COVID-19: Visitor from Auckland identified as the source of six new cases in Stratford, Taranaki, local Mayor Neil Volzke confirms

Six people in the small community of Stratford have tested positive for COVID-19 after a person from Auckland visited the Taranaki town, the local Mayor has confirmed.

On Thursday night, the Ministry of Health announced six people had tested positive in Stratford, about 50km south of New Plymouth. The six people were tested earlier on Thursday and returned their results that evening. One of the cases has been admitted to Taranaki Base Hospital for COVID-related reasons.

All six are epidemiologically linked and as of Thursday night, health officials were investigating a link to the outbreak in Auckland. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Friday morning, Stratford District Mayor Neil Volzke said that link has now been confirmed.

"We've managed to find the source - it's a person who visited the area from Auckland. We're a bit lucky in the sense that we've got onto this fairly quickly and hopefully we can contain it within a fairly small number of people," he told The AM Show.

"It's certainly a concern."

Volzke understands the person had received a negative test prior to travelling to Taranaki, but tested positive on their return to Auckland. He says he is unsure what the purpose of their trip was or whether or not they had an exemption for travel. 

The six cases are within the same family, he said, who are isolating at their home.

"It's restricted to one family group. They're all known to each other, so there's a degree of containment there."

Although the new cases are concerning, Volzke said the news didn't particularly come as a shock. Wastewater samples collected from Stratford's catchment have tested positive for viral fragments over the past week, with the latest positive result reported on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health said the virus had been detected in samples collected from the town on November 6 and November 7, however a sample taken on November 8 had tested negative. 

Earlier on Thursday, the Ministry of Health confirmed a sample collected on November 9 had tested positive for COVID-19, and a further sample taken on November 10 was under analysis. 

Wastewater samples can sometimes test positive when a recovering case is in the area, the ministry noted, as the person can continue to shed fragments of the virus for some weeks after their illness.

"I think we've been expecting to identify a case given the fact we've had COVID in our wastewater for the last week or so, so it doesn't really come as a shock to us," Volzke said. 

"But certainly [the] number of people that we've identified in one go will be a surprise to many."

Neil Volzke.
Neil Volzke. Photo credit: The AM Show

In its announcement, the Ministry of Health said interviews with the cases were being conducted on Thursday evening and contact tracing will begin on Friday. As of 7:30am on Friday, no locations of interest have been identified.

Volzke confirmed that contact tracing is currently underway and authorities are working to determine potential exposure sites. However, he is hopeful that the virus hasn't spread too far outside of the family household.

"I understand the family involved has been self-isolating and staying at home, so hopefully there hasn't been too much contact beyond the family," he said.

"Certainly if people have any flu-like symptoms or are feeling unwell, they should go and get tested, and there's plenty of opportunity to do that today or over the weekend."

Anyone in Stratford, or any recent visitors to the town who are presenting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, no matter how mild, are urged to get tested.

People in and around the Stratford area can get tested on Friday and over the weekend at either:

  • Stratford pop-up clinic, War Memorial car park: Friday to Sunday, 10am to 2pm
  • Taranaki Base Hospital: Friday from 9am to 3pm, Saturday from 10am to 3pm, and Sunday from 10am to 3pm (hours can be extended if needed)
  • Hāwera Hospital: Friday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm.

Vaccination hubs are open in New Plymouth and Hāwera throughout the weekend and several pop-up clinics are operating in the community.

For a full list of vaccination sites, visit the Taranaki District Health Board website