News World Jacinda Ardern sends in troops after coronavirus test failures

Jacinda Ardern sends in troops after coronavirus test failures

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has doubled the defence force personnel serving at borders and quarantine facilities after days of sustained criticism over testing.

The country recorded another six COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

The military involvement is being doubled to around 1200 personnel; the country’s largest deployment since providing support for East Timor’s transition to independence two decades ago.

Defence force staff will provide support and security at hotels where international arrivals are undergoing their mandatory fortnight of isolation.

They will replace private security.

Another 80 military personnel will assist customs at international ports, 70 more will assist police with traffic management, and a further 100 will help provide “electoral support” around the country’s October 17 election.

Five of the six new cases are linked to the growing Auckland cluster and the other is a returned traveller.

The Labour leader has faced steady criticism in recent days after investigative reporting revealed regular testing at isolation facilities was not occurring.

Ms Ardern, her Ministers and the country’s top doctor Ashley Bloomfield have each steadfastly refused to accept accountability – though the PM agreed testing was “not being executed at the scale and speed necessary”.

“This extra support should give them extra confidence that we’re supporting the Ministry of Health to undertake what is a significant job,” she said.

On Wednesday, health officials announced five new community cases of COVID-19, with a sixth case identified within managed isolation.

Ms Ardern called that “encouraging”.

“At this stage we are not seeing a surge in community cases. We have not seen any new cases outside of that identified Auckland cluster … and the perimeter of the virus is not exponentially,” she said.

The cluster size has now reached 75, with a majority of those to have caught COVID-19 under 40 years of age.

Maori and Pasifika are also hugely over-represented in the cluster, with 64 of the 75 cases.

Health officials have identified 18 households, two workplaces and one church as vectors for the spread of the virus.

Dr Bloomfield said 1983 close contacts had been identified, contacting 1861 of them for testing.

-with AAP