Covid 19 coronavirus: Kmart shopper waits nearly eight hours on phone for Healthline advice


An Aucklander who spent six minutes at a store where a Covid-19 case was working had to wait nearly eight hours on the phone to get advice from Healthline.

Kmart Botany customers who were in the store at the same time as the worker who later tested positive on February 19 and 20 have gone from “casual plus” contacts to “close” contacts.

There is also a new category for some store staff who have a new label: “close plus” contacts.

Aucklander Lisa-Marie visited the storefor a few minutes on February 20. Later when it was announced as a location of interest, she called Healthline and ended up waiting nearly eight hours.

“It was my fastest, least costly trip to Kmart I’ve ever done, and it ended up costing me two weeks,” Lisa-Marie told RNZ.

On Saturday night, she and her daughter signed in at Kmart Botany. They were there for six minutes.

The shop was announced as a Covid-19 location of interest on Tuesday. Soon after hearing the news, Lisa-Marie called Healthline to clarify exactly what her household’s status was.

“I wanted to do the right thing, so after putting a few of my younger children to bed that night – they were all a little bit stressed … because they just instantly had thought I’d be taken away.

“I thought 9.50 at night was probably a really good time to call Healthline and find out just the position that we’re in. Did my other three children need to go to school and could my husband still go to work?

“I was told I was behind 603 callers … when it said 125 minutes I thought ‘let’s just do this’. I got busy as every parent does, folded washing and potted around, then started to get a bit nervous thinking ‘okay, no-one’s answering’.”

She would not normally wait so long on hold but Lisa-Marie said she did want to be clear on what her children and husband could do. So she waited.

“They did eventually answer the phone, but that was roughly around 5.40 in the morning.”

Her phone screen told her she had been waiting seven hours, 44 minutes.

She said she was surprised staff had not been added to answer phones in the time following the Papatoetoe High School outbreak.

“I was actually quite surprised it wasn’t a separate line for Covid-19.”

When she got through to an operator, she asked how many people were taking calls.

“She actually said single digits.”

She believed she was a casual-plus contact, having briefly visited Kmart when the infected worker was there, but on Wednesday night the Ministry of Health reclassified those people to be close contacts.

However, her household only needs to isolate if she is showing symptoms.

It had not been a clear process, she said.

Long wait for Healthline 'not acceptable' – Minister

In response, Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said it was not acceptable Lisa-Marie had to wait so long for a Healthline call.

“We really do need to follow up on that to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and we will.”

She said extra resourcing had been put into Healthline but they would follow up on the issue.

There have been other confusing experiences for people seeking advice from Covid-19 officials.

In one recent post on Facebook, a person who had shopped at Kmart on February 21 asked what their status was. The official reply was that they were a close contact, should isolate and wash the products they had bought.

“That isn’t correct,”Verrall said when the post was put to her.

“We do take care to make sure the right advice is given. You’ve clearly identified an instance we need to follow up on.”

She said she believed it could have been a case of someone reading the date incorrectly, and officials would seek to fix the error.


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