Otago Daily Times
Infected worker’s quick thinking lauded
HE was the 1530th case of Covid19 reported in New Zealand. But to experts, he is the hero who may have saved the country from a new community outbreak by acting swiftly.
We still do not know much about this man — a 27yearold marine electronics technician understood to work at Albanybased Wright Technologies.
We know more about what he did — and how a regular day on a docked ship led to a major public health response.
That vessel was a Liberianflagged cargo ship named
Sofrana Surville, which arrived at the Ports of Auckland just before noon on Monday, October 12.
It had sailed from Papua
New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, to Brisbane, to Tauranga and then to Auckland.
On Tuesday, October 13, the engineer, garbed in a mask and gloves, stepped aboard Sofrana Surville and got to work.
He was not the only person on deck that day.
Eight crew members from the Philippines also filed on to the ship, having flown into the country a few days earlier and spent a brief period of isolation in Auckland’s Novotel hotel.
Sofrana Surville then set sail for Noumea, before heading to Brisbane.
The engineer, meanwhile, headed to New Plymouth, where he checked into the Devon Hotel, just north of the city centre.
When he checked out early the next morning, on Wednesday, October 14, he was likely already infectious.
He headed straight to his next job at Port Taranaki, to work on the Vanuatuflagged ship Ken Rei.
Probably figuring he’d stay another night in Taranaki, he checked into the Quest Hotel, in the heart of New Plymouth.
However, in a decision that likely saved officials a much larger contact tracing operation, he opted against staying.
Instead, he drove back to Auckland, where he spent the following day at home.
On Friday, October 16, he went to work but, feeling sick, phoned Healthline and then sought a Covid19 test.
By that point, when the country’s focus was on the last campaign day of the general election, Ken Rei and its 21 crew were on their way to their next destination, the Port of Napier.
About 6.11pm on Saturday, October 17, less than an hour before polls closed, Health Minister Chris Hipkins received a call from directorgeneral of health Ashley Bloomfield.
The engineer’s test had come back positive.
New Zealand had a new community case.
In the throes of the election, Mr Hipkins did not think it was appropriate to let the country know straight away — doing so could have been counter to strict election day rules.
The man, meanwhile, had moved to the Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility in Auckland.
In Taranaki, his potential contacts with others had been surprisingly few. about in the city.
In Auckland, meanwhile, two workmates –—one of whom had also worked on Sofrana Surville on October 12 — picked up the virus.
One was only in contact with the technician for a mere three minutes; he was tested on Sunday and returned a negative result, but, by Tuesday, began feeling sick.
The first New Zealanders heard of this fresh chain of infections was the morning after the election, when the news cycle was still dominated by Labour’s landslide victory.
Before Dr Bloomfield called an unusual press conference at 1pm that Sunday, The New Zealand Herald had already obtained a letter from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service revealing a person had been diagnosed with a ‘‘notifiable, infectious disease’’.
The directorgeneral stepped to the podium, thanked journalists for coming in on a Sunday, then calmly announced ‘‘there is a new community case of Covid19 to report in New Zealand today’’.
Before detailing the case, he stressed that it had shown the country’s contact tracing systems were working well, that there was a clear line of investigation into its source, and — more importantly — that anchored in Hawke’s Bay for a 14day isolation period.
Sofrana Surville was similarly kept from entering Brisbane, and is currently anchored off Australia’s Sunshine Coast.
Officials’ assumptions that it is where the infection began have been strengthened after news two crew members have tested positive.