More than 850 people visited an iwi-run Covid-19 assessment centre in Kaikohe last month, just over 300 being swabbed for the virus.

The drive-through Community-Based Assessment Centre, which is open seven days a week, and is operated by health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi on behalf of Te Rūnanga-a-iwi o Ngāpuhi in a marquee next to the rūnanga's headquarters on Mangakahia Rd.

Nurse Rhonda Zielinski said Kaikohe had clocked up the highest number of tests in Northland after Whangārei. Testing had initially been offered by the DHB at its Rankin St base, but wasn't well attended, so the rūnanga's interim CEO, Te Rōpu Poa, pulled a team together.

"We've had a really good response," Ms Zielinski said.


"People like the fact they can turn up here and know us from other walks of life because we live here. It makes a difference when you have your own looking after your own."

Ngāpuhi's move had also served as a catalyst for other iwi around Northland to set up their own testing stations.

The busiest days at Kaikohe came after a staff member at the town's New World supermarket was found to have Covid-19. That news was reported on the evening of Saturday, April 4. Next day 153 people turned up, 30 of them being swabbed. The numbers were similar on the following two days.

"We had three really busy days, because that caused a lot of worry for whānau. A good proportion had shopped at New World but weren't sick, so we reassured them and sent them away with information," she added.

Generally only those with symptoms were tested, although the Health Ministry's criteria changed regularly.

"But at the end of the day we make a clinical decision on-site. If someone has driven up from Awarua to be tested, even if they've got no symptoms, I'm still going to swab them," she said.

Everyone who arrived at the centre is stopped at the entrance, where a nurse decided if they needed to go in or could be sent away with advice and reassurance. If they needed to be tested they answered a series of questions at the next stop then drove to the marquee, the only point where they got out of their vehicles.

They were ushered in by a nurse, clad in full protective gear, who took a Nasal swab. The whole process was over in minutes.


Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi had also run pop-up clinics at Tautoro, outside New World and on Hongi St, and made home visits for elderly patients who were afraid to leave their bubbles. Staff were working closely with the DHB, which had set a cabin next door to administer flu shots.

By taking over virus testing in Kaikohe, Ms Zielinski said, the iwi had freed up health board staff to carry out contact tracing and other Covid-19 related work.

The DHB does not release the numbers of positive Covid-19 tests by location, but at least four people in Kaikohe are believed to have been infected.