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What a Ministry of Health media advisor told us about not reporting further information about a positive COVID case at Thames

What a Ministry of Health media advisor told us about not reporting further information about a positive COVID case at Thames

Posted November 20, 2021
Community , Health

Media Release: Gold FM

Gold FM today contacted a media spokesperson for the Ministry of Health by phone to ask why the 1 pm updates and Ministry of Health statements has not included information about a positive COVID case in Thames, apart from one sentence contained in a Waikato District Health Board media release last Thursday, November 18.

We told them there was some concern about the lack of information about the COVID case.

The Ministry of Health media advisor we spoke to said, because Thames is a small town publishing details could lead to problems regarding privacy and advised us to email, which we did.

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Gold FM to Ministry of Health sent at 1.38 pm Saturday November 20

As discussed on the phone just now, there is a level of stress and concern in the Thames district due to confirmation from the Waikato DHB on Thursday that there is a positive case of COVID-19 at Thames.

People, including Gold FM, as a local media company, have been keeping a close eye on the Ministry of Health data to assist with community information.

There has been nothing about Thames apart from testing stations being implemented locally.

An explanation about the course of action taken by the Ministry in this situation would be very helpful.

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Response from Ministry of Health media advisor

Thanks for the call, email.

This particular case was addressed in the Waikato DHB update on Thursday, 18 November - https://www.waikatodhbnewsroom.co.nz/…/covid-19-public…/.

Attributable to a Ministry of Health spokesperson:

Across the Waikato there are eight pop-up and dedicated testing centres operating today in Thames, Hamilton, Ōtorohanga, Huntly, Ngāruawāhia, and Te Kuiti. Testing locations and hours are available on the Waikato DHB website.

We urge anyone in the Waikato region with COVID-19-related symptoms – no matter how mild – to get tested, even if they are vaccinated. People are also encouraged to monitor the Ministry’s locations of interest webpage, which is updated regularly.

We are also calling for people to take advantage of the weekend to get vaccinated, with many sites available across the region. Vaccination site locations and hours are also available on the Waikato DHB website.

By way of background, unless there a compelling public health reasons to do so, wherever possible, the Ministry of Health does not provide specific information about a person’s testing history, travel history, symptoms history, groups or organisations they might be affiliated with and the location of their residence.

Throughout the pandemic, the Ministry has been careful to balance the need to share information to support the public health response with the need to protect personal privacy.

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Gold FM response to Ministry of Health media advisor

Thank you XXXXXX

Can you please tell us why places like Katikati and Kihikihi are publicly listed for positive cases when they are small towns with less population than Thames?

As I said the positive Thames case is causing concern, mainly because people are wondering about locations of interest. Is the Ministry not going to report locations of interest for Thames and if so, why not?

Surely it is in the public interest for people living in an area tested positive to COVID-19 to have a higher awareness in order to keep themselves safe.

It would also boost numbers for vaccination locally and explain why pop-up testing is currently occurring.

Looking forward to hearing back from you.

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Response from Ministry of Health media advisor

Thanks for the email.

By way of background, due to the continued spread of COVID-19 to our regions, the Ministry’s 1pm statement is now primarily focused on national numbers, regional ‘calls to action’/public health advice.

The public health priority is to ensure potential contacts are notified of exposure so they can isolate.

On many occasions public health staff identify exposure sites rather than locations of interest. Exposure sites are locations where attendees are well known or have registered their attendance such as a general practice or other locations that require check ins.

Any locations of interest are added to the Ministry of Health’s webpage, which is updated on a two-hour basis. We only publish locations of interest where we cannot identify contacts.

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Gold FM response to Ministry of Health media advisor

It’s disappointing that we can’t get more definitive answers to our questions that make sense. People in small towns are likely to feel let down.

We have noticed the changes in the 1 pm updates becoming more generic and so have our audience. It is making people uneasy about the way information is being controlled or withheld.

This is one of the reasons the general public has become more distrusting of the Ministry of Health and the media.

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