Covid Hereford conference - DQ , SDHB and Ministry all gave go ahead

by Peter Newport - Mar 28, 2020

Media reports from Stuff have detailed a timeline where Hereford Conference organisers Scott and Bea Bellingham tried to get advice from various agencies after a conference delegate was confirmed as being infected with Covid-19, but were eventually told to carry on as the risk was "low".

Scott and Bea Bellingham - their conference company, Dinamics, is now in liquidation.

According to the Stuff report, after a number of failed attempts to contact the Ministry of Health the Bellinghams were eventually told to go ahead with a post conference bus tour by Destination Queenstown, QLDC and the SDHB - all in their role as part of a regional Covid-19 response team.

153 conference delegates took part in the tour while another group went on to attend the Wanaka A and P show. The conference was held at Queenstown's Millennium Hotel (main image above.)

Now the Southern District is second only to Auckland in terms of Covid-19 cases due largely to the Hereford Conference. The Southern District now has the highest number of Covid-19 cases per capita - 59 in total compared to 64 in Auckland.

The Southern area now has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases - and the highest per capita level of infection.

The Stuff article quotes DQ acting CEO Ann Lockhart as saying "It would have been inappropriate for us to share this information or become further involved in this process while the Ministry undertook contact tracing to verify the information."

The Bellnghams have been quoted by Stuff as saying they were told to keep the Covid-19 results confidential  "so that medical professionals could complete guest tracing".

The Bellingham's Queenstown conference company, Dinamics, went into liquidation on March 24 due to the Covid-19 consequences of their Hereford event - owing local suppliers and tourism operators around $200,000.

Here is a post from the NZ Herefords Facebook page from March 18th.

An image of the NZ Herefords bus tour. Source - NZ Herefords.

"As we draw to the end of the South Island Post (bus) Tour, we wish everyone a safe trip home.

We were informed yesterday that one person, a few days after returning to his home country, tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, we have been in regular contact with the Ministry of Health for direction. Ministry of Health officials contacted the person directly and have deemed that "the risk of transmission to the group was low".

It is important that attendees keep alert to any symptoms and isolate should they become at all unwell.

The risk is deemed low due to the fact that the person (who only attended the World Hereford Conference 2020, and did not stay at the conference hotels or attend any of the tours), was considered to be contagious after leaving the conference.

Upon re-entry to your home country, we recommend you take advice from your local health authorities as to whether self- isolation for 14 days is recommended as a precaution.

The Ministry of Health have advised the South Island Post Tour proceed as planned."

 

However, the NZ Herefords organisation then posted this Ministry of Health email four days later.

March 22 email from the Ministry of Health to Hereford Conference attendees.

"As a recent attendee at the World Hereford Conference 2020 (9-13 March in Queenstown) you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

As a precautionary approach, we are treating ALL people who were at the conference as a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, and ask you to self isolate for 14 days from the end of the conference on 13 March (isolation will end on Saturday 28 March). For those who carried on to the South Island Post Tour which ended on Thursday 19 March, self isolation will end on Friday 3 April.

If you have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 - a fever (at least 38°C), cough, or shortness of breath in the last 14 days, and are in New Zealand, please contact your general practitioner by telephone, or call Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453. Please tell them that you have been informed that you have been identified as a close contact of an attendee confirmed with COVID-19. If you are overseas, please phone your local hospital or primary care facility for advice."

Detail from the Ministry of Health website on the various NZ Covid-19 clusters

 

Crux has approached Destination Queenstown, the SDHB and Ministry of Health for a response to this story.

The following statement was issued to Stuff on March 25th, and then to the ODT but only to Crux earlier today. Note that the Wayfare Group told Crux on March 19th that they were aware of a conference delegate being infected and were asked by the SDHB on March 18th to take precautions regarding the Earnslaw and Walter Peak

 

Joint statement about World Hereford Conference - Ministry of Health, Southern District Health Board & Canterbury District Health Board.

"This was a significant conference for the rural sector with extensive reach: 400 people from 18 countries attended the event in Queenstown, and a number continued their travel to other parts of New Zealand after it finished

The first case health authorities were informed about wasn't exhibiting typical symptoms at the time of the conference. He returned to Australia where he subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

When alerted to this person having tested positive, organisers contacted public health officials at Southern and Canterbury District Health Boards (where some of the participants had travelled),  and based on current advice regarding contacts,  an initial message was sent to attendees on 18th March alerting them to possible contact with a confirmed case.

Since then, public health units - along with Healthline and the Minstry's newly established contact tracing unit - have been working to contact trace and follow up on cases and contacts. Figures through to today have identified 840 close contacts, 583 of whom have been tracked.

The World Hereford Conference is a clear example of the very real need for action by all of us to help stamp out clusters of COVID-19.

This action includes health authorities acting swiftly and appropriately to provide initial advice and then actively investigating every case they are notified about. It also means individuals acting responsibly and in line with the clear public health advice. Level 4 gives New Zealand our best chance of breaking the chain of community transmission. This will require all our efforts and the Ministry strongly urges all New Zealanders to play their part."

 

Read: SDHB silent on local Covid-19 Cases.

 

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