Covid-infected MIQ guard lied to boss about regular tests: PM

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Apr 2021, 1:46PM

Covid-infected MIQ guard lied to boss about regular tests: PM

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Apr 2021, 1:46PM

A Covid-infected MIQ security guard told his employer he was having regular tests - but had not had one since November, the Government has revealed.

Covid-19 Recovery Minister Chris Hipkins wouldn't say the guard, known as Case B, was lying to his employer, First Security, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was less reticent.

"The individual was lying to the employer - ultimately though, that employer needed to have checks and balances in place to make sure they were still doing what was required," Ardern told reporters on her way to Question Time.

"If someone is not fulfilling their requirements and lying about it, you can see that presents issues."

Asked if Case B should be sacked, she said that was a decision for the employer.

It was up to police and WorkSafe to decide whether to pursue Case B or First Security for potentially breaching legal obligations, she said.

Hipkins said that police also had to become involved to help get information about Case B's locations of interest.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said police were called in on Friday afternoon due to discrepancies with the working hours and language translation issues with Case B, who volunteered phone records and bank statements.

A fee of $300 or a fine of $1000 were the penalties for non-compliance, but Hipkins said an investigation was still ongoing into Case B.

Individuals were reminded to get tested via text message, and employers were also required to make sure their staff were being regularly tested.

National Party leader Judith Collins said the fault lay with both Case B and the Government, which could no longer be trusted when it came to testing.

"I've got a question for the Minister and the Prime Minister: When were they ever going to tell us?

"We don't ask security guards to set the policy and to ensure it is being complied with – the Government has a responsibility.

"There should have been an auditing system going on."

Hipkins said making the border worker testing register mandatory and matching that data with the sign-in data in MIQ would make the system more robust.

He said there were several companies working at the border which made the data challenges a "complex beast".

Hipkins said the vast bulk of border workers were diligent about being tested.

"With any system that involves thousands of people, there is a risk of issues at the margin. That appears to be the case here."

Looking at the number of tests for border workers showed largely that there was compliance for routine testing.

Two new cases in MIQ

There are two new Covid cases to report today, both in managed isolation.

They are travellers from India and Pakistan.

There are no new community cases today, Bloomfield said.

The seven-day rolling average of border cases is now eight.

He said the total number of active cases today is 101.

Bloomfield said 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine can be stored in freezers in Auckland, which currently has 315,000 doses. There are two other freezers in Christchurch.

He said Medsafe had approved its storage at -20C for two weeks, which was more practical in getting the vaccine to more remote areas.

Bloomfield said he was confident with the vaccine roll-out. A new clinic was opening today at Waitakere Hospital in Henderson, and a site has also opened in the CBD in Elliott St. A marae-based clinic also opened last week.

Vaccination at those centres so far were by invitation only.

He said there were new functions on the NZ Covid Tracer app, including a new "swirl" symbol for when people use the app every day for 14 days. Bloomfield was currently on 13 days, he said. Hipkins said he was on 11 days.

135,000 vaccine doses administered

Hipkins said 135,585 doses had been administered, including 7695 in the last 24 hours.

He said 43 per cent have been delivered in Auckland, 19 per cent of whom are Māori or Pasifika.

A total of 30,194 people had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Hipkins said the vaccine wastage rate was currently at about 3 per cent.

Up until the end of June, more than 1 million additional doses will be delivered, he said.

He said the Pfizer deliveries were on track, with most of the larger supply coming in June.

The numbers showed "we're on track" to start group three - vulnerable people and those with underlying medical conditions - on time.

Weekly updates against the forecast numbers will be provided each Wednesday.

About 60,000 to 70,000 vaccines are arriving in this country every week.

Hipkins said 88.5 per cent of MIQ workers have been vaccinated as of last night; 513 MIQ workers are still to get their first jab.

A breakdown will be provided of border workers by region, he said.

He signed an order last night to make it mandatory for employers to use the border worker testing register from April 27.

Currently employees had a legal obligation to get tested, and for employers to keep a record of those tests, but only about 60 per cent of the employers have been using the register so far.

A mandatory register would make it easier to keep track of who has been tested. The register notified workers about their upcoming tests, and employers about their employees' tests, Hipkins said.

Additional groups would also be captured with the new order, he said, and it also increased the frequency of how often certain border workers would need to be tested.

All MIQ workers will need to be tested weekly.

Hipkins said more returnees from countries other than Australia were expected after the trans-Tasman bubble was announced. He said the suspension of travel from India also freed up more MIQ rooms.

"There are more rooms available. There are a good spread of rooms available over the next few months."

The last vaccine update, from a week ago, showed almost 20,000 people had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while 71,000 had had one jab.

It also emerged today that the Grand Millennium security guard - known as Case B - who tested positive last week, and who hadn't been tested before then since November 20, even though he is meant to be tested fortnightly.

The information emerged while Bloomfield was being questioned by MPs on the Epidemic Response Committee.

Hipkins said he was lukewarm on the need for the committee now that Parliament was sitting.

"I don't see the need for it," he told reporters.

The Government has been on the back foot over its reluctance to release vaccination targets since the release of a vague roll-out plan a month ago.

The status of the roll-out is being increasingly questioned, with the Herald revealing this morning that the Ministry of Health is urgently seeking 18 "crucial" positions for the roll-out.

And this morning the head of Counties Manukau DHB head said Auckland only has half the number of Covid-19 vaccinators it needs for the roll-out, while the Canterbury DHB reported an oversupply.

It also remains unclear how many border workers are still unvaccinated, though this morning MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain said 89 per cent of MIQ staff had had at least one jab of the Pfizer vaccine.

She said there were inconsistencies across the whole recording system for border worker testing.

Case B may have been tested more recently than November - but if so, it wasn't in the system.

Tremain also conceded she did not know how many workers have missed the tests they are legally required to have.

Nor did she know how many of the 300 private MIQ companies were not using the government's border testing register - which Hipkins wants to make mandatory.

The Herald has also learned that police were called in to track where Case B had spent money to find out locations of interest, which took several days to be made public.

Tremain said that Case C - also a security guard at the Grand Millennium - had been tested fortnightly, though she couldn't say when he was last tested before his positive test.