New Zealand’s COVID-19 quarantine regime has plunged into crisis this week as examples of incompetent management and absconding Kiwis come to light.
The border is paramount in New Zealand’s fight against coronavirus after Jacinda Ardern’s government eliminated the virus from Kiwi shores with a 51-day lockdown.
But those remarkable gains are at risk as health officials bungle border management.
An erroneous decision to let two untested expat Kiwis out of quarantine, who then tested positive, has sparked fears of the deadly virus’ return, and frantic contact tracing from officials.
Those two sisters appear to have lied to officials, failing to declare they briefly met friends against the terms of their compassionate exemption from quarantine.
“The information evolved,” Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s top health official, said after presenting incorrect details as fact and apologising.
The Chief Ombudsman has also pledged to investigate after members of his staff came into contact with quarantined individuals at an Auckland hotel.
Other reports suggest Kiwis have been slipping out of quarantine to attend funerals, and health officials have failed in their testing regime.
On Thursday, opposition health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said a homeless man was able to trick his way into a quarantining group at a five-star hotel.
“He hadn’t come back from overseas, he just joined the back of the queue two weeks ago, and spent a fortnight getting three square meals and a bath every day on the government,” Mr Woodhouse told Newshub.
“It just shows what a shambles this thing is. The ministry should be managing this. It’s not actually rocket science.”
Ms Ardern’s government is scrambling to stay on top of the mess.
Health Minister David Clark, who embarrassed the government during the lockdown by mountain biking and visiting a beach against the rules, has repeatedly refused to resign and is blaming his department.
“The Ministry of Health has failed to do what it said it was going to do. It has failed to carry out its responsibilities,” he said.
“I have made it clear that I am unhappy with what has happened. Dr Bloomfield has acknowledged the system has failed.”
Despite the bungle, New Zealand remains in a relatively comfortable position as the global pandemic rages abroad.
Just 1507 people have caught the virus in New Zealand and 22 have died.
Still, Ms Ardern has appointed the country’s assistant chief of defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, to oversee the quarantine regime, taking over from the health department. All compassionate exemptions from quarantine have also been banned.
“There is no room for error – even if it is human error. It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were
not,” Ms Ardern said on Wednesday.
On Thursday, NZ had another coronavirus case after another man tested positive to COVID-19.
But this was an example of the border controls working. The man, aged in his 60s, was picked up while in quarantine at an Auckland hotel after travelling from Lahore in Pakistan, via Doha and Melbourne.
Authorities are contact tracing individuals who travelled his Air New Zealand flight to Auckland on June 13. If proper procedures are being followed, all should still be in quarantine.