Taking one for the team: Mountain Scene reporter Matthew Mckew gets a nasal swab as part of random Covid-19 testing at Queenstown’s Pak’nSave yesterday


Shoppers in Queenstown yesterday were likely to get as big a surprise as me.

Pulling into Pak’nSave a very friendly healthcare worker bounds over to me and says I must be surprised to see all this on my shopping trip.

She refers to the pop-up testing site established over-night in the supermarket car park.

It took from 2.30pm on Wednesday, when WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs received a call from public health, to 10.30am yesterday to get up and running.

“There was a request to swab 300 random people in Queenstown to see the prevalence of Covid-19.”

Five minutes later he made a call to the owners of Pak’nSave who okayed a place in their car park and then it was onto organising a Civil Defence response and seeing which healthcare staff in Otago were available.

“At 6am they were here setting it up and at 10am we did a run through.

“At 10.30am we had our first person swabbed.”

Volunteers: Healthcare staff worked from a pop-up tent at Pak’nSave in Queenstown yesterday to carry out random Covid-19 testing

The public response, according to Swanson-Dobbs, has been “absolutely stunning”.

“When people drive into the car park, they are asked if they are willing and the majority say ‘yes’.

“They want to help the government to make an informed decision.”

That decision is whether to lift lockdown and reduce the country’s alert level.

Swanson-Dobbs can’t resist asking me to take part and I am soon introduced to WellSouth medical director and GP Stephen Graham.

Graham has joined the frontline swab team to help get the queues down.

Speaking to me through a mask and wearing protective clothing, he asks if I know anything about the test.

I reply that I heard it was not the most enjoyable thing to do and he agrees with what I presume was a smile.

Administrator Tom Stokes joins us and explains he volunteered to help the swab teams at the outbreak of the crisis.

Graham says healthcare officials had worried they would not have enough staff, but those fears have been allayed with people “stepping up” to volunteer.

Stokes sits me down and runs through my details, while Graham prepares the swab.

“Open wide”, the doctor says, and puts a stick down my throat.

At first it feels uncomfortable as he begins counting, and then it becomes difficult not to gag.

Finally, I gag.

An unsurprised Graham is already preparing the next stage, “lean back”, he tells me.

A long, soft and thin swab goes up my left nostril.

At first it feels strange and then comes some uncomfortable pain.

It’s hard not to tilt my head away as the doctor goes further up my nostril.

He counts down again and my eyes water.

Then it’s out and he’s preparing to go up the second nostril.

The whole process takes around a minute or so – I spent longer filling in the forms before and drying my eyes with tissues after, than actually being swabbed.

The pair ask if I’m okay, I’m handed a tissue by a third staff member and then it’s on to swabbing the next person.

As I step out, I see about 10 cars waiting, some containing nervous volunteers, but I talk to them and they seem in good spirits.

I go to leave and I’m urged by WellSouth’s comms person to tell people the purpose of the day is to take a random sample of members of the public with no symptoms.

If people are unwell, she tells me, they must call their GP or Healthline and not head to Pak’nSave.