Shortly after Pete Renwick opened his Hammer Hardware store in Katikati on Sunday, he had to close it again.
Renwick’s store is one of six businesses in the Bay of Plenty town visited by a Covid positive case on Thursday and Friday.
News of a weak positive result was announced on Saturday night, in a vaccinated person who was in the process of moving from Pukekohe to a rural area north of Katikati for work.
The Ministry of Health says the public health risk is low given the person is fully vaccinated, was avidly using the Covid-19 tracer app, and has been isolating alongside family members.
Renwick’s store was visited by the person sometime between 10am and midday on Thursday, October 7.
“They [the Ministry of Health] won’t tell me anything about the person. I asked what the person looked like and what they purchased, so I can check on the security cameras who it was who served him. They said they can’t do that. They won’t tell us anything about the person,” he says.
Renwick says four of his five staff members, including himself, were working on Thursday, “so we’ve all got to go home and isolate and get a test”, and the store can’t open with just one staff member.
“We weren’t told until we’d just opened this morning, and they phoned to tell me the shop was a location of interest, and we had to close the shop immediately.
“We opened at nine, and we were closed before ten”.
Renwick says he and his staff were told they’d need a test on Sunday and another test on Tuesday.
“So it will probably be Thursday before we open again. This is our busiest time of the year.”
All but one of his staff were fully or partly vaccinated, he says.
So far, there has been no indication Bay of Plenty will join the Waikato, Northland and Auckland at alert level 3.
Extra testing stations were open Sunday in the rural town and the Bay of Plenty District Health Board will announce whether more vaccine clinics are on the way.
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber says the town and surrounding areas had to head into “preventative mode”.
“If in doubt, go and get a test and without fail go and get vaccinated.”
Based on suburb-level data, Katikati's vaccination rates are just below the national average for both first and second doses: 77.5 per cent have had one dose, and 49.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The town’s nearest walk-in vaccination centres open on Sundays are in Tauranga – a 40-minute drive away. Katikati’s only local clinic, at the RSA, has been open a total of 10 hours a week, between 10am and 3pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We are working on vaccine sites for Katikati, which includes access to the RSA,” the district health board said on Saturday.
Webber suggests access to vaccination could remain an issue for some residents.
“We’re a rural district, and we have some severely deprived areas where some of these people don't have a vehicle,” he said.
“And there are no bus services to our remote villages.”
News of the case had left him with concerns for those across the district, particularly for more vulnerable residents.
The Ministry has indicated there are locations of interest in both Pukekohe and Katikati, but details are yet to emerge.
Locations will be added to the Ministry of Health website as soon as confirmed.
Webber says he would understand if the region had to enter alert level 3.
“It’s landed here, and how do we get rid of it.”
The case has earned praise on social media for following the rules to the letter.
The case is understood to be the first detection of Covid-19 in Katikati since the pandemic began.
But one councillor conceded it was a matter of time before a case arrived in the State Highway 2 town, which is a hub for kiwifruit and avocado orchards.
“I think it was pretty inevitable, whether it happened now or in a couple of weeks,” Katikati-Waihi councillor James Denyer says.
He says residents have been following the alert level rules, but “you do see the odd one without a mask”.
The person returned five negative test results since the beginning of September, the most recent being October 5.
The positive test result, which was taken on Friday, had a high CT value, usually seen in the early or late stage of infection, and is under further investigation, including a repeat test, the Ministry of Health says.
They had reported no symptoms apart from regular seasonal hayfever and a runny nose that hadn’t recently changed.
Katikati resident Rochelle Thomson said she felt prepared as she was fully vaccinated, but expected the case would be a reality-check for some
“When you're far away in these little isolated towns you think it's apart from you, but this is a bit of a wake-up call.”