Shane Reti on Covid testing in isolation

National MP and Opposition spokesperson on health Dr Shane Reti spoke in General Debate in Parliament yesterday on day three Covid testing of people in isolation.

Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to speak today about another hole in our border with day three testing, and I want to address it in several ways. First of all, it’s sort of a surprise. We’ve had the big surprises—the staff who weren’t being tested like we were told they were. This is a little unusual in that it’s only a small surprise to the Government, but unusually they will not fix it. I want to talk about it in four areas. First of all, I want to walk through the risks of not testing at day three. I then want to cover why day three testing’s important. My third point will be the process for counting those who have not had tests at day three, and, hopefully, my fourth and final point will be New Zealanders’ expectations and solutions.

So let’s start first of all with the irrefutable facts that we heard the Minister affirm today. They are: day three testing is not compulsory and the Government does not know how many have not been tested at day three. Those are just statements of fact, so let’s set that as the anchor and progress from there. I want to talk through the implications of not testing at day three and I want to create an imaginary unknown positive—not quite a carrier, but I’ll call it an unknown positive—who turns up at Auckland Airport, or any border actually, is positive but doesn’t know it; more specifically, they then do not have the day three test. What are the implications for this unknown positive of not having a day three test?

Well, first of all, let’s talk about all those who are close contacts. Their family members: clearly, they are all at risk from this unknown positive. We know there is cohort mixing, unfortunately, in isolation facilities. All those other cohorts are put at risk by this unknown positive. And if we look at a study that I’m hoping to come to shortly, a Nicholas Steyn and Shaun Hendy study, they say one of our biggest risks in our whole border policy configuration is the number of people that are interacted with—they say about five—in managed isolation. Imagine if one of them was the unknown positive.

The third thing I want to talk on is the Minister focusing on “Oh don’t worry. It’s all about day 12. It’s all about also having that two-week period.” Well and good maybe, but what about staff—if we just don’t focus on returnees for a while. Staff will be exposed to the unknown positive. Surely that can’t be a good thing. These are some of the risks.

I then want to talk to why day three testing is important. Without mandatory day three testing, the first time a returnee is tested in New Zealand is day 12—12 days after they’ve arrived in New Zealand! That’s a long period of time from our border. If we look at what happens when you do test positive at day three, it’s so important you’re immediately escalated to quarantine. That’s how important it is to have the day three test.

I think even more damning—and we knew it, and the Minister confirmed it here today—is that the majority of positive tests in managed isolation are the day three tests. We estimate between 30 to 40—something like that. Imagine if we didn’t pick them up. Imagine if we hadn’t picked up those 30 to 40 positive tests at day three and who they might have infected.

I’ve mentioned briefly the policy settings. The director-general referred to this paper [holds up a document] on—I think it was—Friday, when he said “Look, we know our policy settings are good, because it’s been tested by Nicholas Steyne and Shaun Hendy, and they’ve said, yep, it’s pretty good.” A small problem there. If you have a really close look at that, one of the input parameters to the modelling is day three testing is compulsory. That is part of our issue. If the whole policy setting has been grounded on day three being compulsory, and they’re quoting from this paper, we’ve been working on a flawed basis. That needs to be relooked at. What are the implications for making this modelling not compulsory?

The third point is the process for counting. How can we not count people who’ve not been tested? Let me go back through the mathematics. We know how many people have been in managed isolation. We know how many have been tested. Why is this not a simple subtraction? And indeed some of the media did exactly this last night and came up with a figure of 6,000 to 7,000 people. How can we not count those who have not been tested?

Fourthly, if we ask New Zealanders today, “What did they think is happening at the border?”, they think people are being tested twice. Some will know day three and day 12, but they think returnees are being tested twice, when in fact the reality is it is not compulsory to have the day three test. They think that we are having the day three test, because the director-general said so on 9 June, because the Minister of Health said so on 22 June, and the Prime Minister said in this House on 23 June “Testing of people entering New Zealand will commence in the week 8 June. These people will be tested at day three and day eight.”

