Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Virus hits north of Kaitaia amid frustration health ministry is keeping location of cases too vague

A confirmed case of Covid-19 has emerged north of Kaitaia, along with details suggesting two other cases in the Far North and a broader spread of the virus than health authorities have made public.

It is an intrusion by the virus into a part of the country with one of the lowest vaccination rates in New Zealand.

Community leaders in the Far North have criticised the Ministry of Health approach to generically describing new cases north of Auckland as being in “Northland”.

It takes almost five hours to drive across the region, yet the Ministry of Health has not provided further detail on the location of cases, citing privacy.

Today’s new Northland case was instead confirmed by the Northland District Health Board saying it was “a positive case of Covid-19 in Kaitaia”. The Herald has found the case was actually closer to Pukenui, which is 30 minutes drive north of Kaitaia.

Pukenui School board of trustees chairman Kelly Ruddell said the school was associated with the case through a “close contact” and would be closing for the next two days as a precaution.

The health board said the new case brought the number of Covid-19 positive cases in Northland to 13. The number had previously been understood to include cases in Kaiwaka to the south and the cluster at Mangamuka.

However, Tai Tokerau Border Control organiser Hone Harawira said there had also been cases self-isolating at Omapere and Rawene on the Hokianga Harbour.

Harawira said health officials had described those cases as being located between Kaikohe and Kaitaia. While “technically” correct, Harawira said it had not given the people of Northland the information they needed.

Harawira’s assertion matches with Herald inquiries that identified the Omapere case – 45 minutes west of Kaikohe – as that which sparked an alert on Sunday over claims of a “gathering” at the property.

Harawira said he wanted the North to move back to alert level 3 and for better information to be provided to the public.

“They are playing by antiquated Privacy Act rules that were in place before Covid,” said Harawira. “They’re not intelligent enough to amend it to deal with what’s happening.”

Harawira said the Omapere and Rawene cases were dated and he understood those who had contracted it were now recovering.

Far North councillor Felicity Foy said the new positive case was from the Pukenui area.

She said word spread in Kaitaia today of a new case – the furthest North yet – and it had seen “bumper-to-bumper” queues of cars at the local hospital filled with people seeking a Covid vaccination.

“I think word is getting out now. This is getting too close to home. It makes people realise this is something real and not just in Auckland.”

Foy said there was a feeling of frustration across the Far North at the generic “Northland” description provided by the Ministry of Health. “They could have said ‘Far North’ – that would have been helpful. We’re closer to Cape Reinga than we are to Auckland.”

Ti Hiku Community Board chairwoman Adele Gardner said the Ministry’s approach to Northland seemed different to that taken in Waikato where specific towns were named. “Northland is a huge area with a lot of towns.”

Hokianga and Kaitaia have fewer than half of the population with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Northland, as a region, is currently expected to be the last to reach 90 per cent on current projections.

In response to questions about the Omapere case, the Ministry of Health dismissed talk of a “gathering”, saying that a person who was already a close contact had visited a “Northland” house where people with Covid-19 were isolating.

“There does not appear to be any exposure to the general public from the event.”

Asked for the name of the town, a spokesman said: “For privacy reasons, the Ministry of Health doesn’t provide information about where people are isolating, especially given the low case numbers in Northland and the risk of releasing personally identifiable information.”

Northland COVID-19 Vaccination Programme senior responsible officer Jeanette Wedding said: “The DHB has been very proactive with our communication by providing what the public need, which is early notification of locations of interest.

“Because there is a big difference in size between Omapere and Kaitaia we could safely identify Kaitaia. As with our cases around Kaiwaka or southern Kaipara , Kaitaia refers to Kaitaia or it’s surrounds.”

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