COVID-19: Waiheke's first case leaves residents questioning Ministry of Health

Waiheke Island residents say it was only a matter of time after the island recorded its first-ever COVID-19 case.

The Ministry of Health says the risk to the public is low - but there are questions over why the case is allowed to isolate at home on the island and if they travelled there while waiting for a test result.

Waiheke Island often feels like a world away from the rest of Auckland - but now it's uncomfortably close.

A COVID case announced on Tuesday is the first on the island. They're currently in isolation at home.

It's uncharted territory but felt like it was only a matter of time.

"I was shocked but not surprised. I think that's the case for many people here," says local board chair Cath Handley.

"There is the worry, but it doesn't matter where you go at the moment," another resident told Newshub.

Tom French says he's reassured the case was someone coming to isolate, rather than it being community spread.

"Hopefully it encourages the vaccination rates to get up a little bit," he says.

Even though they were tested on the mainland, the person is allowed to isolate at home instead of managed isolation under an interim model proposed by the Ministry of Health.

"For some people, that will entail going to another place so they can isolate safely away from their whānau members, to protect their family members from becoming infected. It sounds in this case, it's all watertight," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told media.

The Ministry of Health says the person is an essential worker and a close contact of an existing Auckland case.

Handley still hasn't been told whether the case is a permanent resident of Waiheke and if they were symptomatic when they travelled.

"We don't know with this high-trust model, what does that mean? 

"That's a trust between the Ministry of Health and the person concerned? Or the Auckland DHB and the person, or public health? But what about the trust of the community?" she asks.

While she says the person needs the support of the community, the ministry's decisions should still be questioned. She's found out some of the information at the 1pm press conference, along with the rest of the country.

"I won't be resting in my role until we've got these answers," Handley says.

She also wants to know whether the person was tested because they were an essential worker whose job requires it - or if they were tested because they were feeling symptomatic.

"We all know if a person is symptomatic and they go to get tested, then they're told to immediately isolate until they get their test result. 

"If that was the case and the person then travelled there, you have to ask how did that work? Because that doesn't feel like establishing high trust, that feels like exactly the opposite."

The person took the Sealink ferry from Half Moon Bay. They remained in their car while on the ferry, travelled directly to their residence and didn't have contact with anyone.

Officials say there are no locations of interest on the island and the risk to residents is low.

"They're able to isolate alone, in a place where there's no contact with other people on the property," says Dr Bloomfield.

Seventy percent of Waiheke's population is fully vaccinated. Newshub spoke to a vaccination provider on the island, who said there hasn't been a surge in tests and vaccines since the case's announcement, but that's likely because of the ministry's assurances of the low risk.

None of this has done anything to reassure community board member Robin Tucker. She's immunocompromised and says until she's completely satisfied it hasn't spread, she's isolating herself further, just to be safe.

"Given that the Government is doing everything in its power to stop COVID going out of Auckland and into other communities, it doesn't make sense to introduce COVID to Waiheke, simply because we are a suburb of Auckland," Tucker says.

Waiheke is now trusting the Ministry of Health's got this right, with its COVID-free status in the balance.