There is a solution. There’s no surprise—no surprise at all—and the solution is not that hard: test at day three. We test at day 12. People understand that. I do not understand why we wouldn’t test at day three. I believe New Zealanders want a test at day three, and I commend that solution to the Minister.


More from Reti in Question Time: QT: more details on Covid isolation and border testing

QT: more details on Covid isolation and border testing

More detail was given yesterday by Minister of Health Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Covid testing numbers for people in managed isolation and also border (airport and port) workers.

3. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: How many people in managed isolation have not had day-three tests since the week of 8 June?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Mr Speaker, I thought the question was a bit longer than that. No—it’s been edited. The vast majority of people want to do the right thing and agree to get tested at day three and at day 12. So far, 20,065 day-three tests have been completed since 8 June. During that same time period, 19,473 day-12 tests have been completed, and there are currently 5,204 people in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ). There are some instances—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I’ve warned members about that interjection which is a reflection on me and my responsibilities. Mr Goldsmith will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are some instances where it’s not appropriate to test a person with a swab, such as young babies who are six months or younger. The number of people leaving managed isolation or quarantine without a day-three test has not been collated and reported in that way because before people can leave managed isolation they must return a negative day-12 test. I’m advised that only 15 adults have refused a day-12 test, and that means that they can be required to stay up to 28 days in managed isolation.

Dr Shane Reti: Is he really telling New Zealanders that the Government cannot count the number of people who entered managed isolation and subtract the number who were tested at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I’m saying that we don’t routinely measure the number of people who haven’t had day-three tests, because it’s not the most important consideration when it comes to our public health response. The key question that people should be asking is: “Are people being released from managed isolation at risk of taking COVID-19 into the community?” Because they get a day-12 negative test before they are released, they are not. With regards to those people who are in managed isolation, everybody who’s in managed isolation is treated as if they have COVID-19.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with reports that thousands of people have not been tested at day three in managed isolation since 8 June?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The numbers simply don’t support that claim.

Dr Shane Reti: How many people in managed isolation have tested positive at day three, and how does that compare to the number who’ve tested positive at day 12?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the number that the member would be most interested in is that, of the people who have tested—there’s 14 people who have tested positive on the day-12 tests; of those, 12 people had a negative day-three test, only two of them didn’t have a day-three test. Those were people where they had their day-12 test shortly after we had introduced the mandatory requirements around the mandatory testing regime.

Dr Shane Reti: Have the majority of positive coronavirus tests in managed isolation been at day three and not at day 12?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, that would appear to be the case, yes.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the member describe for the House the purpose of the day-three test from the Government’s perspective and a public health perspective, relative to the purpose of the day-12 test, which is primarily, of course, to ensure public safety?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The day-three test is primarily to ensure the people who have COVID-19 who are in a managed isolation and quarantine facility are getting the support that they need for that. There is very little risk to the public health from a positive day-three test because, as I’ve indicated, everybody who is managed isolation and quarantine is treated as if they have COVID-19, until such time as they get a negative day-12 test before they are released into the community.

Dr Shane Reti: If the majority of positive tests in managed isolation have been at day three, doesn’t that justify the importance of compulsory testing at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The importance of compulsory testing at day 12 is to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t move out into the community. Day-three tests—which as the numbers have indicated, the vast majority of people are doing—help us to better serve the needs of the people who are in MIQ.

Dr Shane Reti: Does the modelling that the director-general used at a recent media stand-up to justify the current policy settings at the border require compulsory day-three testing; and if so, has the Government made serious border decisions on a modelling assumption that now turns out to be wrong?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not sure I follow the question. Can I get the member to repeat the question?

Dr Shane Reti: Does the modelling that the director-general used at a recent media stand-up to justify the current policy settings at the border require compulsory day-three testing; and if so, has the Government made serious border decisions on a modelling assumption that now turns out to be wrong?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, and I do want to remind the member opposite that it was only three weeks ago he was accusing me and the Government of subjecting people to medical procedures in managed isolation and quarantine that they didn’t consent to.

Dr Shane Reti: Will he require testing in managed isolation to be compulsory at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The current requirement is that it’s mandatory at day 12 before somebody is released, and I have no intention of changing that because the public health grounds to do so would not be strong enough.


