A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Covid tests no longer a must for common cold symptoms

People with coughs and colds will no longer be automatically tested for Covid-19.

Ministry of Health staff have revealed new testing guidelines geared to focussing on higher risk patients.

The move comes in the wake of a spike in the number of people being tested in Marlborough as cold and flu season starts to strike.

Previous guidelines saw anybody with a runny nose, among other symptoms, automatically tested for the virus.

Other people with cold or flu symptoms can still be tested but it will not be a requirement.

The move is expected to put an end to the huge demand for tests in some areas over the past week as cold and flu season hit.

New guidelines mean efforts will now be focused on those who fall into high risk categories including, overseas travellers, direct contact or those working at an airport or isolation facility.

There are no new cases in Nelson Marlborough but community surveillance continues.

Tests are still be carried out at Urgent Care and on some emergency department patients at Wairau Hospital.

“Testing in the community will continue, and as part of our broader surveillance anyone with respiratory symptoms should contact Healthline or their general practice to get advice around getting a test,” a spokesperson says.

“The updated approach continues to rely on clinical judgement which has been an essential part of the testing approach since the outset and ensures that people who might be at higher risk are tested and managed appropriately.

“This is reflected in our high testing rates in the community, including 10,436 tests yesterday.”

Higher risk categories

* Had contact with an infected person

* Been overseas

* Had direct contact with someone who had been overseas

* Worked on an international aircraft of ship

* Worked at an airport or isolation facility

Anyone with respiratory symptoms should contact Healthline free on 0800 611 116 or their general practice to get advice around getting a test.

Tamara Gillan. Photo: Supplied.

Covid patient pays tribute to healthcare team

Struggling to breathe as the virus attacked her lungs, Tamara Gillan tried not to panic.

Having arrived in Blenheim three days before lockdown she had fled the UK to be with her family in what she hoped would be a safer environment.

But in a cruel twist of fate, she became one of 49 people across Nelson Marlborough District Health board to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Now mainly recovered, the grateful business owner is paying tribute to the team of healthcare workers who cared for her and her mother – well known Marlburian Toni Gillan, who medics believe also had the virus.

“They were amazing. We were called every day and they went through our symptoms with us.

“It was quite psychologically draining and to hear their friendly voices was very reassuring,” Tamara says.

When her symptoms worsened and she laboured to breath, the knowledge that help was just a call away was calming, she says.

“I was so breathless; like someone was standing on my chest.

“I knew that if I needed to, I could go to the hospital. That was calming as in London there might not be ventilators or beds, but I knew here I would get really amazing care.”

Founder and chief at marketing agency Cherry London and of the WealthiHer network, entrepreneur Tamara opted to come to New Zealand to be with her parents.

She thought the air quality would be better in Marlborough and safer for her 5-year-old son who suffers from lung issues after he was born prematurely.

They arrived in Blenheim two weeks after Toni had visited them in London in early March.

But on Toni’s return to New Zealand, she got a call from the Ministry of Health’s tracing team.

A patient sitting in front of her on the flight back had tested positive for COVID-19.  While her test was negative, Toni’s case was treated as probable, especially when Tamara fell ill too.

“I’m not a good patient but I knew I had to treat it with the respect it deserves. It was like I was at the bottom of the ocean and couldn’t breathe.

“The Public Health team here have just been spectacular,” she says.

“This is just heart breaking for the whole world and I feel hugely privileged to be here as people are just not getting the same level of testing in the UK.

“They also checked with a paediatrician about my son and consulted an immunologist as well as finding things to help keep him amused.

“I’m so grateful.”

Tamara wants to especially acknowledge and thank Nelson Marlborough Health clinical director Stephen Bridgman, public health nurse Karen Aitken, medical officer of health Andrew Lindsay and health protection officer Evan McKenzie.

Essential workers from every department at Wairau Hospital have ensured patients get the care they need. Photo: Paula Hulburt

Thank you, essential workers

Essential workers across Marlborough have helped keep the region going through lockdown – and all their efforts are appreciated.

From Supermarket staff to medical personnel, through to emergency services, teachers, vets, rest home staff, pharmacists and others, people have pulled together across the region.

And as a region, we want to thank you all for the vital part you have all played in keeping us all safe throughout Alert Level 4.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett is today paying tribute to all essential workers.

He says the region’s close-knit ties are more important than ever before.

“Marlborough is a close-knit community, with generous spirited people who help each other.

“Our strong networks – families, workplaces, clubs, churches and schools – are going to be important as we enter the Level 3 lockdown period, which for many of us will be similar to the Level 4 restrictions.

“Thank you to all the essential workers who have kept Marlborough going through the lockdown – your work and achievements are well recognised and appreciated.”

