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Shore schools, theatre caught in Covid scare

Flagstaff Team

Empty seats… It’s deja vu for James Bell, manager at the PumpHouse

Celebratory performances at a school and theatre in Takapuna have led to tense countdowns in Covid-19 isolation for hundreds of locals who attended.

The extent of the scares in the North Shore community has emerged since shows at Rosmini College and the PumpHouse Theatre were first listed by the Ministry of Health as ‘locations of interest’.

Carmel College confirmed last week that some of its pupils were also at the Rosmini College Filipino cultural night attended by 450 people on Friday 13 August.

A person who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 was there, sparking the alert on 24 August. Both Catholic schools were quick to pass on to parents the instruction that attendees get tests for the virus and stay isolated pending results.

Rosmini headmaster Nixon Cooper, who was at the cultural night, was still in isolation and awaiting his own test results when he spoke to the Observer.

Health advice had been clear, he said, and nobody had panicked when it was forwarded to them.

More than 200 people were at the Pump House Theatre on Sunday 15 August when the Foolish Wit company staged its final performance of a season of The Crucible.

Play director James Bell said the first he heard about Covid-19 being so close to home was more than a week later when people started messaging him about the theatre being listed as a location of interest. Later in the day he received official health advice. Thanks to good record-keeping implemented at the PumpHouse upon reopening after the first 2020 Covid lockdown, he was able to pass on full contact details for audience, cast and crew to contract tracers.

“As every negative test comes back there’s a quiet sigh of relief as we could have turned into quite a big cluster,” he says.

The same could be said for much of the North Shore, home to the first notified case in the Auckland community of the Delta variant, when a Devonport tradesman tested positive earlier this month.

A connected cluster involving a work colleague of the Devonport man grew to become the second biggest of the current outbreak. Although the spread has become much wider across Auckland, the North Shore was initially the centre of most places of interest, including multiple retail outlets, pushing thousands into isolation and prompting a run on testing centres. North Shore Hospital was forced to close its emergency department for 48 hours after staff exposure.

Some supermarkets are still struggling to cope with limited staff numbers. A number have reduced their trading hours.

The PumpHouse, where Bell has his day job as business manager, now faces worries about again having to bounce back from lock- down. Before staff can return to the theatre, it will also need to find around $2000 for a deep clean. The theatre had been fully booked until the end of the year, said Bell, including a show from Rosmini that was meant to have proceeded at the end of August, and counted towards the boys’ assessments.

Cooper said the alert had been handled calmly. He waited for detailed advice from the Ministry which came within a few hours so he could quickly pass this on to parents. Around 150 people were in the audience, with 300 students participating in the show, he said.

Carmel Principal Chris Allen said it had four staff attending and 31 girls performing, but learned later that more of its students were in the audience. An information letter she sent out in the late afternoon had been seen by 85 per cent of parents the same evening, and by nearly all by the next morning. Just one person contacted her to clarify the non-public site for testing the school had been asked to pass on.

Cooper says as the days have gone on he greets news of each person testing negative with a “yippee”. “And I’m hoping for a similar response for myself.”

His take on what had otherwise been a very successful show, well attended by local Filipino parents and residents, was: “We were probably tempting fate having it on the 13th.”

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