4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree with Professor Nick Wilson from Otago University, who said, “We must have had some failure at the border, it’s unlikely there could have been silent transmission for that long”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I agree with him that it is unlikely that there could have been silent transmission for that long, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) analysis supports that to date. However, that does not necessarily mean there has been a failure at the border. As I said on 15 July, when announcing our resurgence plan: “We only need to look to Victoria, New South Wales, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea to see examples of other places that, like us, had the virus under control at a point in time only to see it emerge again. This does not mean anyone has failed. It means perfection in the response to a virus and a pandemic is just not possible.” There are a number of ways the cluster originating at Americold could have entered New Zealand. To date, we have not established the source of the cluster, but we are working hard to investigate all possible options.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Professor Des Gorman, who, following the recent revelations that 63 percent of border staff were not routinely tested, said that the community “deserves better than such a casual approach to surveillance to possible infectivity among the border workforce”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is again trying to imply, without any evidence, that that is the source of the outbreak. I again point to the fact that the vast majority—the vast majority—now of our border staff, our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) staff, those at ports, have been tested, and to date we have not found the source of this outbreak. [Interruption] And for the member who is pitching in, the ESR evidence demonstrates that the genome sequencing suggests that the source of this outbreak was in very close proximity to the first cases, thus demonstrating that it’s not a matter of there having been, necessarily, a case that was not picked up.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Further to the member’s answer there, can the member confirm that the—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Minister—the Prime Minister, in this particular case.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Sorry. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the genomic sequencing has not formed a link with any case coming out of a manged isolation facility or indeed any other worker at the border—that that link to the B.1.1.1. genomic clade has not been established?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I can confirm that of those tests we’ve been able to run, we have not been able to demonstrate a link between the genome sequencing of this cluster, which is a B.1.1.1. cluster, and those to date, where we’ve had the ability to test, who have come through our MIQ.

Hon Judith Collins: When did her Government ask the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol which prioritises regular testing for staff who are more front-facing and at higher risk, and did the Government ask that the strategy make weekly testing mandatory for front-facing border staff?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, as I’ve referred to in this House on many occasions, we had a testing strategy that was endorsed by Cabinet on 22 June. It included reference to regular asymptomatic surveillance testing, which included, for example, customs, biosecurity, aviation security staff, and front-line staff at ports. Also, I had further, on 6 July, an appendix on the testing strategy in another Cabinet paper, which talked about proactive surveillance testing, including asymptomatic testing, and regular health checks of all border-facing workers—for example, air crew, customs, biosecurity, aviation security staff, and front-line staff at ports. So both on 22 June and 6 July.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Professor Nick Wilson, who said that “to prevent such outbreaks again, the Government needs to further improve the quality of its border management yet again.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I cannot tell you whether or not the member is quoting from some of the original statements from Nick Wilson, but I note her first quote was actually right at the beginning of the outbreak—so, I believe, somewhere in the order of 13 August or thereabouts. Obviously, an enormous amount of work has been done, sweeping across with surveillance testing of asymptomatic workers at our front line, and has not demonstrated a link between the outbreak at Americold’s site and our border staff. So the member can continue, of course, this line of inquiry, but I would say to the member that no one wants to find the source more than we do. It helps us make sure that we have got all of the periphery of this cluster. But it is not evidence based to imply it has come from one particular origin when we have not defined that as yet.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister agree with Dr Shane Reti that it would “be almost impossible” to have 100 percent watertightness at the border, and “I don’t think anyone in anyone’s hands anywhere around the world has done that.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Dr Reti is correct because, as I’ve said, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Australia—places that have managed to get their cases down low, although none have managed to do it for as long as we have—have all experienced resurgence. I note Vietnam reached 99 days and has been highly praised for their proactive and rigorous regime. They are yet to determine the source of their outbreak either. We will continue looking, but it is simply not fair to say that this has been illustrative of a particular failure when there is no link to our borders or anywhere else at this stage.

