17 Jun 2020

Mike Bush answers questions over botched Covid-19 isolation

From Checkpoint, 5:26 pm on 17 June 2020

Two women who have tested positive for Covid-19 are being spoken to by Wellington Regional Health staff, after claims emerged on their movements since leaving managed isolation on compassionate grounds. 

Speaking on behalf of the government today, former police commissioner Mike Bush - who is responsible for the all isolation facilities - told Checkpoint that he was aware of Woodhouses' claim.

"Yesterday, the two women concerned were spoken to by Wellington regional health staff ... we will know sometime this afternoon or this evening the outcome of that conversation."

The priority would be to inform anyone potentially involved first, before sharing it with the public, he said.

"Because if that is true, we want to follow up on that immediately."

The prime minister, Health Minister and the Director-General of Health all declined to be interviewed on Checkpoint tonight. Bush said there was shared accountability of what happened in this case.

"I'm certainly putting up my hand to be here and talk to this, because it's important that New Zealanders have assurance this is being managed properly.

"There's been shared accountability up to this point ... but as of today, the operational oversight will be accountable going forward."

He said the Director-General of Health had directed staff to test those granted exemptions from quarantine based on compassionate grounds, before they left the facilities. 

However that had not happened in this case, and Bush said it was "not good enough" that it had somehow fallen through the cracks.

"Dr Bloomfield has made that very clear and we're going to be working with him to ensure it never occurs again."

No-one from that same hotel was allowed to leave until their test results came back negative, Bush said.

"I can tell you that [Ashley Bloomfield] has ensured that the testing regime is now complete across that hotel."

Resourcing had now been increased to ensure compliance at managed isolation facilities, he said.

"I'm going to assume, until I know otherwise, that it has occurred in other places. But we are now working through that as we speak. We should assume that this is not isolated."

Earlier today, the Chief Ombudsman said new arrivals in the country were able to mingle at a hotel with other guests, including his staff, and announced an inspection of facilities would be undertaken. Assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn Webb was appointed to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities. Currently, all compassionate exemptions from quarantine are on hold.

Bush said the audit would be done "quickly and thoroughly", and would take a few days.

"Already in the last 24 hours, we've brought in more people to make sure [compliance occurs]. We've been managing about 3000 people at a time in quarantine and managed isolation ... and the majority are compliant."

They had heard accounts of those in managed isolation mingling, Bush said, but they had also spoken to staff who said they were ensuring people were compliant with the rules.

"When we started this managed isolation, people were very, very compliant ... those same expectations are upon everyone of those people in managed isolation. But at the same time, there's a responsibility on us to ensure that compliance occurs."

They would also be checking CCTV footage to ensure there was no mingling between those in isolation, he said.

"Some of the behaviours that we're seeing are indicating that people are less compliant and less willing, and part of that is because under level 4, everyone was under lockdown, now that we're on level 1, people who are seeing that freedom are obviously quite keen to be part of it.

"We've got to ensure that they're not, this is really important that we get this right."