In Tokoroa “everyone is whanau”.
Now the community spirit that binds families and a South Waikato town together is both what brought Covid-19 into their midst and also what they hope will defeat it.
The Covid-19 outbreak that has put Auckland into Level 3 Lockdown for 12 more days and the rest of the country into Level 2 cast a long shadow.
When news hit in Tokoroa on Friday of a possible Covid-19 case starting with a South Waikato District Council staff member, locals flooded to the pharmacies, the supermarket and schools to pick up their children.
More than 100 vehicles also waited in line for up to five hours to get tested at the South Waikato assessment centre on Mossop Road.
Some said they’re not too concerned while many were worried Tokoroa would shortly have a Covid outbreak.
Among the rows of cars being tested two at a time, sat local Cece Ngata . She was very worried.
Cece, her mum Aroha and sister Avii had been waiting since 10am to be seen, but had hardly moved, making Cece more anxious.
“I’m actually compromised. I’ve just had open-heart surgery, so I’ve been getting tested quite a lot,” Cece said.
The family had come down to the assessment centre before news broke out about the Covid-19 cases.
“I’m definitely very worried. Tokoroa is a small town. They say there are two cases, but those two people would have been in contact with everyone.
“We all know each other and are a close-knit community, it’s going to break out. We are definitely worried now.”
She said once tested they wouldn’t leave the house.
“We can’t compromise her health,” mum Aroha said.
The spark that brought out the Ngatas had begun on the north side of town more than a day.
The Tokoroa landfill was closed on Wednesday when an employee was quarantined after it was learned they had been exposed to Covid-19.
As soon as South Waikato District Council learned of the employee’s exposure to the virus they closed the dump and informed local residents through social media postings on Wednesday afternoon. The reason was “unforeseen circumstances.” It reopened on Thursday after buildings on the site were sterilised.
A local, who didn’t want to be named, told Stuff at the Tokoroa Landfill that she had heard much about the Council staff member, but said rumours were rife.
She had finished work early to pick up her kids at Tokoroa High School. They had walked out of class anxious about the news of a confirmed Covid-19 case in the town.
She said many people in the community were panicking.
“The kids from Tok High and intermediate all just walked out. We’ve been told if you want to grab your kids grab them now.
“I don’t know what’s exactly happening. There’s a lot of rumours going around at the moment and because we’re such a small community there’s a lot of people panicking at the moment.”
To date, two people who live in the same household have tested positive and up to 30 family members linked to the Auckland family that visited Tokoroa and are now self-isolating. Family that live in the same household returned negative results.
A council spokesperson said due to privacy reasons they could not go into detail about the landfill employee other than to say that once they learned of the exposure they closed the dump immediately.
”There are four people working at the landfill,” the statement said.
“Ministry of Health guidelines were followed regarding reporting and cleaning. For privacy reasons we won’t discuss detail regarding employees or contractors.”
Council and the Ministry of Health have not advised customers who visited the dump during the week to get tested.
On Friday morning Mayor Jenny Shattock confirmed to Stuff that one person had tested positive for the virus, but in a confidential email she sent to councillors on Thursday night, she revealed a different picture.
“Unfortunately we have a confirmed case of COVID in Tokoroa and a probable case plus five others have been tested as some of them are unwell,” the email said.
“At this stage, we have (medical professional) in isolation and the nurse who swabbed the patient plus a council staff member.”
Tokoroa Family Health confirmed that a patient from their facility tested positive for the virus.
Arrangements were being made to create a bespoke isolation arrangement for the family of between 20-30 whanau.
At the daily 1pm press briefing Health Minister Chris Hipkins said there was no immediate plans to put the Waikato into Alert Level Three lockdown following the cases identified Tokoroa.
Another Waikato brush with Covid at Kingswood Rest Home in Morrinsville has returned negative tests for those in the facility.
Tokoroa is the fifth largest town in the Waikato and is an hour south of Hamilton.
The population is predominantly Māori and Polynesian which make up over 70 percent of the 13000 people that live in the town.
Meanwhile, an expert in rural health from The Univeristy of Otago said the fact there were cases in Tokoroa was a concern.
“New Zealand’s rural towns are vulnerable from a health perspective,” said Associate Professor Garry Nixon, from the Department of General Practice and Rural Health
“They have on average the oldest age structure, the lowest socioeconomic status and highest proportion of Māori of any of New Zealand’s geographic categories; and they often rely on limited and already stretched healthcare services.”
He said managing movement between regions was now critical.
“Every effort needs to be made to avoid the virus travelling from Auckland to regional and rural New Zealand.”