Student Volunteer Army lead picker Alison Faulls will coordinate the volunteer shoppers in Marlborough. Photo: Matt Brown.

Student army wages war against virus one trolley at a time

Volunteer shoppers have mobilised in Marlborough in a bid to provide help for the elderly and infirm.

A shopping and delivery service for over 65’s, the medically vulnerable and healthcare workers, staffed by Student Volunteer Army volunteers, launched in the region today.

Student Volunteer Army lead picker Alison Faulls says they’ve had a great response from the community.

“We currently have 9 fully registered volunteers from a range of backgrounds, with the interview process ongoing,” Alison says.

Orders are placed online through the SVA website, then volunteers in full PPE pick the groceries at New World, which opens early especially for the volunteers, before delivering them to the door.

Consideration is given to those who are otherwise vulnerable on a case by case basis.

It is a completely contact-free process.

“We have to follow all the procedures staff at New World do,” Alison says.

Alison, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment policy advisor, communicates with volunteers and the supermarket to ensure orders are picked up and meet the requirements of their customers.

“I’m the first point of contact for ensuring everything goes to plan,” she says.

Founded as a response to the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes the Student Volunteer Army work to provide community-based solutions and connection.

“I was drawn to the sense of community and the projects SVA ran, and volunteered with them from 2012 through to 2016,” Alison says.

Studying a Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering Management at University of Canterbury, Alison served as an SVA executive for her final two years and says she’s excited to be a part of the initiative in Marlborough.

“We’ve had some great buy in from the high schools here and I’ve heard the head students have been encouraging others to get involved.”

Founder Sam Johnson says this is humanity at its best.

“We have been astounded with the response to what we are doing, from those willing to join the SVA as volunteers, the individuals in the community that require our service, and also the general public sentiment who recognise the support we are providing for the most vulnerable.

The service will continue for as long as is required.

SVA Grocery orders can be placed at www.shop.sva.org.nz and volunteers can register to help at www.sva.org.nz.

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

No new Covid-19 cases in Marlborough for seven days

Marlborough is now marking a week without any new or probable cases of Covid-19.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed there are just 15 new cases of the virus confirmed nationwide today.

A Nelson Marlborough Health spokesperson says there have been no new or probable cases in Nelson or Marlborough.

Twenty people visited a Community Based Assessment Centre yesterday and 19 swaps were taken.

Today, the total number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in the Nelson Marlborough region is 30.

Ashwood Park introduced measures to help safeguard their residents prior to lockdown. Photo: File

Urgent checks on rest home infection controls ordered

Rest home bosses are carrying out urgent infection control checks in a bid to keep Covid-19 from some of the region’s most vulnerable.

Nelson Marlborough Health staff are getting aged care facilities across the region to complete a checklist to gauge the risk of contamination.

And site visits will be carried out to see what further support is needed.

Six of the nine deaths nationwide from Covid-19 have been at a Christchurch rest home.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield launched a review of rest home facilities with confirmed Covid-19 cases on Tuesday.

General manager Strategy, Primary and Community, Nelson Marlborough Health Cathy O’Malley says she is aware of the effort staff are putting in to keeping people safe.

“Nelson Marlborough Health acknowledges the effort and expertise of aged residential care providers to keep their residents and staff safe during this pandemic,” she says.

While there have been no new Covid-19 cases for a week in Marlborough, it is essential care home providers stay vigilant, Cathy says.

Rest home managers and staff are carrying out self-assessment on infection prevention policies and practices.

The results will be carefully scrutinised and online meetings held with care providers to discuss results.

“We want to support providers to stay on top of this,” Cathy says.

“The next step will be to visit any providers as required, to assess their site and see what further support they may need.”

Deputy mayor Nadine Taylor, left, will lead the new council team. Photo: Matt Brown.

New council team to tackle Covid-19

A new council super group has been formed to help Marlborough get back on its feet after lockdown ends.

Led by Deputy Mayor Nadine Taylor, The Economic Action Marlborough (TEAM) group will draft an economic recovery plan over the next month.

In a bid to help the region recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, council bosses are first looking at how big the economic impact is.

A four-stage plan is helping staff decide the best way forward.

“Council is designated as the regional lead during emergencies and COVID-19 is the biggest challenge Marlborough has faced in our lifetimes,” Nadine says.

“We’ve already announced council itself will spend over $60 million of capital expenditure in 2020-21 and similar spending over each of the next three years.”

The TEAM group looked at four phases for recovery. From the current ‘Respond’ phase dealing with the immediate lockdown issues to moving to a ‘Resilience’ phase. This will see the focus shift to maintaining cashflow and jobs.

The ‘Return’ phase will see a bid to expand services again and a final ‘Reimagination’ phase where a new normal was developed.