Hon Judith Collins: When she said yesterday, “we’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol”—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I know there were two members involved in that conversation, and I can’t quite work out how it’s coming through the sound system, but it is. Can I ask Mr Seymour and Mr Shaw just to be quiet. Thank you.

Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. When she said yesterday, “we’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol, a matrix, which prioritises more regular testing for those staff who are more front-facing and at higher risk.”, how does that differ from the testing strategy announced nine weeks ago on 23 June, which said the same thing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for finally acknowledging that the Government did ask and seek for asymptomatic testing, because that is true, and I have produced countless evidence in the House of that. What I’ve also demonstrated is that when we originally had that working through a voucher system, we could not monitor it adequately. We moved to pop-up sites at the airport on 10 July and 16 July. Then those numbers were not adequate, and we were seeking again to scale up the border testing and had every expectation that our surveillance testing, as contained in the strategy of 22 June, would have been rolled out. We’re now working with Health to get the support of other agencies across airports and ports across the country to make sure we have that ongoing surveillance testing. I would say again, though, to the member, that we still, as yet, do not have evidence that this is where the cluster at Americold, which we have not traced any further back than 31 July, at a cool store facility in Mount Wellington—we have not as yet determined where it came from.

Hon Judith Collins: Has her Government ensured yet that border workers are getting tested weekly?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I identified yesterday, we’ve had a first sweep of staff that has included both those that you would consider at higher risk, because, roughly speaking—280 or so agency staff just at Auckland Airport alone that would be considered higher risk. There are then some that are further back that we would still want to be part of ongoing surveillance. They were part of our two weeks of sweeping through. We’ve started that again. We expect that will happen over the next fortnight again, and then, from there, we’ll have a regime that means those who are more frequently interfacing, potentially, with at-risk individuals will be tested more frequently than those who are not considered at risk but we’d still want to be part of asymptomatic surveillance testing.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree that Part 3, clause 18, of the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order, which deals with crew of non-departing ships who arrive in New Zealand by air, should be tightened to require mandatory testing of those replacement crews after their arrival in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Those crews are directed to go directly to their ships. If the member wants to stop the ability for imports and exports, that is a matter for her. We have a health order that very carefully manages the safety of our seafarers and our port workers. If anyone is to have any time in New Zealand, they must quarantine. This is an arrangement for those who are departing a departing ship.

Hon Judith Collins: So is the Prime Minister happy for such crew to fly into Auckland Airport and then fly to Wellington Airport to then board a ship without being tested?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The order is very specific about it being crew who are leaving directly, or who are coming into port and then leaving directly to their home country. That is what those orders are designed for. Of course we have regimes in place that mean people should not be having contact, outside of those arrangements, with others.


6. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: When he said he hadn’t read the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Testing Strategy for staff at the border, why had he not read it?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): The Government testing strategy is the strategy decided by Cabinet. The document that the member refers to was prepared before I became the Minister of Health, and informed the Cabinet paper on testing which was considered by Cabinet on Monday 22 June—also before I became the Minister of Health. Cabinet took decisions at that meeting, and at subsequent meetings, that went beyond the initial Ministry of Health strategy, including on the issue of asymptomatic testing. It’s the Government’s approved testing strategy that I have been focused on the implementation of. Though I am a diligent and conscientious reader, I have not read every document the Ministry of Health prepared before I became the Minister.

Dr Shane Reti: Was this an important document for the Minister to read?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the member, once again, should have listened to the answers before reading pre-scripted supplementary questions. As I indicated, the document was prepared before I became the Minister and informed Cabinet’s approved testing strategy. Of course, as a member of Cabinet, I read that document even before I became the Minister.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with the strategy recommendation that testing of all border-facing staff is not viable?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. The advice at the time—and bearing in mind that the Government did get advice that there would be some difficulties around implementing that—was that we needed to find ways to get past those difficulties and make sure that that testing strategy was implemented, and that’s what we have done.

