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.

Winston Peters versus genomic tracing

From last night Winston Peters announced on Australia’s ABC that he had been informed by a “usually very reliable” journalist that the Auckland Covid outbreak was linked to a Covid quarantine facility – see Winston grandstanding, election campaign – but dumping on Government Covid quarantine.

Quarantine and isolation facilities are obvious potential sources of the spreading virus as they have been the only known locations of Covid cases for weeks if not months, so the claim could easily be correct and unsurprising.

What is remarkable is that a journalist would pass this story on to a politician who desperate for attention to try to save his political career and his party.

Usually stories are passed from politicians to journalists. This being reversed suggests the possibility a journalist is trying to help Peters and the NZ First election campaign.

Also of major interest is why the Deputy Prime Minister is grandstanding via Australian media and not working with the Government he is supposed to still be a significant part of. Presumably Peters and other NZ First ministers will be involved in the Cabinet meeting today that will make a decision of Covid lockdown levels.

And there is a scientific query over the claim.

NZ Herald – Genomic tracing used to find source of latest outbreak

Dunedin scientist Jemma Geoghegan says four Covid-19 cases at the centre of the latest outbreak in NZ – at this stage at least – do not seem to be linked to earlier cases in managed isolation or quarantine facilities.

That appears to contradict Peters’ claim.

Dr Geoghegan is using genomic tracing technology to try to solve the riddle of how the four Auckland family members became infected with Covid-19.

It was hard to be definitive, but the viral genomes seemed to be linked with genomes from English data bases on the Sars-cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, and checks were continuing with Australian viral genomes.

“By comparing the virus genomes from these cases to those from both the quarantine facilities and the global population, we can determine their likely origin and how long they have been circulating in the community.”

Peters’ source may turn out to be correct, either through being well informed or guessing the most likely source of the outbreak, but he seems to be working against the Government and contrary to current science.

At least Winston’s grandstanding may force the Government or Ministry of Health to address his claims and give us a bit more information.

Winston grandstanding, election campaign – but dumping on Government Covid quarantine

Winston Peters has a record of attention seeking grandstanding, especially during election campaigns, so this news should be viewed with that in mind.

In Winston’s world journalists are only reliable when they suit his purposes.

It’s hard to know what he is trying to achieve unless it is discredit the Government he is Deputy Prime Minister of.

Obviously the current Covid outbreak came from somewhere, and a quarantine breach is an obvious possibility, but going public via Australian media is a bizarre way for the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with this information if it is accurate, and nuts if it is false.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters claims Covid-19 cluster linked to quarantine breach

The Deputy Prime Minister Peters reportedly told ABC 24 News he was given the information by a New Zealand journalist, who he said was “usually very reliable”.

“It wasn’t an official, I found out from somewhere else, but I think there’s been a breach inside our quarantine system.

“I think, when that comes out very shortly, in a matter of maybe less than a day, we’ll find out that was the case. But you don’t always find out from your officials.

“You don’t always find out from the experts. It’s something you sort of find out by contact with other people.”

“I don’t know where this quarantine breach may have happened, but I think you can eliminate it being some new strain of Covid-19 that hitherto my country hadn’t seen.

“In Melbourne’s case, of course, it was – how shall I say it without being too critical? – pretty slack oversight and supervision, where it was put in the hands of private industry, which was a disaster. In our case, we got the army in early enough to know that that wouldn’t have been the problem. But there’s been a breach, and we’ll find out in a matter of hours, or within a day.”

A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office said they have not seen what Peters had said, but “no connection between managed isolation and these cases has been established at this point”.

If someone from National tried a stunt like this right now they would be hammered by media and by opponents.

The ABC interview is here:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/afternoon-briefing

This social media campaign today looks like a joke:

Is people leaving isolation a big deal?

Obviously if someone in isolation breaks the rules and gets out, and if they have the Covid-19 virus, it’s a fairly big deal. One person who got out this week and visited a supermarket put potentially many people at risk, they caused a supermarket to shut down and do extensive cleaning, and that resulted in many employees going into precautionary self isolation.

But is it too much to expect that with thousands of people in isolation in hotels (not prisons) that a few won’t choose to break the rules?

