would not say if the Kingswell man’s death would be added to the national total of nine Covid-19 deaths.
When asked if the man had links to the Bluff cluster, Dr Bloomfield said: ‘‘Yes, it is linked to the Bluff wedding; not directly, but indirectly.”
The Buff wedding cluster was connected to three more Covid-19 cases on Thursday; it has been connected to 92 cases overall, including the death of a man in Wellington.
Twelve people were in hospital with Covid-19, including three in intensive care.
One of those patients is in Dunedin Hospital and is in a critical condition.