Forty-four cases recovered.

Those are the words Hawke's Bay has been waiting weeks to hear. Each and every one of the 44 people in the region to contract Covid-19 have beaten the virus.

From the Ruby Princess tour guide, to a Flaxmere New World worker, to six vulnerable residents in a dementia ward at Gladys Mary Care Home in Napier.

As all 44, were officially announced as recovered at 1pm today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had some words of thanks for the region, and its DHB.

Advertisement

"It's great the Hawke's Bay is now Covid-free," Ardern told Hawke's Bay Today.

"Our team of five million has done a great job up and down the country to get the virus under control.

"I also want to thank the public health unit at the Hawkes Bay DHB who have been fantastic in responding to local cases, undertaking contact tracing and supporting those in isolation."

DHB interim chief executive Craig Climo said it was a big occasion for many of its teams who had worked tirelessly on Covid-19 for many weeks.

Public Health Physician Rachel Eyre (left), Interim chief executive Craig Climo, Clinical director public Health Dr Nick Jones. Photo / Warren Buckland
Public Health Physician Rachel Eyre (left), Interim chief executive Craig Climo, Clinical director public Health Dr Nick Jones. Photo / Warren Buckland

Climo said the community needed to be aware of the lengths the public health team had gone to contact trace and monitor since January, when the threat of the virus became apparent.

Forty-four cases recovered. Each and every one of the 44 people in Hawkes's Bay to contract Covid-19 have beaten the virus. HBDHB leaders are cautiously optimistic. Video Warren Buckland.

"This very talented team has done extensive investigations of anyone that may have come into contact with Covid-19. Today is testament to a job well done," he said.

The first big challenge, and arguably its toughest, was the painstaking contact tracing of Ruby Princess cruise ship passengers, and those they came in contact with.

The ship docked in Napier on March 15, the day before a cruise ship travel ban came into effect across NZ, and passengers were allowed to disembark by the DHB after Covid-19 tests for passengers on board came up negative the night before.

Advertisement

The ship then sailed to Australia, where infected passengers were offloaded, starting a massive cluster of cases in New South Wales.

Its docking left a few behind here too, a cluster of 24, not all based in Hawke's Bay, but based on Australia's experience it could have been worse.

"As part of the early response public health went through a wide-ranging case-finding exercise to follow-up as many people as possible who may have come into close contact with passengers and/or crew from the Ruby Princess cruise ship," Climo said.

The Ruby Princess docked in Napier on March 14. Photo / File
The Ruby Princess docked in Napier on March 14. Photo / File

"The investigation, conducted in three phases, followed up and interviewed more than 130 people who had direct contact with either passengers or crew.

"The team also retrospectively followed-up anyone else who may have had contact with the Ruby Princess passengers and had been admitted to hospital."

With the support of Health Hawke's Bay (PHO) the team electronically searched general practice records to ensure no one was missed who might have presented with cold or other Covid-19 symptoms and did not meet the case definition at the time.

"This was a huge undertaking. As a community we should all be grateful for the diligence and expertise of this team to make sure no stone was left unturned and community transmission was prevented," Climo said.

Advertisement
Celina Wiechmann, Josephina Therman, Lucy Evans and Ida Hegaard perform a thank you dance for the Hawke's Bay's public health team. Photo / Paul Taylor
Celina Wiechmann, Josephina Therman, Lucy Evans and Ida Hegaard perform a thank you dance for the Hawke's Bay's public health team. Photo / Paul Taylor

The Ruby Princess cluster as a whole has not been cleared - it needs to meet Ministry of Health requirements for that - but there are no active cases remaining within the cluster.

Climo said the public health team's work was supported by staff in Community-Based Assessment Centres, Hawke's Bay Hospital and other settings to test people with symptoms of Covid-19.

"Many of these staff stepped up at short notice to ensure testing could be done in a safe and effective way at a time when numbers were increasing and there was a lot of uncertainly about what could happen," he said.

Gladys Mary rest home in Tamatea was hit hard by Covid-19, yet all positive cases in the region have recovered. Photo / File
Gladys Mary rest home in Tamatea was hit hard by Covid-19, yet all positive cases in the region have recovered. Photo / File

"Over the last three weeks an equally large effort has been made to search for possible cases among people who may have been exposed to the virus, but with no symptoms. With no cases being found this helped to provide assurance that we could move into level 2."

He also praised the containing and minimising of risk among aged care, especially Gladys Mary Care Home, Napier.

"The hard work and huge collaborative effort of HBDHB specialist aged care and infection, prevention and control teams working closely with public health and Gladys Mary Care Home owners Bupa was exemplary to contain the spread and keep people safe," Climo said.

Advertisement

"To have those vulnerable elderly residents now fully recovered is a credit to everyone involved."

He congratulated the wider Hawke's Bay community for helping the DHB get to this position.

"The DHB has begun in earnest its recovery to rapidly increase its clinical capacity so we can treat and see the many people who have had planned elective surgery and outpatients' clinics postponed during the lockdown period," he said.

Climo said while the early battles had been won, the threat of Covid-19 remained.

Public health continued to operate as part of an emergency response structure within the DHB.

"We mark a milestone today, and I along with my colleagues are very grateful to the community for obeying the rules during the lockdown so we could get on top of and prevent community transmission," he said.

Advertisement

Subscribe to Premium

"I would like to thank my staff. They have done a tremendous job, and while it's not yet over they can be proud of a job well done."

• Anyone with any cold-like symptoms should call their GP or Healthline 0800 611 116 so they can be tested for Covid-19.