Perhaps we have to accept that a few escapes are inevitable, and as long as there are comprehensive systems in place to deal with it when it happens we should be reasonably comfortable with what is being done.

But this is an ongoing awkwardness for the Government.

When two women were let out of isolation without being tested – and tested positive after travelling from Auckland to Wellington – the army involvement in managing isolsation and quarantine facilities.  Megan Woods (name corrected) was also installed to cover for the poorly performing Minister of Health David Clark.

Things kept going wrong, people kept getting out.

Clark resigned and Chris Hipkins took over. He handles media interviews much better, and seems to bo on top of the details of the job much better, but people still got out.

The police were called in facilities 24/7, but people kept getting out.

Four people this week left isolation, despite a lot of publicity and public angst and anger.

Is this just something we can expect may keep happening?

The last person who got out, by cutting fence ties and going to buy some booze ended up in prison. Was this a fair warning to all others in isolation, or was it draconian, especially compared to previous consequences for absconders?

 

Government want police at isolation facilities, but Association unhappy

Minister in charge of Covid isolation facilities Megan Woods announced today there would be a permanent police presence at all isolation and quarantine facilities, but the Police Association says it is

Managed isolation and quarantine update

Following a second incident in which a person escaped from a managed isolation facility, security is being enhanced, including more police presence onsite, Minister Megan Woods said.

“The actions of some individuals who choose to break the very clear rules to stay within the facilities means that more resourcing is needed to protect other New Zealanders from the risk they may present.

“This behaviour is incredibly disappointing, but we are determined to maintain the freedoms we enjoy as New Zealanders in one of the few countries in the world who are free of community transmission of COVID.

“Air Commodore Darryn Webb and I have been speaking with New Zealand Police about implementing further security measures, and there will now be a permanent police presence at each facility,” Megan Woods said.

By tomorrow there will be one police officer stationed at each facility 24/7.

Extra senior security staff will also be added to each facility and security fencing has been boosted.

“All outdoor physical security around facilities that require fencing, including exercise and smoking areas, will have 6 foot high fencing installed by the end of today,” said Darryn Webb.

A lot of people and resources going into trying to stop a small number of people from not following the rules.

But (RNZ):  Police at isolation facilities may mean public less safe – police union

Police Association president Chris Cahill told RNZ’s Checkpoint the move had political elements, and was not the best use of police resources.

He said there was certainly an element of a feel good factor, and it was a distinct possibility that it would mean the public was less safe than otherwise.

“Is that the best priority? To feel good, if it doesn’t actually have a dramatic change in the security of those facilities? … I don’t believe it does.

“I think there’s a degree of making it look that politicians are doing the utmost they can – and I understand that, and New Zealanders want the utmost to be done – but I don’t believe that requires 24/7 police presence.”

He said to fully staff and monitor the managed isolation facilities would take between 150 and 200 police officers who were needed in the community.

“We’ve got police districts that don’t have many more than 200, 250 sworn staff, some of our smaller police districts, so it’s a significant number. It’s certainly not a core policing role.

As simple as this – there will not be cops available to attend family harm incidents, to attend injuries, to attend burglaries, to be on the roads patrolling for dangerous drivers. They have to come from somewhere and that’s the front line.

“This is a job that can be done by aviation security staff, customs staff, immigration staff – the people that aren’t fully utilised due to Covid issues that are created at the border.”

He believed Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield could give those staff the powers they needed to do the job just as effectively as police.

There were already 400 Defence Force troops stationed at the facilities and, he argued, there was not much need to have police there as well.

And security staff.

“If there was clear evidence that police powers were required regularly because people were trying to break the quarantine rules that would be understandable, but there’s no evidence supporting that.

“Policing can be called in when there is a significant issue of someone not following the rules but we’ve only seen two people that appear to have breached those rules so it’s not an issue of having all these officers standing around wating for that to happen.

“I think you have to be realistic. Two runners out of thousands of people that have gone into quarantine is not a great number and my information is only one of those was deliberate, one of them was ignorance.”

Is a 24/7 police presence necessary to protect the public from Covid (presuming the police would be able to stop all ‘escapes’ from facilities)?

Or is the Government putting too many resources and too much money into it to try to avoid the bad political look of people and virus leaks?

