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Covid 19 coronavirus delta outbreak: contact tracing system under pressure as epidemic grows

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Queues at New Zealand’s first drive-thru vaccination event. Video / Adam Pearse

Of RNZ

Auckland health authorities are urgently recruiting more contact tracers as the national system reaches capacity just five days after the outbreak began.

Tracers are essential to the Covid-19 response because they isolate people who have come in contact with the virus before they can infect others.

Laboratories, testing sites and vaccination centers are also strained as the health system struggles to keep pace with the foray into the delta.

Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the country’s contact tracing system was working at 100%, with its Covid push plan fully utilized.

Auckland, home to the vast majority of the 8,667 contacts identified so far, is now looking for more tracers.

Colin Tukuitonga, professor of public health at the University of Auckland, is working with Auckland Regional Public Health to help find them.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga.  Photo / Natalie Slade, File
Dr Colin Tukuitonga. Photo / Natalie Slade, File

It was an illustration of the pressure on the system, he said.

Before the Delta, many of those who attended large gatherings would have been considered casual contacts, but the infectious strain had taken tracing to a new level and the sheer number meant everything was taking longer, he said. he declares.

“Every person on the contact list should be contacted and their situation should be checked, explored and investigated to see what kind of risk they are at,” he said.

The work was incredibly demanding and the teams were doing a great job, he said.

Tukuitonga especially hoped to find qualified Pacific tracers for the new location of the Assembly of God of Samoa in Māngere.

More needed to be trained in the long term – from all diverse backgrounds in Auckland – but it took time, he said.

Using the NZ Covid-19 contact tracing app.  Photo / George Novak, File
Using the NZ Covid-19 contact tracing app. Photo / George Novak, File

It’s not just the contact tracers that feel the tension.

Testers have been overwhelmed, with record numbers achieved in the past few days and people sitting for hours in their cars.

Auckland ear, nose and throat surgeon David Grayson found himself participating in swabs at a community testing center.

He had come to support his colleagues at the Waitematā District Health Board by handing them out cookies and water, but when they realized how well he knew his nose, he was called in to help.

Northcote test station during the fifth day of the Level 4 lockdown in Auckland.  Photo / Alex Burton
Northcote test station during the fifth day of the Level 4 lockdown in Auckland. Photo / Alex Burton

It gave him extra appreciation for testers – and those in the line, he said.

“It’s pretty disheartening to look up and think you’re walking along and see the long line of cars, but I’m really amazed, the public is so patient,” he said.

At the other end of all these tests, the labs are under pressure.

An Auckland worker and Apex Union Lab Workers Chairman Brian Raill said they were “chocka”.

They had gone from about 500 tests a day to 3,000, with lots entering late into the night.

Some people waited days for their results and he urged them to be patient.

They had reorganized shifts and recruited additional helpers, but he hoped the situation would improve as the lockdown took effect.

Kaiwhakahaere Nurses Union Kerri Nuku said many nurses were feeling the pressure across the healthcare system already riddled with nursing shortages.

New Zealand Kaiwhakahaere Nursing Organization Kerri Nuku.  Photo / Paul Taylor, Dossier
New Zealand Kaiwhakahaere Nursing Organization Kerri Nuku. Photo / Paul Taylor, Dossier

Some vaccinated nurses were worried after being granted a waiver to return to work when they were case contacts.

“That, for us, certainly signals understaffing and maybe it’s an attempt to try to level that,” she said.

While many nurses loved getting involved to help keep the country safe, others felt different under Delta and wanted to avoid the outbreak to protect their families.

The country needed a better response plan for the next foray, she said.


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