An Auckland taxi driver who tested positive for Covid-19 may have been infectious while transporting essential workers in lockdown.
By Rebecca Moore and Alan Kenyon
The driver, who is now in managed isolation with his family, does not know how he contracted the virus.
Co-op Taxis Auckland operations manager Shaun Williams on Monday told 1News he was made aware of the positive case on Thursday, September 30. He said the company was contacted by both Auckland Regional Public Health and the driver himself that day.
The news comes after the Blue Bubble Taxi driver worked on the night's of Friday 24 September and Saturday 25 September, up until about 11pm. Then Sunday was his normal day off.
"He felt fine on Sunday, he woke up Monday, he said, he sort of had a bit of a sore throat so he took the day off. Tuesday, same thing, still feeling unwell so he took the day off then went and got a test done later that day and stayed off duty until the result came back which was unfortunately positive on Thursday," Williams said.
"Whilst he was sick he stayed off."
Williams also said the driver had done everything right - he had had his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and was booked in to get his second dose on Wednesday October 6. He also wore a mask while driving, cleaned the car after each trip and did not have contact with any other driver.
But Williams said Auckland Regional Public Health believe he may have been infectious the Friday and Saturday night he last worked.
"The vehicles all have their own QR codes anyway so they'd already pulled all that information, but we provided them the jobs from our system as well just to make sure that we did capture them all because you're not guaranteed, everyone has scanned though so it's right there, and you tell them to and also some people don't have smartphones."
He said they provided all the jobs for those two days, then after a further request, they provided details for trips prior to those two days to try and locate the point of infection to the driver.
"I believe at this stage it's still a little bit of a mystery as to where he's got it from, he hasn't been in contact with any close contacts or anything like that so they're trying to work through, trying to figure out where that's come from.
"It's unfortunate he doesn't know where he's got it from but he's done really well with his response to it and I believe there's no risk to any of our fleet because he has not interacted with any other driver, our office is closed and everything has been done via phone as well so there's no chance of interacting with the staff or anything."
Williams said when he last spoke with the driver, his family, who are also in MIQ, were getting tested but he hasn't heard back if about the outcome of their test results. He plans to touch base with the driver later on Monday.
When asked how the driver was doing, Williams said he was "surprisingly well" both physically and mentally.
"He said he's just fine, he's got a bit of a sore throat but he did really well to still take the day off an go and get tested the following day when it was still there, but he said reading what some people get he's got it very mildly so he's been in really good spirits."
It's hoped the effects of his mild infection have been alleviated by having one dose of the Pfizer jab.
Williams said of the company's 900-strong fleet, 400 people were vaccinated.
"As a percentage it doesn't look that high but last week I had a look at those who are operational, sort of working at the moment, because of Covid quite a lot of guys have opted to take the period off, so we have around, I think it was just under 300 drivers working - this is just a snapshot in a day last week - and over 90 per cent of those who were on the road were fully vaccinated."
He added that when booking a taxi, people had the option to request a vaccinated driver at no extra cost.
But Williams said the company had written to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins in March, with no response, then again in July, to ask for taxi drivers to be in an earlier group to get vaccinated, but in July they got denied.
Hipkins said today that border workers and those working in health and emergency, and their families and housemates, were prioritised earlier in the rollout.
Taxi and ride share drivers were included when there was an expansion of the prioritised essential worker groups in August and September.
"This meant they could be given priority for vaccination appointments if they hadn’t already been vaccinated."
When contacted for more information about the taxi driver, a Ministry of Health spokesperson told 1News: "For privacy reasons, wherever possible, the Ministry of Health does not comment on individual cases or situations unless there are compelling public health reasons to do so.
"Confirmed cases of Covid-19 are announced at 1pm each day, unless there is a pressing public health need to do so earlier."