4 new Covid cases, review cites ‘extreme stress’ of isolation system

Four new cases of Covid have been announced today, all people who have recently arrived back in new Zealand (from India and Nepal) and were being managed in isolation. One man in his 30s was taken by ambulance to Auckland Hospital yesterday and is said to be in a stale condition. That is the first case in hospital for quite a while.

Of the 2,159 people who left managed isolation facilities between June 9 and June 16, after mandatory day three and day 12 testing was brought in and before compassionate leave was withdrawn:

  • test results are still pending for 342 people
  • there are still 427 people the ministry hasn’t been able to get hold of, despite repeated attempts
  • 137 people who will not be tested because of reasons such as being a child, being part of repositioning crew, currently being overseas or refusing a test
  • 79 people have refused testing.
As at 9.00 am, 28 June 2020
Total Change in last 24 hours
Number of confirmed cases in New Zealand 1,176 4
Number of probable cases 350 0
Number of confirmed and probable cases 1,526 4
Number of recovered cases 1,484 0
Number of deaths 22 0
Number of active cases 20 4
Number of cases currently in hospital 1 1

 

Meanwhile the Managed isolation and quarantine review has just been released.

RNZ: NZ’s managed isolation system not broken, but under ‘extreme stress’ – review

A review of the country’s managed isolation and quarantine system has found it to be under “extreme stress” and unable to respond to the increasing demands being placed on it as more New Zealanders return home.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the review on June 17 on the same day she announced she was appointing Air Commodore Darryn Webb to conduct the review and oversee border management.

Air Commodore Webb, along with Housing Minister Megan Woods – who has been appointed the minister-in-charge of quarantine and isolation facilities – announced the outcome of the review at Parliament today.

While the review found the system wasn’t “broken” it revealed the increased number of people returning to New Zealand and going into managed isolation was putting pressure on accommodation facilities and staff were only able to respond to daily challenges.

The review also identified there was an absence of standardised information for those returning to New Zealand and often the first they knew of MIQ was when they had a health check on arrival at the airport.

In many cases returning passengers weren’t even aware MIQ was required.

Other issues identified in the review were flight manifestos not being received until the inbound aircraft departs its overseas origin, which makes planning ahead of flights almost impossible and leaves little time for changes, particularly for flights from Australia.

There is also limited understanding of future demand making it difficult to do any long-range planning of the system.


Managed isolation and quarantine review

The government has today released the review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine and outlined the actions that are being taken to respond to issues highlighted by the review.

Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Air Commodore Darryn Webb says significant changes have already been introduced and work is urgently underway to address other issues raised in the review report.

Last week Air Commodore Webb announced a doubling of the on-the-ground Defence Force staff of 32, across 18 facilities. As of today, we have 168 NZDF personnel across 21 facilities providing 24/7 coverage. There are also more government and defence staff across the end-to-end system.

“This increased resourcing has had an immediate impact on the ground in terms of making sure our people are well supported to carry out their roles and ensure the safe transfer of returnees into managed isolation.

“The increase in resourcing will form the backbone of further changes that are being made to ensure the system is robust and fit-for-purpose.

“We have also increased oversight of the transfer of returnees from aircraft through to Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities so they are escorted by government staff.”

Other improvements rolling out now include:

  • Increased security for transferring returnees to managed isolation facilities
  • The standardisation of procedures across all facilities
  • The introduction of better information for returnees – from flight boarding through to entry into New Zealand and their exit from Managed Isolation.
  • Better information to communities where those facilities are located.
  • Strengthening of demand forecasting, reporting functions and coordination between agencies.

Health responses include:

  • More staff in facilities
  • Improved model of care – including taking into account issues like mental health and addiction issues
  • More clinical oversight to ensure a consistent quality of service in facilities
  • Monitoring to ensure there is consistency across facilities

“All staff supporting this process are performing to a very high standard, and have been doing so over a long period of sustained and increasing pressure. I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their ongoing work and dedication to the job. I am committed to ensuring they have the support and structures that they need to deliver well- functioning Managed Isolation and Quarantine for all New Zealanders,” Air Commodore Webb says.