Dr Shane Reti: Have all border-facing staff, including staff at managed isolation facilities, been tested for coronavirus, and have they all got their results?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes. In terms of the managed isolation, yes. In terms of those front-facing airport workers that are at higher risk, yes. In terms of the port workers that are at higher risk, yes. Has absolutely everybody who has been at the port, for example, been tested? The vast majority of them have been. There will still be some where they may have moved on, for example, or we may not have been able to get in touch with them. That would be a very small number of people. About 13,000 people in the overall categories that I just mentioned have been tested over the last two weeks, and a second sweep of testing those people is happening again now.

Dr Shane Reti: Will it be compulsory for all border-facing staff, including staff at managed isolation facilities, to be tested weekly?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Not necessarily. The Government is currently doing a second sweep of everybody. By the end of that second sweep we will release a schedule that will set out how frequently people in different roles need to be tested. That will be based on a risk assessment, so that the lowest risk people are tested less frequently and the higher risk people are tested more frequently.

Dr Shane Reti: How infrequently could low-risk people be tested?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Those decisions have not yet been made.

Dr Shane Reti: When he said last week that staff testing failures were reported to him but were not facility-specific, why was the Jet Park, a high-risk quarantine facility, not reported separately?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I reject the first part of the question; that’s not what I said last week.


From Question 4 last Wednesday (19 August):

4. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Did he receive reports on coronavirus testing of staff at Jet Park Hotel, Auckland; if so, from what date?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Yes. I’ve had many conversations with officials regarding testing at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities since becoming Minister of Health. In general, reports and advice were not facility-specific and covered all of the sites. It’s important to note that testing for Jet Park staff has been available since 26 March, when that facility was first stood up. On 22 July, I was advised that rolling testing was being implemented at MIQ facilities, and had commenced at the Jet Park in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday, 10 July. This was the first written report I received specifically describing the testing of Jet Park staff. In addition, as late as 11 August—the day before the current outbreak—my office was advised the programme of testing of asymptomatic MIQ and border workers had been ramped up to commence weekly testing for staff at the quarantine high-risk facilities in Auckland Jet Park and Christchurch, and fortnightly testing for staff working in managed isolation low-risk facilities. Of course, by the time I had the opportunity to read that and ask questions about that, we were already dealing with the current cluster.

Dr Shane Reti: How many reports or updates did he receive indicating incomplete weekly testing of staff at Jet Park from the date he was told they were being tested weekly?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I did not receive a facility by facility breakdown of the testing of staff.

Dr Shane Reti: Given he said yesterday that several weeks ago, the Ministry of Health notified him in writing that all staff at Jet Park were being tested weekly, when did he relay that information to Cabinet, if at all?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The 22 July memo that I was referring to was specifically provided in the context of the Cabinet committee meeting that was happening that morning. They were the talking points that I was given by Health for that meeting.

Dr Shane Reti: When did he relay the information on incomplete weekly testing of all staff at Jet Park to Cabinet, if at all?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think if the member had listened to my last question, it would be very evident that it was on 22 July I reported that to the relevant Cabinet committee.

Dr Shane Reti: Can I confirm that on 22 July, he notified the Cabinet committee that all staff at Jet Park were being tested weekly and that there was incomplete weekly testing?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I think I have literally just told the member what I told Cabinet on 22 July—that I was advised that rolling testing was being implemented at MIQ facilities and had commenced at the Jet Park in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday, 10 July.

Dr Shane Reti: What is the first date that he received Jet Park – specific testing information?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It would have been within the last week, in the context of the investigations around this current cluster.

Questions on Covid testing in managed isolation

The source of the Auckland outbreak of Covid this month is still unknown (and as time goes on the chances of finding out where it came from diminishes), so questions continue to be asked about the effectiveness of New Zealand’s border controls.

It is known that the testing of people working at border jobs – airports and ports – and also at isolation and quarantine facilities has been inadequate and not up to the standard the Government (Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Health Chris Hipkins) claim to have demanded. How this came to happen is still to be determined or disclosed.

So this is one area where the Opposition has been questioning the Government.

Yesterday a response to a written question was promoted by National:

It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that the 3 day test isn’t compulsory. This and similar has been pointed out: “You can be required to stay a total of 28 days if you refuse to a Covid-19 test or are not considered a low risk by a health practitioner”.

