One of the country's deadly Covid-19 clusters began after a person flew home from Ireland and went for a beer at a bar in Matamata.

The person is considered the index case in the cluster that would become the third biggest in the country, spawning 77 infections including one death.

The former staff member at the Redoubt Bar and Eatery travelled back from Ireland via Dubai on March 15.

But bar owner Kelly Henderson confirmed the man did not work at the bar before lockdown and was not at the now infamous St Patrick's Day party where the cluster was first thought to have started.

Advertisement

"The index case who had returned from Ireland did not work at the bar in the lead up to St Patrick's Day. They came back from Ireland - they worked absolutely no shifts. He was just doing his OE.

"The person that returned from Ireland used to work for us and was planning to work for us again, but he had come back from Ireland and therefore - because we were in the middle of a pandemic - was put on no shifts."

READ MORE:
Covid 19 coronavirus: Elderly man linked to Matamata cluster dies in Waikato Hospital
Covid 19 coronavirus: Matamata St Patrick's Day cluster rises to 61 cases
Covid-19 coronavirus: Matamata man who died after catching virus named
Premium - Covid 19 coronavirus: Inside the Matamata cluster - a case of Russian Roulette

Henderson said it would have been totally irresponsible for the bar to re-employ the New Zealand man under the circumstances, however she said she would have if not for the coronavirus because he was "amazing" and a "great guy".

"They visited the bar. He was just a customer. He called in for a beer upon his return from Ireland and he wasn't there on St Patrick's Day, and he didn't work."

Four staff members at the bar tested positive following the March 17 celebrations.

The day before the man arrived in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the decision that anyone arriving in the country would need to self-isolate for 14 days, including New Zealanders.

The measures did not come into effect until midnight on the Sunday, March 15, meaning the traveller did nothing wrong by visiting the bar.

Advertisement

The next day, Ardern announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people.

A separate community-based assessment centre had to be set up in Matamata to cope with the number of cases after residents were driving to Te Aroha to get tested.

Subscribe to Premium

Several people from the cluster were hospitalised with severe symptoms and one elderly man died at Waikato Hospital on April 16.

Although linked to the cluster, British World War II veteran Denis Albert Moore, 94, is believed to have contracted the virus from a relative who worked at a different hospitality venue in the town.

His son Chris Moore told the Herald his father spent several days sick at home with district health board staff regularly visiting, until he was eventually admitted to Waikato Hospital over Easter Weekend.

After that, he "went downhill pretty quick".

Advertisement

The family understood why they couldn't be with him as he died, but Moore said it was still sad not being able to attend his funeral and cremation.

At Thursday's Covid-19 press conference Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told media anyone associated with the Matamata cluster who felt they needed a test should seek advice.

There was one new case in the cluster overnight.

Waikato District Health Board Medical Officer of Health Dr Richard Hoskins told RNZ the DHB was considering testing asymptomatic contacts of recent cases linked to the Matamata cluster who have never been tested, but was not able to offer voluntary testing.

"We don't have a list of everybody who attended that event ... Marist College has a register of all of its students and their families and teachers."

Marist College, the Catholic girls' school in Auckland, is the second largest cluster in the country with 95 cases and a student returned a "weak positive" test this week when tests were offered to all staff and students.

Advertisement

The Bluff wedding remains the largest cluster with 98 positive cases and two deaths, including the father of the groom.

The Matamata cluster is listed as having one new case in the past 24 hours and the cluster remains "open" to ongoing transmission.

A cluster is considered closed when there is no longer transmission of the virus within, or associated with the cluster after 28 consecutive days, since the most recent report date for a reported case.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
* An earlier version of this article quoted Dr Richard Hoskins stating that the index case was a worker at the bar. The DHB clarifies: "A person that had recently returned from overseas, and was not an employee of the venue at the time, did spend time at the venue while infectious with Covid-19." A spokeswoman said Hoskins apologised for misinterpreting the information and saying the person worked there while infectious.