Another Covid isolation shambles – shared use apartment building

More shambles – Hotel residents concerned over reports of quarantined travellers arriving

News that 12 busloads of people are going into quarantine at Stamford Plaza Hotel in central Auckland today has residents who live atop the building worried, but authorities say no decision has been made on using the hotel.

The apartments on top of the eight floor hotel are home to about 300 people, many of whom are older and at higher risk of severe complications or death if they catch the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Speaking at a media conference this afternoon, where he revealed that the country had two new cases of Covid-19, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said: “The point I will make is that over the two months to the beginning of June when we’ve been using managed isolation facilities, we have not seen any new infections as a result. So our procedures are good.”

He said that included no new infections for staff, who have been tested, especially during alert levels three and four.

“We’re now in a position where we will have caught up with (tested) everybody who will have come in from June the 9th.”

They should never have been is a situation where a catch up was required.

He said the issue with shared facilities was ensuring that people were separated. He has visited one and the extent that processes were in place was “quite remarkable”.

“It’s an ongoing work but I will point to the fact that we have not had any cases coming out of our managed isolation facilities in over 19,000 Kiwis that have come through in the past couple of months.”

Share facilities is nuts.

MEDIA STATEMENT: From Air Commodore Darryn Webb On Two New Cases (+ Statement On Stamford Hotel)

I would like to clarify a statement was made earlier today regarding the use of the Stamford Hotel.

I can confirm that the Stamford Hotel has not been used as a managed isolation facility. I can also confirm that, as part of our normal process to assess the suitability of a hotel as a facility, the Stamford is being assessed as a facility. However, no final decisions have been made.

Using an apartment building with 300 permanent residents for Covid quarantine is nuts. Who is thinking of doing this?

Quarantine debacle escalates as Woodhouse allegations confirmed

Widespread anger was expressed after it was revealed that tow women who were granted a compassionate exemption from quarantine travelled from Auckland to Wellington on Saturday before testing positive for Covid-19, breaking a 24 day run of no new cases in New Zealand.

In a show of no confidence in the Ministry of Health handling of quarantines Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed a military leader to review and oversee the quarantining.

A number of people came claiming poor procedures in quarantine.

It turns out that testing of people arriving in the country from overseas were not required to be tested, it was optional.

But it gets worse. It appears that the public have been misled after an allegation made by National spokesperson on health Michael Woodhouse that the exempted women didn’t travel from Auckland to Wellington with no contact with anyone has been confirmed.  Apparently they got lost on the Auckland motorway and met up with friends.

Yesterday Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield did not front up to media, instead emailing a statement (there was no update posted on the Covid website).

From The Spinoff live updates:

On yesterday’s cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in an emailed update, “As director general of health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

“In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

“I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again.

“We have put in place a number of actions to provide the public and government assurance that anyone arriving into New Zealand does not pose any risk from Covid-19.”

“There is one family member isolating with them who is being monitored daily by the local public health unit. The Ministry of Health is managing wider contact tracing from the National Contact Tracing unit.

“We are treating anyone on the flight or in the facility at the same time as the cases as if they are close contacts who have potentially been exposed. We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received.

“At this point, there are 320 identified close contacts. The majority of these will have been contacted by the end of the day. All of these people will be encouraged to get a test.”

The ministry is confident no contact was made with anyone on the women’s journey between Auckland and Wellington, the update said. “The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility. I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy  continues to be respected during this time.”

Ardern did front up to the media:

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has addressed media on why yesterday’s two new cases, both New Zealand citizens, were allowed out of managed isolation before being tested.

She said it was “an unacceptable failure of the system”.

“From the beginning we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach at the border … that is also why we required tests to be undertaken at those facilities – one at day three and one at day 12.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday, it did not and there are no excuses. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”

Blame did not lie with the two New Zealand citizens returning from the UK, she added. “It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job now is to fix that.”

Ardern said she would leave it to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to determine where responsibility landed and if anyone’s job would be threatened.

She said she was not considering sacking the health minister, David Clark. “The minister is in exactly the same position that I am, we both find what has happened here unacceptable, it is counter to what we were told was happening… He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem.”

