8 Jul 2020

Megan Woods on Covid-19 escape: 'Things have changed in terms of non-compliance'

From Checkpoint, 5:17 pm on 8 July 2020

The attitudes of those in managed isolation and quarantine facilities has changed, with some people struggling to comply with the rules when they see an opportunity, Megan Woods says.

Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine, told Checkpoint at first, people were compliant with the rules when arriving in the country, not willing to escape from them.

Woods was speaking about the case of 32-year-old man who escaped from managed isolation at the Stamford Hotel last night and visited a supermarket before testing positive for Covid-19 today.

"Things have changed, even in the last week and a half, in terms of the range of incidents we are seeing, in terms of non-compliance.

"In the beginning, we had a very compliant population who came in ... and we didn't have people who were attempting to climb fences or slip through gaps when they saw an opportunity."

Asked why people's attitudes had changed, Woods said: "I don't have insight into each and every individual in those facilities but one thing I would observe is that they are probably looking out their windows and seeing a level 1 world operating when they are living in level 4, which is quite different."

Housing people in facilities outside cities would be ideal, but she said they also had to be close to medical personnel and testing facilities.

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Minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

In the wake of the escape, the smoking policy at managed isolation and quarantine facilities was being reviewed, Woods said.

"We're going to have more to say on that tomorrow."

Options like having identification bands were "all things we are looking at", Woods said.

"We are looking at a range of options to ensure that we are providing the strongest line of defence to defend New Zealanders."

The man who escaped yesterday's action were "hugely disappointing", she said.

"We are asking those people coming home to make the necessary sacrifices to keep their fellow Kiwis safe. This man broke the law."

Woods said the reports she received said there was confusion over the man's identity due to fences being replaced.

"He used the opportunity of people around ... to slip through."

Woods said the security guards at the facilities were "not police, they can't arrest and detain. They can do the things that ... security guards can do."

Stamford Plaza in Auckland.

Stamford Plaza in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Jean Bell

Earlier today, minister of health Chris Hipkins revealed that the country's latest case of Covid-19 escaped from managed isolation last night.

Hipkins said the 32-year-old man, who arrived from India on 3 July, left his managed isolation last night to go to the Countdown supermarket on Victoria Street in central Auckland.

The man was outside the facility for 70 minutes.

Woods said during that time he spent 20 minutes at the Victoria Street Countdown in central Auckland.

The Victoria Street Coundown in Auckland. Photo:

Hipkins said after CCTV footage was viewed and the man was interviewed, the current assessment of the risk to the public was low.

The government was working with the supermarket to track his movements through the store to ascertain what contact tracing was required.

Still, precautions are being taken - Countdown said the supermarket closed for cleaning at 8.15am today and will reopen tomorrow and Covid-19 testing facilities are on standby.

Work was still underway to determine what he had done for the remainder of the time he was away from the hotel.

The man will be charged and faces up to six months in prison or a $4000 fine.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, head of managed isolation and quarantine, said: "The actions of this man are completely unacceptable.

"We take any breach of the Covid-19 rules very seriously. Wilfully leaving our facilities will not be tolerated, and the appropriate action will be taken."

Countdown spokesperson Kiri Hannifin told Checkpoint they were in a bit of a fright after finding out, although the risk was low and the store was shut for cleaning.

"We haven't traded all day but mostly it's an emotional toll for our team, we had a 12 [people] team on the floor last night when this guy came, but we also had six nightfill team who we're also asking to self-isolate, so 18 altogether."

They will be tested on Friday as precaution, Hannifin said.

"It's disappointing … it's really regrettable. I'm very sorry for our team, I feel so sad for them."

The man had slipped past security at the hotel after being mistaken for a fencing contractor. But Hannifin said he didn't look like a contractor from his attire.

He had spent 20 minutes in the store, she said, the majority of the time - about 14 minutes - in the health and beauty isle.  

"After that he kind of wanders around the store, generally looking around and then he's at the [self] checkout for about 90 seconds.

"He had a phone with him and he was taking photos with the phone."

When asked if those were selfies, she said yes. He ended up buying toothpaste, body wash and razors, she said.

Upon reviewing security footage, she said they noted he had not interacted with customers or staff, but customers were briefly within 1m of the man during his time there as they passed him.

"We are confident, and the ministry of health is confident, that the risk is very, very small."

In a message to people isolating, she said: "Do us a solid and follow the rules."