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But that doesn’t address al the concerns raised by the Hipkins response. He said “The Ministry of Health does not hold the specific information requested…”

This may need clarification but it appears that the Ministry and the Minister don’t know how many people refuse the 3 day test. This raises further questions about the management of isolation facilities.

At a minimum I think the Ministry should know exactly how many people enter isolation or quarantine and how many people have the 3 day test (and also the 12 day test).

In particular they should know those who don’t have the test – they must know this to enforce their ‘up to 28 day’ requirement.

So either Hipkins is avoiding answering the question properly, or there is a serious problem still with the management of isolation facilities.

Dr Reti tried to address the issue in Question Time yesterday:

5. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statements and actions around coronavirus testing in isolation facilities?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Yes, in their full context.

Dr Shane Reti: How does he reconcile his answer to written questions that day-three testing has not been compulsory in managed isolation, despite the national testing strategy requiring day-three testing, and is this another hole in the border?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, there’s been no issue with the compliance with day-three testing, as I’ve said to the member many, many times.

Dr Shane Reti: Is day-three testing compulsory in managed isolation facilities?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, it is not, under the order. But as I’ve said to the member many, many times, people are doing it.

Dr Shane Reti: How does he reconcile not testing everyone around day three, with Dr Bloomfield’s comments five days ago that “if you have 14 days, plus the day three and day 12, plus … good infection prevention and control, that seems to be the best way of ensuring the lowest risk of someone leaving managed isolation who is infectious.”?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Because those are the things we’re doing.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that aside from there not having been compliance issues, if someone refuses testing, they have to stay in a managed isolation facility for longer?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, and as I’ve indicated many, many times to the member opposite, people are doing their day-three and day-12 tests.

Dr Shane Reti: How, then, does he reconcile not testing everyone in managed isolation around day three, with Dr Bloomfield’s June comments that “Everyone in our managed isolation facilities will be tested around day three.”?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I would encourage the member not to stick to pre-scripted questions, and listen to the answers I’ve already given.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Can the Minister confirm that since 17 June, no one has left a managed isolation or quarantine facility without returning a negative day-12 test, the test most important to the protection of New Zealanders?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I can confirm that. I’d also note that one of the reasons the day-12 test is so important is that we have had people who have tested (positive) on day three that have subsequently tested negative on day 12. This virus can have quite a long incubation period.

Dr Shane Reti: Are hotel isolation staff put at risk if day-three testing of arrivals in managed isolation is not compulsory?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No.

Dr Shane Reti: Have the Government’s border policies been informed in any way by modelling that formally assumed day-three testing was compulsory, when we now know it is not?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not entirely sure what the thrust of the member’s question is. As I’ve said, day-three testing is happening.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Can the Minister confirm that staff at managed isolation facilities are not put at risk, because within our managed isolation facilities, we behave as if everybody has COVID, and there are strict protocols in place to protect both returnees and staff, and that is why we’ve had 40,000 people through these facilities and one positive case in a staff member?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I can confirm that, and I can also say that I visited several of these facilities myself and saw firsthand the great lengths that the people working in them are going to to keep themselves and the people who are staying there safe.

Dr Shane Reti: Given that answer, was the maintenance man at the Rydges shown on CCTV to be wearing a mask?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: My understanding is that they haven’t yet been able to identify exact footage of the lift trip in question.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree that New Zealanders believe and have been reassured that testing of all arrivals into managed isolation occurs around day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’ve just given those answers. People are being tested at day three and day 12. There is no issue with compliance.

Hipkins repeated:
“…as I’ve said to the member many, many times, people are doing it”.
“as I’ve indicated many, many times to the member opposite, people are doing their day-three and day-12 tests”
“As I’ve said, day-three testing is happening.”
” People are being tested at day three and day 12. There is no issue with compliance”.

Those are definitive answers. So why did Hipkins say in response to the written question that the Ministry of Health does not hold the specific information requested? That doesn’t make sense too me.

Also, the lack of information on lift data is concerning. It should have been an urgent matter trying to determine how the maintenance man at Rydges may have contracted Covid. It must be important to know if he wore a mask when in the lift, because if he did and still contracted Covid in the lift that suggests it was by surface contact. This must be important information.

