A pub, a St Patrick's Day party and a highly contagious virus. What could possibly go wrong? Kirsty Johnston reports.
The party was billed as the "pot of gold" you needed to celebrate St Paddy's - with green beer, a jig off, a band, and festive staff.
"Let's get shamrocked!" the advertisement for the Redoubt Bar and Eatery in Matamata said. There was no mention of coronavirus.
That was March 16, the day Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that gatherings of up to 500 people would be banned. Two days earlier, she'd made the decision that all visitors to the country would need to self-isolate for 14 days, effectively nullifying the tourism industry.
Do you remember it? It was a strange time. Pasifika in Auckland was cancelled, but Womad in Taranaki was allowed to continue. Some people were cancelling weddings, some weren't. Wellington's Armageddon and the Auckland Writers' Festival were off, but schools remained open.
And with minimal outcry, St Patrick's Day celebrations went ahead.
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Redoubt Bar related to 45 cases in Matamata, Waikato DHB says
• Covid-19 coronavirus: Matamata cluster rises to 37 cases
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Urgent testing station being set up in Matamata
• Covid 19 coronavirus: 1 new case for Matamata, total cases tip to 24 overnight
At the Redoubt, a popular pub on Matamata's main street, photos show it was a good night. The cafe owner from across the street is pictured pouring a pint. A group of three people sit clustered together, arms around each other, all in green. Now, it makes you wince. Back then, the term "social distancing" was brand new.
A couple of days later, a staff member from the bar began to feel sick. Over the weekend, the country was told about the alert levels, in a broadcast on TV. New Zealand at that stage was level 2. By Monday, that was raised to level 3, with the warning that on Wednesday, March 25 everyone would be isolated at home, under level 4.
On March 23, the Redoubt shut its doors for the lockdown.
"Bye bye for now!" it posted on Facebook, with a picture of the staff crowded around a table. "See everyone in 4 weeks! Should we do a grand re-opening?!"
Data shows by then, the Waikato had 14 cases of Covid 19, and there were 100 across the country.
Matamata, a former farm service town at the eastern edge of the region, made a busy tourist spot by nearby Hobbiton, wasn't mentioned in the daily updates yet.
On March 27, that changed. Kelly Henderson, the Redoubt's owner, posted again to Facebook.
"What an insidious awful virus this is," she said. "We have had a confirmed case of Covid-19 among our staff."
Henderson said the bar had been in daily contact with the district health board and had been reassured that every was doing what they should - self-isolating and watching for symptoms.
"Our hearts go out to the other Matamata businesses who are in the same boat. You can't help but feel guilty even though we were operating according to all guidelines."
The post sent a shiver through the town. Councillors felt nervous about what it would do to their reputation, their buoyant economy already hurting from the cuts to tourism. Business owners - thankful it wasn't them - messaged Redoubt in support.
Matamata-Piako mayor Ash Tanner said the feeling among residents was one of concern. "I know a lot of them are ringing the Healthline," he said.
Two days on, Matamata had nine confirmed cases. It was added to the list of "clusters". However, the ministry at that point didn't know exactly how the cases were related.
To find out, they had to undertake a "cluster investigation" - which means tracing the disease backwards.
Ayesha Verrall, an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said the idea of an investigation was to find the "index patient" - the common thread.
"You go back and interview anyone sick, and say 'do you know anyone who's sick?', and try to go back as far as you can," she said.
"But with Covid 19, because it can be a mild respiratory condition, it's hard to know after a while if you're on the right trail or if it's just normal coughs and colds."
Verall said the investigations could be difficult because you couldn't assume the first case to show symptoms was the index case.
"You never know if there's not a missing piece in the puzzle," she said. "So in this case you'd ask, was there someone else who caused it in the workplace prior to the person who showed symptoms first?"
By March 30, however, health officials were confident enough in their work to publicly name the bar as the place of transmission - and the time as St Patrick's Day. They didn't identify the index case, but said they believed the original source was linked to overseas travel.
With case numbers climbing - the number of positive tests linked to the bar was at 23 - Waikato District Health board set up a Covid-19 testing station in Matamata. Anyone with symptoms should inform staff at the station if they'd been at the Redoubt Bar - or had close contact with someone who had - in the past two weeks.
Any visitors who'd been to the bar on St Patrick's Day should also follow those steps, they said.
Over the following days, as more people were tested, the numbers linked to the bar continued to climb. On April 2 - with the total now at 45 cases and 200 people tested at the station - the DHB made a new announcement.
Dr Kevin Snee, Waikato DHB chief executive, said they were no longer solely focusing on St Patrick's Day.
"All cases have been linked either directly or indirectly to the Redoubt Bar. While the focal point remains the St Patrick's Day celebration at the bar, it appears there was also some transmission at that site during the surrounding days as well."
The staffer at the centre of the cluster didn't want to talk to the Herald about what had happened, saying they preferred to let the information come from the Ministry of Health.
Henderson, the owner, had the same answer. "I'm afraid that we'd cause more harm than good purely from lack of knowledge. We are just hoping for the absolute best result for our beautiful community. It's heartbreaking and scary on so many levels."
Earlier, she told the Herald her staffer was recovering well.
"Young and healthy seems to be the key," she said.
The town continues to support the bar - this week Henderson posted an image of cut-out paper hearts stuck to the front of its windows - and the messages left are full of kind words.
Tanner, the mayor, said while some people wanted to lay blame, he thought Redoubt had done everything right by coming out publicly early on and being transparent.
"That's attention that you don't need. My thoughts go out to the business owners that are associated with it," he said. "I hope people get back and support them at the end of the day, to help them get back on their feet again."
The epidemiologists spoken to by the Herald said bars - or any social function where people stood close to each other - were always going to be rife for transmission but, until people saw it, that was a difficult concept to understand.
"At that time - around St Patrick's Day - we were in a grey area. We knew there was a likelihood we had transmission but we didn't know where it was," microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said.
"What it shows us in hindsight is, yes, this is what it looks like. This is the reason we are in lockdown, to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Wiles said the outbreak in Matamata could have happened at any one of the numerous St Patrick's Day events.
"It's like Russian roulette. So if you're sitting there feeling smug, just remember it could have been you. Your wedding, your bar, your school," she said. "It could have been anyone and it was them."
The number of cases in Matamata is expected to continue to rise.