Ardern was critical of the pressure she said was coming from “a wide range of quarters, not least from some of my colleagues on the other side of the house” to loosen the border. “We have always said that we needed to be cautious. I utterly stand by that.

“This is a growing pandemic, not a slowing one, and we should be extraordinarily careful, and I send that message to the opposition.”

But the Opposition responded with an allegation in Parliament.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Were the two individuals, confirmed with COVID yesterday, accompanied on their drive to Wellington, and, if not, how can he be 100 percent sure that they did not stop during the trip?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: They were not accompanied, and I am assured that they have been the kind of people, and have demonstrated, that they have followed the protocols in place with their self-isolation plan.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen reports that the two individuals went the wrong way on their journey to Wellington and came into close contact with the people who gave them directions?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No, I have seen no evidence of that.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware that the good Samaritans who assisted them were rewarded with a kiss and a cuddle, and would he consider that to be a close contact?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would be deeply concerned if that were the case. I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he been advised of the details and facts behind the allegations in that last question?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have not. I have certainly asked the question about whether there was any contact at all, and I have been assured that there was no contact along the way. So I have certainly not heard that report, and if the member has actually heard that and not passed it on, that would be very deeply concerning.

Last night from Stuff:  Ministry of Health confirms women with Covid got lost and stopped on drive from Auckland to Wellington

The Ministry of Health has confirmed two women diagnosed with Covid-19 after leaving a managed isolation facility in Auckland did not drive non-stop to Wellington.

Health officials had insisted they did, but Stuff revealed the pair got lost, stopped and met someone.

Politicians had questioned the validity of the claims but the Ministry of Health responded to Stuff late on Wednesday to say that the journey between Auckland and Wellington, taken by two New Zealanders with Covid-19 who returned to New Zealand to see their dying parent had been confirmed.

“Upon leaving the Novotel in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway, so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”

In addition, health authorities had been informed of instances where friends have made contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days.

The packages were contactless deliveries and the friends who had delivered the packages had taken all appropriate precautions to maintain physical distance, the statement said.

“As such there is no risk to the community from these interactions.”

A second interview with the sisters was conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and there were subsequent interviews on Wednesday.

The statement says the information was communicated to the Ministry of Health on the afternoon of Wednesday 17 June.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked for a comment on the revelation, she did not address the issue or that officials had been misled.

A spokesperson for the prime minister reiterated to Stuff what she had said earlier – that there had been an unacceptable systemic failure with the case.

“The government is focused on cleaning it up as quickly as possible and fixing the problems that led to it.”

Woodhouse was criticised on social media, I saw the usual ‘attack the messenger’ nonsense on Twitter, and also at The Standard, but there was also anger expressed there, see from here.

It appears that Woodhouse has been vindicated.

Also:

Something is up with this case.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/419252/ministry-confirms-women-with-covid-19-did-stop-on-trip

The Novotel Ellerslie is literally on top of the Southern motorway jammed hard up against the Greenlane interchange. Apparently they got lost between the hotel and the motorway, a drive less than 500m…yeah, right.

Someone is still lying.

There may be more to come out on this.

The Ministry and the Government should have fronted up with the correct information. This has turned out to be a further embarrassment for the Ministry of Health and the Government.

Stuff: Furious PM sends in military to review and oversee border controls after two new cases.

Ardern said the bungle was completely unacceptable and the “rigour” of the military was needed to sort out what was going at the border.

She appointed assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn Webb to review and oversee border management from here on out.

“We need the rigour, we need the confidence, and we need the discipline that the military can provide,” Ardern said.

He would be able to use the military to make sure the border was being properly handled.

“It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job is to fix that.”

“There is no room for error.”

It appears to be a litany of errors and incompetence.

That looks like a major vote of no confidence in Ashley Bloomfield (or throwing under a bus), and in the Ministry of Health.

This isn’t quite hero to zero, but it is a major denting of public confidence in Government and Ministry handling of the pandemic. Minister of Health David Clark has had a poor public relationship, nothing more from him since he expressed ‘frustration’ and ‘disappointment’ over the quarantine debacle before the latest revelations.

I don’t trust the getting lost story. I think it’s more likely a deliberate meeting contrary to specified conditions of exemption.

So this is likely to require Ardern to front up and try to repair the damage.


