The Ramen Shop in Newtown, Wellington (Photo: RNZ)

The capital’s Covid scare that wasn’t

A Wellington restaurateur was told by health officials that one of his venues had been visited by a Covid-positive person. So why did the health minister and director general of health not know anything? Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

You’d think the possibility that Covid-19 was in capital would be big news. Big enough, perhaps, that the health minister Chris Hipkins and the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield would know about it.

But, at today’s 1pm press conference, the government’s tight Covid-19 communications ship started to develop a few leaks. 

A post on Instagram (below) from a popular Wellington ramen shop had been spotted by journalists sitting in the Beehive’s theatrette. The post claimed a member of the public, later diagnosed with Covid-19, had dined at the restaurant on August 5. 

It prompted a fairly harsh response from those online. “Can you provide proof of this,” one person wrote. “You should not be posting this on your social media accounts and providing further speculation which then creates panic in our communities,” said another. 

It’s a similar response to that which the health minister himself provided when asked about it during the briefing. “I spent a quite a lot of time running down allegations yesterday of positive cases in Wellington and none of them were true,” he said, dismissing it as a possible rumour.

“We are not going to continue to comment on every speculation on social media because there is a lot of false information on social media.”

The owner of The Ramen Shop, Asher Boote, told The Spinoff he was contacted about 11.30 this morning by someone from Wellington Regional Public Health. “We thought it was best policy to let people know. We’re being open and honest, we have nothing to hide,” he said.

Despite the health minister dismissing it today, Boote, a well-known hospitality figure who owns several Wellington venues, said he believed it was real: “It would have to be a pretty incredible, elaborate hoax.”

He said the person was asymptomatic when they visited, but have later tested positive. The Ministry of Health later confirmed what Boote had been told was correct – a Japanese traveller, who left New Zealand on August 8, had visited the restaurant in Wellington. They tested positive after leaving the country.

Boote said he was told the case would be mentioned in today’s briefing, so he was surprised not to hear it. “We’re getting a bit of flak on social media, but from the information we have I think the best way to go about it is to treat it as though it is a thing. 

“Best-case scenario, it’s a prank – that’d be amazing.” 

The health minister today defended the process by which case information is relayed to the public. “We have got a very consolidated process in place so that when we do make announcements, that information is all correct and accurate.” 

During the same press briefing, Pakuranga College was misidentified as a school shut down due to Covid-19 links.

The school’s principal Mike Williams was not impressed, telling the Herald the error caused “huge stress in our community” and left him with no confidence in the health system.

“If that’s how their system is, it’s no wonder we’ve got Covid,” he said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health apologised for putting this information into the public domain before notifying the school first. However, the statement said there is a casual link to the college and the ministry is awaiting further test results. At this point, no additional public health action is required from the school.



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