Reports of rule-breaking at COVID-19 hotels not always true - Jacinda Ardern

coronavirus 22/06/2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says reports of rule-breaking and inadequate supervision at isolation hotels are overblown.

Asymptomatic arrivals into New Zealand are meant to spend 14 days in managed isolation, while symptomatic arrivals are sent to more secure quarantine facilities until they're better, in an attempt to keep the country COVID-free. 

Ardern told The AM Show on Monday 20,000 Kiwis had successfully come home to date, with 4200 currently being looked after. 

But there have been reports of rule-breaking at some hotels, with people who are meant to be isolated mingling with visitors and staff. 

"In some of those cases actually, officials went back and checked on CCTV footage - some of those claims didn't always necessarily match," Ardern said.

Asked for specific examples, Ardern said in one case it was claimed there weren't any staff supervising people in isolation to make sure they were abiding by the rules - but CCTV footage showed this wasn't true. She declined to comment on others

"I don't want to necessarily get into a back-and-forth on some of those."

After successfully getting down to zero active cases earlier this month after a gruelling but effective lockdown, New Zealand has seen a week of new cases reported - all at the border or in isolation/quarantine hotels. Health officials have always warned this was likely to happen, Ardern reiterated, particularly with many Kiwis fleeing countries experiencing a surge in cases.

"Cases at the border do not mean their hard work has been squandered. We always had an expectation of cases at the border... This pandemic is growing, not slowing, around the world. 

"The reason we're likely to keep seeing those cases we have in recent weeks is we've had a doubling of the number of people in the last month who are coming in at our border, into quarantine. The number of New Zealanders coming home is increasing, and they are coming from - in some cases - at-risk parts of the world."

The number of new cases being reported globally every day is now in excess of 150,000. After declining between mid-April and the start of June, the daily death toll has plateaued at around 5000 a day - with hints it may be about to start increasing again, as the virus takes hold in poorer countries like India and Mexico, and continues to ravage the US.

Ardern said she had no idea the Government's protocols for testing people in isolation on days three and 12 of their 14-day stay weren't being followed before last week, when it emerged a pair released on compassionate leave who later tested positive hadn't been tested.

 "We set a protocol, we had an expectation that testing was happening on day three and day 12 at the moment we went into alert level 1," the Prime Minister explained.

"The reason I did not know is because I was not physically in the facility supervising the swabbing. We absolutely were told it was happening and day three and day 12... Our job is to make sure regardless - regardless - of what we were told, our job is now to make sure it is fixed... Am I sorry that this has happened? Of course I am. Of course I am. I don't want New Zealand to be in that position. But my job actually is to get on and fix it." 

She refused to throw embattled Health Minister David Clark under the bus.

"Do you know what? I am going to defend the minister strongly here, because he sought the exact same assurances that I did and that we did."

Nor Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, whose near-perfect reputation took a battering last week.

"He is still an exceptional public servant, absolutely. He of course stood on the podium behind me and shared his disappointment, he did share an apology. But all of us at the same time just need to get on with getting it right."