320 close contacts of new cases identified; PM announces changes after blunder

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Jun 2020, 1:34PM

320 close contacts of new cases identified; PM announces changes after blunder

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 Jun 2020, 1:34PM

There have been 320 close contacts identified with the two new Covid-19 cases.

There are no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, the Ministry of Health has revealed today.

Yesterday, New Zealand ended its 24-day streak of no new cases when it was revealed two women who later tested positive for the virus were allowed to leave managed self-isolation to travel to Wellington to grieve the sudden passing of their parent.

Most of their contacts will be contacted by the end of the day and will be encouraged to be tested.

"All of these people will be encouraged to get a test," Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said.

"We are confident there was no contact made with anyone on the journey between Auckland and Wellington.

"The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility.

"I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy continues to be respected during this time."

Bloomfield said he took responsibility for the failures that led to the two new cases.

"As Director-General of Health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

"In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

"I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again."

Tests should have happened - PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said tests on day three and day 12 should have happened and there were "no excuses".

The border controls must be rigorous and disciplined, and need to have the confidence of ministers as well as all New Zealanders.

She said assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darren Digby Webb would oversee all quarantine and isolation facilities.

The suspension of all compassionate leave would remain for now.

She said the new cases did not change New Zealand's Covid status, and new cases were always expected to come in through the border.

Everyone who came into contact with the women would all be tested as per system protocols.

It was unacceptable that procedures that were supposed to be in place were not.

She said it was up to Bloomfield to decide where responsibility for the failure lay.

She said the military brought the discipline required for what is a complicated logistical exercise.

Government Ministers had been told that everyone coming in from the border was going to be tested twice, and Ardern said she believed there was a legal mechanism to enforce that.

Because testing could provide a false negative, everyone was also isolated for 14 days.

She said Bloomfield was looking at what had happened. Suspending compassionate leave would not be popular, but she said it was more important to ensure New Zealanders were kept safe.

Ministers understood protocols were in place but "in this case that is not what has happened".

She did not know how many of the 200-odd people granted compassionate leave had been released without being tested, saying the Health Ministry was working through that.

On whether David Clark should be sacked as Health Minister, Ardern said Clark was in the same position as she was in that they both understood the proper protocols were in place.

She said Clark had been part of the successful Covid response and would keep his job. They were both focused on fixing the problem.

"He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem."

She said the two teenagers in Hamilton who attended a funeral had absconded rather than been granted leave.

She did not know how many of the 200-odd people granted compassionate leave had been released without being tested, saying the Health Ministry was working through that.

She said caution was needed at the border in light of louder calls for more open borders. There was still a need for New Zealand to be "extraordinarily careful ... and I send that message to the Opposition".

Mild symptoms before travel

The woman were not tested before they left on the condition they were tested in Wellington, which returned positive results.

One of the women had mild symptoms before being tested, but it was put down to a pre-existing condition.

Bloomfield said yesterday their conditions might have been picked up if the daily health check in managed isolation had been done properly, including asking them about every individual Covid-19 symptom.

The two infected women had been staying at the hotel since they arrived on a flight from the United Kingdom, via Brisbane, on Sunday, June 7. They left the hotel on Saturday, June 13, to drive to Wellington without being tested.

Guests at the Novotel Auckland hotel where the women were in managed isolation are being told to stay in their rooms.

All leave for compassionate reasons has temporarily been stopped until the Government "has confidence" in the system.

All guests and staff will be tested within 24 hours and anyone due to check out yesterday or today will now have their stay extended.

The new cases broke New Zealand's 24-day streak without a new case,

The border blunder has caused widespread outrage.

Ardern said in a Facebook Live post on Tuesday evening that standards had not been met.

"This case is clear - our expectations ... have not been met in this instance," she said.

Health Minister David Clark said there would be consequences if it was found people had failed their duties.

"I am quite certain that people who have made this mistake will not be making it again."

This morning, Police Minister Stuart Nash told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that someone needed to be held to account and called the blunder "unacceptable".

"To get this sort of ineptitude, man it is unforgivable. As David [Clark] said, he's cancelled compassionate dispensation and there's a review of the system. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again."