A potentially catastrophic spread of Covid-19 in the Mahurangi region was averted, thanks to good planning and preparation on the part of a Warkworth business.
Southern Paprika, which produces capsicums, was notified late in August that one its staff members had Covid-19 – picked up after a family member had visited a place of interest in Auckland.
Southern Paprika general manager Blair Morris says immediately the company found out, it sent all its staff home.
It then arranged with Coast to Coast Health and Warkworth Medical Centre to have all of its 150 staff tested the following day.
Mr Morris says the Ministry of Health did not require the business to shut down but it took the decision to do so on its own initiative.
The company then had daily Zoom meetings with the Ministry of Health, Auckland District Health Board and later, the Northland District Health Board on how to proceed going forward.
“They were very supportive. I can’t speak highly enough of them,” Mr Morris says.
The health authorities took over the management of contact tracing and split workers into various classes, depending on the degree of contact they had with infected staff. That determined whether they could be allowed to return to work after five days or whether they had to self-isolate themselves for a full 14 days.
Mr Morris says the company is proud of the fact that because of the measures taken there was minimal spread of the disease. Originally, there were two infected members of staff from the same household, and they managed to transmit it to only two additional employees before the outbreak was contained.
Mr Morris says preparation for a Covid outbreak at Southern Paprika goes back more than a year, when the company – allowed to operate as an essential business – developed a crisis management plan to cope, which was subject to an audit by the Ministry of Primary Industries.
As the country was plunged into various alert levels, appropriate protocols were already in place. For example, temperature testing took place at the company’s gate, staff were kept in strict bubbles and took breaks outside the lunchroom, and stricter cleaning regimes were introduced. This year, mask wearing was also introduced.
“We had all the documentation and made sure we had all our staff aware of what the protocols were,” Mr Morris says.
When Covid was detected among staff, the company had good records of the movements of all its workers, making contact tracing much easier.
Risks were further reduced when the company organised mass vaccination of its staff beginning in mid-August.
Currently, about 60 per cent of its staff are double vaccinated and more than 90 per cent have had their first vaccine.
Mr Morris says it also helped that the company was generously supported by the community. New World and Countdown supermarkets and T&G provided food, so that the company could make up care packages for staff in isolation who could not get to supermarkets themselves.
The company has a high proportion of Pacific Island workers some of them Recognised Seasonal Employees who have been unable to return home.
Mr Morris says even after it became widely known that an outbreak had occurred at Southern Paprika, the company experienced no hostility.
“Everyone acknowledges that all our staff are part of this community and make our community what it is. It was an amazing thing to see,” he says.
Mr Morris’ advice to other businesses is to have their Covid-19 plans and processes in place before an outbreak occurs.
“Mask wearing, sanitation, cleanliness, social distancing and a vaccination scheme – all these things do help,” he says.