Demand for coronavirus testing in the Bay of Plenty has surged after New Zealand's Covid-free streak came to a sudden halt this week.
Between Monday and yesterday 896 tests had been carried out in the Bay of Plenty District Health Board area, compared to 599 the week before. In the Lakes District Health Board area, 297 people have been Covid-19 swab tested in Rotorua and 68 in Taupō in the same time period, compared to 254 swab tests in Rotorua and 34 in Taupō for the whole of last week.
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The spike in demand has been attributed to New Zealand's first two new confirmed Covid-19 cases in 24 days - two women who travelled from the UK to New Zealand earlier this month were only confirmed to have the virus on Monday.
Yesterday, the Rotorua community suffered a major Covid-19 scare when it was revealed a flight attendant, who was on the same flight as the two women had stayed with a family from Rotorua's Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai at the weekend.
Children from the family went to school on Monday and Tuesday and also attended a rugby training with students from other kura on Tuesday night. Students from four Rotorua kura (Māori-language immersion schools) were exposed to the attendant's close contacts.
The whānau involved alerted the school to the contact with the possible case.
The other three affected kura were Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hurungaterangi.
The flight attendant yesterday tested negative for the virus but earlier in the day, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu principal Matua Koa stood outside his school yesterday morning advising parents of the situation and gave them the opportunity to take them home.
Only 15 per cent of the students stayed at school, he said.
All of Ngāti Rongomai's 115 pupils opted to stay home yesterday. Ngāti Rongomai co-principals Tukiterangi and Renata Curtis confirmed the flight attendant had contact with at least one of their students and could have had contact with a handful of others, including teachers.
The school operated under level 3 precautions on Wednesday and then held a Facebook live session letting all their school whānau know the situation.
Renata said they were "victims of a lack of something that should be done for every person that entered the country".
"This has caused us and our whole school whānau a lot of undue stress."
She said it was Ministry of Education guidelines to keep the school running as normal before test results came back but they felt a "moral obligation" to put the choice in the "hands of the parents".
Rotorua MP Todd McClay has hit out at the Government after the city's Covid-19 scare, saying he he had received loads of "distraught" emails from locals asking why the two women and the flight attendant were allowed to travel freely around the country.
"It is really concerning for our local parents that this could happen. Thank goodness we dodged such a serious situation for our city's young people.
Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey said they were "learning from the situation" and had swiftly stepped up security at the borders in response, even calling in military support to assist with quarantine.
Coffey said he wanted to acknowledge the anxiety the incident had caused for local families and kura.
The flight attendant's Covid-19 test came back negative yesterday, followed by news of another unrelated confirmed case in New Zealand yesterday.
The man, in his 60s, flew from Pakistan and arrived in New Zealand on June 11. He developed symptoms on June 15.
Since news that New Zealand's Covid-19-free streak had been broken, more tests had been carried out in the Bay of Plenty and Lakes District Health Board districts, a trend that had been identified thoughout the country.
Health officials are urging anyone with symptoms to get tested.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board incident controller Dr Joe Bourne said demand for Covid-19 assessments and testing had increased since the beginning of the week.
"The number of people tested on Monday was 300, 295 on Tuesday, and 301 on Wednesday, compared to 217, 215 and 167 for the same days last week," he said.
"Usually, Monday is our busiest day of the week. High demand yesterday (Wednesday) was likely due to increased anxiety in the population following the two new positive cases."
Bourne said there were no big queues of people but waiting times had been longer at some general practice facilities.
"Yesterday [Wednesday] one general practice swabbed 60 people, some of whom waited for three hours for a swab," he said.
There are three Covid-19 testing stations in the Lakes District Health Board area, one each in Rotorua, Taupō and Tūrangi.
A Lakes District Health Board spokeswoman said testing in Rotorua had been particularly busy in the past three days.
"Testing in Rotorua was very busy yesterday with a queue of cars in the morning but the numbers of vehicles in the queue eased off in the afternoon," she said.
The district health board spokeswoman said of their 297 swabs tested in Rotorua, 135 were tested yesterday. Four times as many people were tested in Rotorua this week compared to the previous three days and in Taupō only one person was tested between June 12 and June 14.
The spike in demand came after director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirming the two women's positive tests. They were allowed out of managed isolation at a hotel in Auckland without being tested but later tested positive in Wellington, Bloomfield said.
According to the Ministry of Health, "because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, aircrew were exempt from the requirement for isolation or quarantine".
All arriving international crew were required to undertake a health assessment on arrival. If they developed any symptoms or had close contact with a Covid-19 case, they must go to a quarantine or isolation facility for further assessment and management.