As New Zealand’s world-leading response to the COVID-19 pandemic shifts from community elimination to border control, one case has captivated Kiwis.
The story of a homeless man who snuck into a five-star hotel being used as a quarantine facility, and enjoyed a fortnight’s stay on the taxpayer.
The man entered the debate last week, aired by opposition health spokesman Michael Woodhouse as a means to attack the government’s quarantine regime.
“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 said.
“It just shows what a shambles this thing is … it’s not actually rocket science.”
Many have saluted the man’s efforts, with one Twitter user saying ‘respect the player, hate the game’.
Others tut-tutted the opportunism.
However, this week, it has emerged the homeless man may not exist.
The country’s top doctor Ashley Bloomfield said days of investigation had failed to turn up any evidence of Mr Woodhouse’s claim.
“As far as we can tell, this cannot be verified and might be an urban myth … sorry to disappoint you,” he said.
Mr Woodhouse was unrepentant, citing previous blunders from the health department.
“I stand by my source. Just because the Ministry of Health says it couldn’t find any evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” he said.
“There are a lot of things happening right now that the ministry doesn’t know about. It doesn’t know how many people have left managed isolation without being tested for COVID-19.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in (Dr Bloomfield’s) investigative skills at this point.”
Last week, Kiwis were appalled by a decision to allow two women out of isolation without being tested for COVID-19, only to test positive after their release.
New Zealand is sending all international arrivals into a two-week isolation or quarantine to prevent a return of the deadly virus into the community.
Jacinda Ardern’s government has overseen, not without blunder, more than 20,000 arrivals through that system, using 20 hotels in Auckland, Christchurch and Rotorua.
It will invest in at least seven more hotels in the coming weeks as demand from overseas Kiwis increases.
The regime is wholly paid for by the government, which has allocated a budget of $NZ379 million ($355 million) this year.
There are currently 10 active cases in New Zealand after two more positive tests on Tuesday, both international arrivals.