COVID-19: Positive Tokoroa cases spark unease in vulnerable rural areas


Rural people's vulnerability to the coronavirus has prompted a warning from a rural health lecturer.

Yesterday, it was announced that two people had tested positive in Tokoroa in Waikato.

Both are linked to the Auckland cluster, so the government is not extending alert level 3 beyond that region.

An associate professor of health at Otago University, Garry Nixon, said every effort needs to be made to avoid having the virus spread further into rural communities.

He said country people are often more vulnerable than those in cities.

"They're on average our oldest communities. They have overall the lowest socio-economic status in any of the geographic categories and they have the highest proportion of Māori.

"On top of that they often have the poorest access to health services and the health services they have are often pretty stretched."

He said the decision to keep Waikato at level 2 is sensible, but every effort is needed to ensure the virus doesn't spread further.

He warned that some district health boards are insufficiently prepared to protect rural communities from a COVID-19 outbreak.

Nixon said the DHBs should be working with rural health services to ensure they have good arrangements in place for the transfer of critically ill patients to hospitals.

'Eerie' feeling in Tokoroa

Larry Sullivan, who has been working in a clothing shop on Tokoroa's main street for the last 38 years, told Saturday Morning the town felt "a little bit eerie" yesterday.

"All the masks came out in big numbers ...we didn't have a community case in the first lockdown so we thought we'd escaped it and it's all new to us."

He said Tokoroa (population 13,000) was like a village and there was a strong community feeling.

The residents were grateful that the two people who have tested positive got in early to be tested.

Sullivan is also a JP but has put up a sign in his window asking people wanting him to perform any of those functions not to come into the shop at present in the interests of maintaining social distancing.

People had been understanding. "The town comes together pretty well in times like this."