Coronavirus: Just 10 pct of Tauranga port workers possibly exposed to virus fully vaccinated, Ardern blames 'misinformation'

Just 10 percent of Tauranga port workers who were possibly exposed to COVID-19 after boarding a ship with positive cases on board are fully vaccinated against the virus.

The container ship, Rio De La Plata, entered Tauranga Port on Wednesday. It was given clearance to be unloaded despite being linked to a COVID-19 case - an Australian pilot, who tested positive for the Delta variant. The ship's crew weren't tested until Saturday and 11 results later came back positive.

Over those four days, 92 Tauranga port workers had been allowed on board and a total of 98 are now at risk and being tested. Twenty-three rapid test results have come back negative, with more expected on Monday night.

But just nine of the workers in question have been fully vaccinated. A further two have had one dose and the vaccination status of a further four is still being checked.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was clearly frustrated about the lack of vaccinations.

"We cannot afford to have a situation where our port workers are not vaccinated which is why we've mandated it from August 26," she says.

"We also want everyone who's in a high-risk environment to be vaccinated. We've done everything to make sure that that is happening, but we have, unfortunately, people here in this case who've been hesitant, who've been the subject of misinformation, and so that is why we have mandated it."

But there are concerns the vaccine mandate could be too late, with epidemiologist Michael Baker saying fleeting contact is enough.

"You only have to look at the fact that half of the crew test positive to give you some idea of how transmission can happen in this setting," he says.

Port of Tauranga.
Port of Tauranga. Photo credit: Getty Images

National secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, Craig Harrison, is concerned about the number of port workers who were allowed on board.

"The real question is who has made the decision to let people go up that ship knowing that it possibly had COVID on it, so we need to find out who's made that decision," he says.

Just two of the ship's 21 crew are fully vaccinated.

Tauranga residents are on edge.

"It'd be a shocker if it gets into the country from a big outbreak like that. Obviously not very happy," one says.

"If it comes in here we're stuffed. We're lucky we're going to have our vaccine this week then, thank goodness," another says.

No one at the Port of Tauranga was available for an interview but said it treats all vessels as if they have COVID-19 on board and all port workers followed COVID-19 precautions, including physical distancing and wearing PPE.