A Matamata father who caught Covid after a 30-second hug and then a year later nearly died in a diving accident wants to know why his body recovered so well when other people aren't so lucky.
Hamuera Evans, 47, appeared to be a person highly vulnerable of catching the potentially deadly virus. He was born with hepatitis B and blocked lungs, and suffered bronchial and sinus problems his whole life.
Yet the fencing contractor and part-time DJ said the majority of his sickness stopped after becoming infected with Covid, two weeks before New Zealand entered its first lockdown.
He and other experts stressed his experience was unique and every body handled Covid differently.
"I balance my experience with dozens of other people I have met who are still suffering the long-term effects of Covid.
"While I'm grateful I came out a lot better, I always keep that in the back of my mind that there are still people battling and there's a lot more people out there like them," Evans said.
He spoke to the Herald as part of a Victoria University study investigating the long-term impacts of Covid from people who have lived through it. They hope to understand why some people respond differently.
The research - backed by $1.2 million of Ministry of Health funding - launched today and aims to survey people aged 16 and over who had Covid-19, or were a probable case, before December 1, 2021.
Nearly 9000 eligible people will be contacted by letter and text over the next two weeks inviting them to complete online surveys about their experiences of the virus and the healthcare services they received.
"We want as many people as possible to take part in the surveys so we can understand their experiences of Covid-19 and assess the effectiveness of the services they received,"
Victoria University Māori health researcher Dr Lynne Russell said.
Evans echoed Russell's comment saying a lot of fear had been put into coming forward but he hoped people built up the courage to be apart of the study because the research was much-needed.
It took Evans 30 seconds to become infected by Covid in March 2020.
He was working a DJ shift at Matamata's Redoubt Eatery when he met up with two mates - one had recently returned from Ireland and the other from Queenstown.
"During one of my set breaks, I went to the bar to get a drink and they were there. I only had a small window to talk before the song changed over. It was literally a quick bro hug and handshake with them before I went back to the stage," Evans said.
Two days later on St Patrick's Day, the bar became the epicentre of the Covid cluster at the Redoubt Bar in Matamata.
However, Hamuera didn't realise he'd caught it during the brief exchange. His symptoms weren't immediately apparent and were mistaken for an ear infection from swimming.
"At that time, there wasn't a lot of information out there about Covid...the most common symptom was a sore throat and I didn't have that," he said.
By then, the country was in a lockdown and it wasn't until I spoke to another mate that I found out about the Matamata cluster.
Hamuera got tested two weeks after meeting his friends at the bar and was found to be positive for Covid.
"I felt angry and disappointed, and was looking for someone to blame," he says.
"My family and mokopuna were in lockdown with me and I was worried about passing it on to them."
Of his 54 close contacts, which included three aunties with stages 2 to 4 cancer, only
Hamuera's wife, two daughters, son-in-law and mokopuna displayed symptoms.
"We were just pale, no energy, no smell, no taste. I couldn't walk or talk."
But within a couple of weeks he and his family bounced back.
"I didn't really get sick until I drowned last year and died for three or four minutes," he said.
On January 12 last year, he was diving for oysters when he got into trouble as his gear wasn't strapped on probably and he didn't check the tide.
"The tide was that strong that it ripped my flipper off and I let the catch bag go and it dragged me under with my weight belt I couldn't release. My cousin ended up pulling me out a resuscitating me," Evans said.
Though doctors told him he would likely need up to five days in hospital because he had contracted Covid before, he said he recovered remarkably and was out within 12 hours.
"I just want to know why I was able to recover so well when others haven't."
• People who want to participate in the study can go to https://covidaotearoa.com, call 0800 800 581, or email email@example.com.