Infected crew tested days after Covid alarm

The MOH has confirmed that the crew on the Rio de la Plata were not tested until Saturday, almost four days after the initial Covid alarm. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.

Crew members on board the Rio de la Plata shipping container were not tested for Covid-19 until Saturday, August 7.

That is despite operations briefly being paused on Wednesday, August 4, due to concerns about a positive Covid-19 case who had recently been on board.

The Ministry of Health says the risk of Covid-19 infection onboard the container ship was not considered any higher than usual, despite an Australian pilot who was on board two weeks previously testing positive for Covid-19.

Operations on the ship were shut down on Wednesday evening. This was despite being cleared for pilot boarding on Tuesday, after the Australian pilot’s positive case emerged.

According to a Port of Tauranga spokesperson, on Thursday morning, Government agencies clarified the situation and the Public Health Unit advised the port that operations could resume on the vessel. The Port was informed there was no need for workers to isolate.

When asked by SunLive if Covid-19 testing was carried out on crew members on Wednesday, August 4, in response to the heightened concern that forced a temporary suspension of work, Toi Te Ora Public Health passed the query on to the Ministry of Health.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson states that Covid testing on the crew was carried out on Saturday morning, prior to the ship disembarking for Napier.

No Covid-19 testing was carried out on the crew prior to that, despite the Australian pilot who had previously been on board, testing positive.

“The crew were tested on Saturday morning,” says a MOH spokesperson.

“The subsequent testing of the crew, which was an entry requirement into Napier Port, and positive test results, did not change the rationale of the public health assessment.”

Of the 21 crew on board the Singapore-flagged vessel, 11 have since returned positive Covid-19 test results, which became known to the public on Monday morning.

They are currently asymptomatic and remain onboard the ship, which is anchored at sea off of Tauranga.

The MOH says the pilot’s positive test did not change the public health assessment.

“In this particular instance, based on the information provided by Australian authorities, an additional specific analysis was done around whether the Queensland pilot could have bought Covid on board the vessel. 

“This considered timings of when the pilot was on board and subsequent onset of symptoms and positive result.  This particular risk was deemed to be low.”

Queensland health authorities now believe the Australian pilot caught the virus on the ship, subsequently passing it to a taxi driver in Cairns.

All ships entering New Zealand ports are treated as if they could have Covid-19 cases on board.

Therefore, the MOH states the previous presence of a now confirmed Covid case on the Rio de la Plata did not alter the health assessment.

“The health assessment remained the same, namely that the arriving Rio De la Plata ship could have Covid-19 cases on board, and would be treated as such, with the established infection prevention and control processes followed by port workers who dealt with the ship during its time in Tauranga port.”

The MOH is satisfied that workers at the port followed correct protocols and the risk to the general public remains low.

“Our understanding is that the level of contact between the port workers and crew is low, and that port workers followed PPE protocols including wearing masks when required to do so and physical distancing.  

“Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution all port workers who dealt with the ship have now been contacted, tested and isolated while awaiting results.”

Toi Te Ora Public Health has now confirmed that 72 port workers boarded the vessel while it was docked in Tauranga and, as of last night, all 72 have returned negative Covid-19 test results.

A total of 110 tests were carried out as a result of the outbreak onboard the Rio de la Plata, and all returned negative results as of yesterday.

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