Northlanders were forced to wait hours at Covid-19 testing sites across Whangārei and Mangawhai as thousands swarmed to get tested yesterday.
Even with two extra testing stations at Mangawhai Domain and Pohe Island in Whangārei, anxious Northlanders had no choice but to withstand almost 30C heat as they waited in their cars.
Now there are urgent calls for more testing centres and better resource co-ordination with the Northland District Health Board acknowledging its services did not meet the testing demand.
The surge in demand comes as more close contacts, 15 in total, have been linked to New Zealand's first community case of Covid-19 in more than two months - a 56-year-old Northland woman.
The woman, confirmed to have the virus' South African variant, is believed to have picked it up in managed isolation in the Pullman hotel in Auckland, despite registering two negative tests before leaving on January 13.
Following her release, she travelled to about 30 shops, bars and other facilities in Northland, including in Whangārei, Ruakākā, Mangawhai, Kaiwaka, Maungaturoto, One Tree Point and Matakohe.
As a result, testing stations in the Whangārei and Kaipara districts were overwhelmed with people requesting a test. By mid-morning at the Refining NZ Visitor Centre testing station in Ruakākā, hundreds of cars were lined up as health and traffic management workers struggled to keep up.
Māori health nurses from Ki A Ora Ngātiwai supported NDHB staff through a mobile testing unit, but could do little to reduce delays.
Mum Sammy Dodunski and her 3-year-old Ila waited for almost four hours to get tested. While the pair had no food and water with them, Dodunski said her girl was coping well with the wait.
She claimed wait times were being worsened by people jumping the queue, moving in front of elderly people in particular.
Cliff Wadwell, 86, and Valerie Wadwell, 85, from Mata had been waiting more than four hours for a test just after midday, and still expected to wait a further hour or so before being tested.
They both said how the heat had been tough to handle and referenced the apparent lack of co-ordination at the testing station.
Ruakākā's Kylie Moore, 46, joined the queue at 8.30am and had only reached the front by midday. She said the wait was a bit frustrating and questioned why there weren't more testing stations open.
"It doesn't seem very well organised."
As a result of yesterday's demand, the Ruakākā testing station would be moved to the racecourse on Peter Snell Rd from today.
In Mangawhai, up to 100 vehicles queued up outside the local domain from about 11.30am yesterday before drivers were ushered in. Staff closed the domain's front gate about 12.30pm for fear health officials may not be able to test everyone if people kept arriving as testing continued.
Donna Squires, who works at the Maungaturoto Four Square, received a notification late Sunday to get tested. The positive case visited the supermarket on the morning of January 18, when Squires was working.
"I am good at scanning the QR Code wherever I go. I am feeling fine but it's better to be safe. I've got stage 4 cancer so I am vulnerable," she said.
Immune-compromised Monique Bidgood works at a liquor shop in Maungaturoto and drove to Mangawhai for her test as there was no testing station in her town. She decided to go for a test as she'd been coughing and sweating.
Bidgood believed there should be a testing station somewhere between Maungaturoto and Mangawhai so that people didn't have to travel long distances for their test.
Whangārei city's testing stations at Pohe Island and Winger Cresent in Kamo were equally busy. The testing station in Kamo began as a one-lane system and by the afternoon, three lanes of cars headed into the station had formed leaving a narrow gap for passing traffic.
Raumanga resident David, who did not want his last name published, spent more than five hours waiting for a test at Pohe Island testing station and was frustrated by the lack of communication from staff on site.
"I understand that we may need to wait but I expect them to have someone in charge of this sort of thing. No one has said a thing to us about what is happening," he said.
David was originally in the queue at the Winger Cr testing station in Kamo around 8.30am until half an hour later when staff at the station told him to turn around and drive to Pohe Island as they were full.
"The traffic there at Kamo was mental. As far as the eye could see, there were cars," David said.
Thomas Daly, 20, and Avani Kerrison, 21, from Riverside, arrived at Pohe Island shortly before 10am after they were also turned away from the Kamo testing station.
"I have absolutely no idea what is going on," Daly said as they entered the fifth hour of their wait for a test.
One Tree Point resident Adrianna McCarthy, 30, had multiple links to the latest Covid-19 case but chose against joining the queue, given she was 36 weeks' pregnant.
Not wanting to risk giving birth in the queue, a symptomatic McCarthy tried to get a test through her local GP but was denied as she wasn't showing significant health problems. She hoped to get a test for herself and her symptomatic daughter early today at White Cross.
"The more my daughter gets a cough the more I worry, I'm starting to feel worse, I'm just really worried about effects on baby."
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai was proud of her community's repsonse to the new case, but admitted the wait times were unfortunate.
"A tolerance of the authorities - who are doing the best they can - we hope that is what people will have."
Mai said questions will be asked to the appropriate authorities to improve testing facilities "each day and each hour that goes by".
Ngātiwai Trust Board chairman Aperahama Kerepeti-Edwards urgently requested the NDHB increase the number of testing facilities after many whānau reported horrendous wait times.
"They are sitting in their cars in near 30 degree heat, getting hot, thirsty and distressed."
Māori health providers across Northland jumped into action yesterday, ramping up testing efforts in Kawakawa, Kerikeri and Kaitaia.
Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoff Milner, who managed the Kawakawa site, said more than 60 people had requested a test between 10am to midday, in contrast to the two or three people staff had tested in the days prior.
He acknowledged resources could have been better focused on areas such as Ruakākā, however, Milner recognised the quick response of Northland's healthcare system.
Northland GP Dr Tim Malloy echoed Milner in his recognition of the DHB's effort scaling up testing capability. He believed the incredible stress on resources reflected the historical workforce issues the healthcare system has faced, highlighting a desperate shortage of nurses.
More than half a dozen clinical staff from the Counties Manukau DHB would be joining Northland staff from today to assist with testing, with stations set to be open all week.
NDHB medical officer of health Dr Catherine Jackson said it was vitally important only those who needed a test, sought one.
"If you were not at one of the premises [visited by the Covid case] and you do not have any symptoms you do not need to be tested," she said.
"If you are feeling unwell, call Healthline on 0800 358 5453."