Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Auckland businessman says being a close contact is a shambles

An Auckland businessman has raised concerns about close contacts slipping between the cracks after he says his experience with the health system was “a shambles”.

“I’m worried that people won’t persevere with the process”, he told the Herald.

“I’m worried they’ll give up and think they must be okay and authorities will call them otherwise.”

The man attended the Bayleys Realty conference, along with 1000 others, on Friday August 13.

It was identified as a location of interest after a bar worker later tested positive for Covid-19.

The man first heard that it was a possible exposure event late the following Friday night when a colleague called him.

He went to a testing station on Saturday morning and waited in line for two and a half hours to get his swab, which returned a negative result.

When he got home that day he rang Healthline to identify himself as a close contact and seek more advice.

But there appeared to be some confusion over the arena even being a location of interest and the man said Healthline couldn’t take his details because the location wasn’t logged in the system.

“That was all a little bit strange”, he said.

Eventually the location appeared on the Ministry of Health website on Sunday morning, he said.

But by Monday, the man had still not received a call from health authorities.

He rang Healthline again and this time he said all his details were taken and he was given self-isolation instructions. He was also given a code for his day 12 test.

The man was told he would start receiving daily health check-ins by either text, email, or phone call.

The guidance document he received said he could go outside.

“It’s okay to go for a walk, run or ride your bike, as long as you do not have any symptoms and you avoid other people by staying at least 2 metres away from them,” the document said.

But the man had got the impression from 1pm updates he wasn’t allowed out for exercise.

When the Herald asked the Ministry of Health to clarify what the rules actually were, a spokesperson said people could exercise outside, but within their own property.

On Wednesday the man went to get his day 12 test and was told at the testing station not to worry about the code he had been given.

That night he got a call from someone saying they understood he had been at a location of interest.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

“They were saying they’ve got all these people following up on close contacts whereas here I was five days later getting my first call to say you’ve been identified as one.

“Then it was me telling them well actually I’ve already done two tests and one of them you’ve already sent my result on.”

The man said he assumed his tests were being matched with his details in the system.

“I was quite surprised that the systems aren’t talking to each other, which makes you think people are going to be dropped between those systems.”

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said there was no target for how long it should take contact tracers to make contact with affected people after a location of interest had been identified.

As of Monday this week, more than 34,000 identified contacts were related to the outbreak, the spokesperson said.

“Contact tracers across the country have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the outbreak to contact everyone who may have exposed to a person with Covid-19.”

They said individuals who were part of a large location of interest, such as a school or workplace, were often advised they were contacts directly by the Public Health Unit before also being followed up with a phone call.

Contacting individuals at high risk locations has been the priority, along with close contacts of confirmed cases, the spokesperson said.

“These prioritisations, along with the large number of identified contacts, has resulted in delays for contacting some lower-risk individuals.”

On Thursday, day 13, the man got his first daily health check-in survey to fill out via email. He received another on Friday, technically his final day of isolation.

Later on Friday he got a call checking to see whether he had filled out the survey.

“And I said well actually I filled it out four hours ago, surely you can tell that,” he said.

“So again it just feels so inefficient that there are people calling and they’ve actually got all the data and they could be calling people that they’re trying to catch up on.”

When the man raised the fact he had returned two negative tests and it was day 14, the person said he would get a call later to give him the all clear.

But he heard nothing and the next day he received a text saying he should have received another daily isolation health survey to fill out, which he had not as it was day 15.

“I can understand operating at speed, but we keep hearing about the health system being under pressure and not having enough people in these call centres.

“But if actually they spent some time connecting some of these systems, it sounds like they could reduce these calls by at least half and be focusing on getting calls to people earlier.”

The ministry spokesperson said Public Health Units, the National Investigation and Tracing Centre and their call centres all use one national platform so information can be shared.

“The Ministry of Health is committed to continually improving our Covid-19 response. The Delta community outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation, and all aspects the response will be reviewed as soon as practicable.”

On day 16 the man received another call from Healthline wanting to know why he hadn’t completed his daily health survey.

The woman on the other end of the phone then realised it was because he was on day 16, the man said.

She asked if his symptoms had gone. He told her he had never reported or experienced symptoms.

The man was then officially released from self-isolation.

“It’s a shambles,” he said.

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