Ashley Bloomfield on people not tested in isolation and GPs charging for tests

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Jul 2020, 9:38AM
Photo / File

Ashley Bloomfield on people not tested in isolation and GPs charging for tests

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Jul 2020, 9:38AM

For the first time in over a fortnight, there were no new reported cases of Covid-19 yesterday.

There remain 22 active cases of the coronavirus in managed isolation, with one person in Auckland City Hospital in a stable condition.

But the short reprieve of new cases will not yet mean a loosening of our borders, which are set to remain firmly closed to the rest of the world.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deemed the calls to re-open the border "frankly dangerous," saying to do so while the pandemic unfurled overseas would risk Covid-19 returning to our shores.

Imported cases had sparked outbreaks in New Zealand, and the current strict border measures were what allowed the current freedoms Kiwis could enjoy, as a resurgence of the virus in Melbourne forces Australian authorities to consider reinstating restrictions.

The Government was considering opening up to Australia and the Pacific, but anything further was currently out of the question, Ardern said.

The Ministry of Health is now assessing what it will do now with the 367 people it says it has tried "really hard" to contact after leaving their managed isolation or quarantine.

Speaking to Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says his team has sent "repeated texts, phone calls and emails" to those people but they were not getting back to them.

There were 2159 people who left managed isolation facilities between June 9 and 16.
Of the 2159 people who left managed isolation facilities, 1284 people have now been contacted and have tested negative for Covid.

Eight hundred of these people were tested before leaving managed isolation and the remaining 484 were tested after departure from the facility.

There are 367 people who the ministry has repeatedly tried to make contact with but have had no luck tracking down.

"[They] are essentially not returning our calls. It is two weeks since they came out of their 14 day managed isolation so we're just having a think about what we do next."

Bloomfield agreed with Hosking that contact tracing only worked if people were prepared to be contacted.

"We can do the best we can do but there are obligations on everybody to do their bit as well.

"We only started rolling the testing out from 9 June. I'm really pleased we have and now we know from the 16th, people have only left the facility if they have been tested."

While that had been happening there had been no community transmission and the only positive cases were from people in managed facilities.

Asked whether the missing 367 offered zero chance of spreading Covid-19, Dr Bloomfield said he could "safely say that they do present a very low risk to the community".

"They all had completed the 14 day managed isolation so these people are a very low risk.

"They know what to do if they become sympomatic but we're not finding any Covid-19 out there which is encouraging."

Asked about the 367 and why the Ministry couldn't reach them and whether they had been giving false numbers, Dr Bloomfield said many had moved back to New Zealand without living here for a while so didn't have proper contact details.

"A lot of these people coming back to New Zealand having not lived here for a while, so their only phone number might be an international cellphone.

"Of course they get out of quarantine, get a new sim card we then don't have their phone number. They may not have a permanent address and maybe staying friends or with family for a while. It's not straight forward."

He said people leaving quarantine were now being assigned everyone their national health index number with "a lot of efffort" going into collating their for contact information.

There was still a "real challenge" in regards to capacity and housing returnees but there was more coming, he said.

"Every single one of them needs to be looked after, we've got to do al the distancing, the testing right, so it's quite a big effort. There is more capacity coming online but as reported in the weekend there is strain there and that's what we're working to address."

As for reports of some doctors charging for covid 19 tests, Dr Bloomfield said that shouldn't be happening.

"No, the Government has put a good amount of funding to ensure that people who do need a test, can be tested and that is free.

"People shouldn't be charged."

National Party leader Todd Muller on Tuesday asked for clarity around the criteria for mandatory quarantine measures in the medium and long term, but did not call for borders to be opened up in the short-term.

On Monday he said that waiting for a vaccine or for other countries to eliminate Covid-19 before the border reopens would leave New Zealand "on its knees".

"A strategy that says we stay completely closed to everybody for the next 12 to 18 months is simply untenable," he told the Wellington Chamber of Commerce

"We won't recognise this country in terms of economic impact."

And Ardern had a stern warning for any Kiwis with itchy feet planning a holiday abroad - don't.

"Enjoy your own backyard," Ardern told reporters Tuesday morning.

Those leaving New Zealand for non-essential reasons could be forced to pay for their mandatory two-week quarantine upon returning – forking out thousands of dollars at the tail end of their getaway.

The Government was "moving quickly" on the issue and considering changing the law to ensure Kiwis heading overseas on holiday would have to pay for 14 days' quarantine or managed isolation on their return, she said.

"One of the things we also need to make sure is that we're essentially not setting up a test for New Zealanders based on how much money they've got in their bank account.

"We'd have to make sure we had hardship measures in there as well ... that people can pay it back over a period of time, for example."

Cabinet Minister Megan Woods, who has ministerial oversight of quarantine and managed isolation facilities, said the legal advice was not to put an "economic impediment" for Kiwis returning home.

Figures released to RNZ showed 60 people left the country after alert level 4 was introduced and returned before May.

To the end of June, the Government has estimated it would spend $81 million on moving 21,500 Kiwis through border facilities - at an average of $3800 per person.

Ardern said holiday-makers should face a full payment, rather than a co-payment.

"I'd say if you 're making the choice at your expense to travel overseas, then you should meet the full cost of that holiday."

It comes as the European Union opens its doors to a roll of countries deemed "safe" to fly in from today , with New Zealand among those making the cut.