Nadine says council’s role is extended to support a wider recovery, working with key sectors and agencies to mitigate COVID-19’s effect on Marlborough businesses.

“Staff worked over the Easter break to bring together the TEAM group and provide the background papers.

“We’ve got a very strong group now underway on helping steer our region through the economic impacts the virus is creating.”

“We are taking particular note as we start our work on the impact of COVID-19 on our tourism and hospitality sectors,” she says.

Ongoing information on how local businesses are faring will continue to be provided by the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and Business Trust Marlborough.

Councillor Mark Peters told the group he was bringing together a meeting of some Marlborough accountants and lawyers prepared to provide advice and insight on business responses to COVID-19 across the region.

“The information from all these sources which now includes that welcome input from accountants and lawyers will help build a quality picture very quickly of what we are dealing with and allow us to accurately target our recovery efforts,” Nadine says.

Yesterday’s first TEAM group meeting included an update from Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Craig Churchill who says further Government support programmes would likely focus on projects that are ready to go and creating jobs while navigating through the likely impacts of COVID-19.

This could include projects that expanded social housing.

Nadine says while the TEAM group represents a good cross section, it cannot include all sectors and will be supported in its work by an Industry Advisory COVID-19 group, to be chaired by councillor Gerald Hope.

Representatives from the wine, aquaculture, forestry, tourism and farming sectors, as well as a mandated iwi representative, Port Marlborough, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Social Development have joined council in the group.

Mayor John Leggett, who sat in on yesterday’s first TEAM group meeting, says it is encouraging to see such a good group has been pulled together to face the major challenges ahead.

“We’ve all got to get behind this initiative to keep Marlborough moving,” he says.

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Marlborough marks six days with no more Covid-19 cases

Marlborough is now marking six days without any new cases of Covid-19.

There are 20 new and probable cases of Covid-19 across New Zealand, taking the total to 1386.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield this afternoon revealed 728 reported cases that have recovered.

The number of cases in Marlborough and Nelson is at 48, with all patients recovering in isolation at home.

As at 15 April 2020, the total number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in the Nelson Marlborough region is 29.

File photo.

Praise for vintage workers who helped region ‘dodge bullet’

Marlborough’s mayor is paying tribute to the region’s wine workers for their handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

John Leggett is praising the local wine industry for successfully handling the 2020 vintage under extreme circumstances.

And with early indications of a successful vintage, the relieved mayor says the industry has helped Marlborough dodge another potential disaster.

“Wine is a very substantial contributor to the overall prosperity of Marlborough so I’m relieved that this is one COVID bullet that we’ve managed to dodge,” he says.

Wineries across the region had to adopt stringent health and hygiene regimes to move ahead with harvest as lockdown began.

Overseas workers, harvest crews and transport operators have been isolated from their families in many cases.

With wine making up a fifth of Marlborough’s economy, it was vital the vintage went well, mayor Leggett says.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett says a successful vintage has helped the region dodge a bullet. Photo: File.

“Everyone has been under huge pressure to get the grapes in, aware that a Covid-19 outbreak could knock down the workforce at any moment.

“It’s to the industry’s credit that harvest is drawing to a close without incident and, by all accounts, it’s a highly successful vintage,

“Vintage is always an intense time for our wineries with everything dependent on the weather, but this year the wineries have faced extra pressure.

“When the vintage goes well, it’s good news for our whole region.”

The ongoing crisis would make “life difficult” for the industry, says mayor Leggett as many international wine trade events and marketing opportunities are postponed.

“It will be a time for innovative marketing and, given our industry reputation and relationships, I’m confident that the strong Marlborough brand will prove its worth,” he says.

There are currently around 400 overseas workers in Marlborough on temporary visas.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment are doing their best to ensure some certainty for temporary migrants, a spokeswoman says.

“An Epidemic Management Notice relating to immigration matters came into effect from 2 April 2020.

“This means that holders of a work, student, visitor, limited or interim visa with an expiry date of 2 April to 9 July 2020 inclusive who were in New Zealand on 2 April 2020 have had their visas automatically extended until 25 September 2020.

“This includes RSE workers who were in New Zealand on 2 April.”

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Five days without more Marlborough Covid-19 cases

For the fifth day in a row, there are no new cases of Covid-19.

The number of new and probable cases in New Zealand rose by 17 to a total of 1,366.

But numbers in Marlborough have stayed static at 48.

Speaking a few minutes ago, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield say he believes the peak number of cases has passed.

But as the number of Covid-19 deaths rises to a total of nine he has asked for District Health Boards across the country to work with aged care facilities where vulnerable residents are at particular risk.

A low threshold is also in place to ensure maximum testing for the contagious virus.

“We want to be sure we are not missing cases. We would rather overtest than under test at this stage quite frankly,” he says.

More to follow