NZ Herald: Woman who MP claims ‘kissed and cuddled’ Covid travellers attended Auckland gym class days later

An Auckland woman who an MP claims “cuddled and kissed” two Covid-19 infected British travellers attended a “hands-on” training at her local gym yesterday morning.

According to a Facebook post by Felicia Alkin, the owner and founder of Highland Park’s Lioness Gym for Women, the unnamed member was in contact with the two women on Saturday.

She did not know they were positive until yesterday afternoon, Alkin said.

Alkin says she has now cancelled her classes and appointments, and decided to self-isolate with her family, until the gym member – who underwent testing this morning – had tested negative.

Contact tracing will now be a headache for the Ministry.

And the flow on effects of quarantine incompetence and laxness by the women are significant.

Two new Covid cases, border controls seem to have failed

Two people who came to New Zealand and then were allowed to break their quarantine and travel from Auckland to Wellington to see a dying relative have tested positive for Covid.

Why the hell isn’t everyone coming into the country not tested for Covid before allowed to break quarantine?

New Zealand has been very lucky in containing Covid, but people coming into the country have been the biggest risk and border controls have always seemed to be inadequate.

RNZ:  Two new Covid-19 cases in NZ visited dying parent – Bloomfield

In a statement released this afternoon, the Ministry of Health said the two new cases were related to the border as a result of recent travel from the UK.

The ministry said both cases were connected, but offered little further information, leaving questions for Dr Bloomfield’s media briefing.

Dr Bloomfield said they were both women aged in their 30s and 40s respectively, and were from the same family. They arrived in New Zealand from the UK on 7 June.

“A new case is something we hoped we wouldn’t get, but it’s also something we expected and have planned for.”

They traveled from the UK via Doha and then Brisbane. Australian authorities were contacted to trace people in Australia, Dr Bloomfield said. It was uncertain where they became infected.

As part of their agreed plan under the compassionate circumstances agreement, they were tested in Wellington. Both have since gone into self-isolation in the Wellington region.

Again, why the hell weren’t they tested as soon as they arrived in the country? Or at least before they were allowed to leave quarantine?

Compassionate exemptions temporarily suspended

Health Minister Dr David Clark says he has required the Director General of Health to suspend compassionate exemptions from managed isolation, in order to ensure the system is working as intended.

It can’t have been working as intended, unless the intentions were badly flawed.

Stress of Covid quarantine leads to arrest

From Gezza:


It appears that quarantine requirements are very strict, the conditions of those under enforced quarantine more rudimentary than generally realised, & that the services & help available to those effectively sentenced to temporary detention in designated quarantine hotels are causing significant mental health problems for some detainees.

Also, that the police response to those driven by panic or mental distress to escape to outside may sometimes be over the top & harsh. The court’s response to this case could be instructive – although it’s entirely possible that we, the public, will hear little or nothing about it, cos suppression orders.

… … … …
A man has been arrested after trying to escape an Auckland hotel minutes after a fire alarm was triggered.

A witness to the event said the man was distressed and “tried to escape” when he was detained by six police officers.

Police confirmed the man’s arrest and said it was in connection to a “mental health incident”.

The arrest comes on the back of a series of incidents reported by Kiwis in quarantine or managed isolation, some who say the strict restrictions have adversely affected their mental health.

Recently, a 24-hour ban on walking was enforced at some hotels to allow authorities to figure out a way to keep guests, and the public, safe.

The ban came under the scrutiny of the Human Rights Commission who said people who were legally required to stay in quarantine should have access to necessities.

In April, a woman was found in a distressed state in the Novotel Hotel car park by security officers. The woman, who was in her thirteenth day of managed isolation, was issued her with a warning from police.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/121609674/coronavirus-quarantined-man-arrested-after-incident-outside-auckland-hotel

It bothers me that this sort of thing doesn’t bode well for the police’s relations with the public. For the first time in my life, when I see them cruising through Tawa, I find myself now watching them automatically with some suspicion.

I have to actually do an intellectual override of that negative gut reaction, because these public protectors might not all be perfect, but they see some bloody awful things, have to deal with some difficult, even dangerous people, have often got a really shit job to do that none of us would take on, & I respect them for that.