The maintenance man first had symptoms two weeks ago, on 11 August, and returned a positive test on 16 August.

Media release 18 August: Results of COVID-19 positive cases under investigation returned

The second case is a man who works as a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility in Auckland who does not have any routine contact with guests. His partial genome sequencing results indicate his case is not linked to the community cluster.
 
No other cases linked to this person have been identified to date.  

Further genome sequencing and matching is being completed today and fuller analysis is expected later. 

The person returned a positive result for COVID-19 on Sunday 16 August with symptom onset on 11 August. He was transferred to Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility on Monday 17 August. It has taken till this morning for genomic sequencing results to confirm the origin of the case. 

Genome sequencing shows a returnee from the USA with the same sequence as the maintenance worker was at the Rydges Hotel from 28 July to 31 July before they returned a Day 3 positive test and were immediately moved to the Jet Park quarantine facility on 31 July. 

At this stage there is no obvious person-to-person connection between the worker and the returnee from the USA but investigations continue. 

Initial reviews of CCTV footage and swipe card movements so far show no interaction between the two people including no entry to physical locations occupied by the returnee from the USA.

So CCTV footage was initially reviewed over a week ago. Yesterday Hipkins said “My understanding is that they haven’t yet been able to identify exact footage of the lift trip in question.”

I think Hipkins should know by now exactly what is known about any lift footage, whether there is any, and exactly what has been determined.

If he doesn’t know I think that is a serious failing. If he does know he is not being open about it, in fact he would have failed to disclose it in Parliament.

Also of note is that the person arrived from the US and was at Rydges Hotel from 28 to 31 July. The maintenance man has acknowledged the onset of symptoms on 11 August. That seems like a long incubation period for Covid, which obviously makes containment and tracking challenging.

Basic information like how someone could contract the virus from a lift should be gathered with urgency, and the Minister should be right on top of all of this. Unfortunately Hopkins doesn’t give me confidence he is dealing with his responsibilities adequately.


This exchange yesterday also points out “an administrative error” resulted in inaccurate information being given in a written question.

8. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation: What are the latest waste-water testing results for coronavirus in Auckland?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Research, Science and Innovation): Waste-water testing is taking place as part of a research project led by Environmental Science and Research (ESR), with funding from the COVID innovation fund that I established in early April. Positive results for viral RNA have been received from four of the five collection points in Auckland. The latest results are the Jet Park Hotel, with strong, positive results on 18 August, which is to be expected, given it is our quarantine facility; the Southern Interceptor, where waste water from the Jet Park Hotel mixes with waste water from 100,000 households, a positive result on 18 August; the Central Interceptor, a weak positive result on 17 August; the Rosedale Interceptor, a weak positive result on 13 August. There have been no positive results from the Western Interceptor collection point. These results correspond with what we know about the location of cases across Auckland. These results tell us that there is COVID-19 in these areas but do not give us precise information about the number of people infected or the stage of infection. One-off testing was also carried out in Christchurch and Queenstown in early August, returning negative results. This is another useful tool that can help us in the fight against COVID-19, and I look forward to providing further updates as the research project progresses.

Dr Shane Reti: When was the first positive test in sewage outflow testing in Auckland?Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Jet Park Hotel started weekly testing on 12 July. As you would expect, given this is the facility where we house people who are COVID-positive, that that would have started in early July. One of the reasons why ESR, with the research money they have, is concentrating the efforts around testing of the Jet Park Hotel, and the interceptor associated with the Jet Park Hotel, is because we have such low levels of COVID in New Zealand, getting the sensitivity of the test is proving a challenge. So the first test would have been in early July.

Dr Shane Reti: How does she reconcile that answer with written questions received last week saying that weekly testing at Jet Park had been negative?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: My understanding is that there has been a correction to the written question from the Minister of Health that was put through today, that the question did say that it had been daily, since the beginning of July, at Jet Park, returning negative results—that has been corrected to say “usually return positive results as expected”. This was put down to an administrative error.

That error also does not give me confidence in Ministry of Health information.