Coronavirus: Motueka sees increased demand for testing, vaccinations as two more Omicron cases found locally

Motueka's COVID-19 testing centre has been so busy with patients that many staff couldn't leave to use the toilet.

Two more cases of the Omicron variant found locally have had residents rushing for vaccinations and tests.

Even for the vaccine-hesitant, the much more contagious COVID variant is enough to change some people's minds.

"I held off a bit just to see what it was like. The vaccination scares me more than COVID," one local tells Newshub.

"My dad - he didn't get it cause he was worried, but now with new cases in Motueka, he went straight and got his first one. I think a lot of people are going to change their mind."

Another person was also playing catch-up to get immunised.

"Down here to get my second vaccination. Everyone I know was hesitant about it, especially my family so wasn't too sure," they say.

Motueka's now home to 12 of New Zealand's 19 confirmed Omicron cases - but the region's behind on vaccines. Just 88 percent of north Motueka has received a second dose. While Motueka East is slightly higher, it's just 85.5 percent out in the west.

The national average is much higher - currently 92.9 percent.

The Tasman Mayor is hoping that gap will close.

"There was a bit of a spike in the last outbreak in the region. This may be another spur for people to go and get vaccinated," Tim King says.

Coronavirus: Motueka sees increased demand for testing, vaccinations as two more Omicron cases found locally
Photo credit: Newshub.

On the street, there are signs that attitudes are changing.

"We've probably seen almost double the numbers we've been doing on a regular day since the cases have been confirmed," says pharmacist John Burt.

And it comes not a moment too soon - health experts warn the unvaccinated will struggle to keep Omicron at bay.

"Omicron is different this time, it is going to find the unvaccinated in New Zealand and it will cause far more serious illness for people who don't have that immunity," says Professor Michael Baker.

The news of more Omicron cases here has also sparked huge demand for testing. On Sunday, just a few cars at a time were queued for a test in Motueka, but on Monday, staff were too busy to even use the toilet and the queue snaked down the road.

Motueka has two new locations of interest - a Countdown supermarket and Greenwood Health Centre. Some of those tested on Monday were close contacts.

"I had a call from our healthcare clinic saying there'd been a patient in the surgery at the same time as my husband," one close contact says.

But not everyone received a call. Steven Fraser was there at the time and was told by the clinic not to be tested. He only found out by checking the news.

"I don't think someone working at a health service should be saying things like that, a bit concerning really," he says.

Staff at the busy testing centre had to call in support to cope with demand - an ominous sign for the Omicron outbreak that the health system is already under strain.