24 Jun 2020

Border testing: Woman's story of 'confusing' path to getting a test

From First Up, 10:40 am on 24 June 2020

A woman given exemptions from mandatory isolation without being tested for Covid-19, despite new border requirements, was contacted for a test after completing isolation - then left confused when told police may get involved.

Medical staff member in rubber glowes hands out Coronavirus nasal swabs test tubes at drive-through testing point in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Photo: 123RF

Ministry of Health staff are scrambling to test people for Covid-19 who were exempted and released from mandatory isolation without being tested, despite new border requirements in place at the time.

Between the move to level 1 on 9 June and 16 June, when compassionate exemptions were stopped, 55 people were granted the exemption. Of those, 51 were not tested before leaving managed isolation. The ministry said yesterday it was following up with those people and 35 had since returned negative tests. 

Seven would not be tested, either for health reasons, they were a child, or had left the country. Four people were awaiting test results and officials were still working to test the remaining four. 

Speaking to First Up's Indira Stewart, Caitlin Maka said she arrived here on 30 May after her father fell ill, and was in mandatory isolation at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Auckland.

She was given exemptions to visit her father on 8 June and 11 June. 

"I wasn't tested at all and I wasn't given the opportunity to be tested," she said.

"I just had family friends drop off my car to the hotel. Before I left for my exemption I just had to go to check in with the nurses, they gave me PPE, which was a mask, gloves and a gown, and then I would drive myself to my house. They gave me about an hour for travel time each way and then I was allowed three hours physically at my home with my dad.

"I didn't hear of testing until about day 12 or day 13 of my stay."

She said it wasn't mandatory testing. "They just called up all the guests on day 12 or 13 and said 'hey if you want to get tested, you can just let us know'. But other than that, before my exemption was granted and approved, and I was allowed to leave the hotel, I wasn't required to get tested."

She left mandatory isolation at the end of the two-week period on 13 June.

Maka said she declined the offer to get tested on day 13 of her isolation period because she didn't see the point - she had no symptoms and had already been released from isolation twice.

'A whole lot of miscommunication'

Last Friday, a week after she was released from isolation, she was contacted by a health nurse from Auckland Regional Public Health Service.

"She basically said 'I'm sure you've seen the news, we would like all exemptions to get tested. And she said, 'I know we shouldn't be asking this of you because you're already three weeks out from when you arrived into New Zealand'. She said 'it's not your fault' but because of the mix-ups that have happened and that have been in the news, they were trying to get everyone who was granted an exemption to be tested. She was quite nice about it."

Maka agreed to the test and was sent a letter to take to a community-based assessment centre in West Auckland.

She said there was no deadline by which it had to be done.

Maka said she was in touch with a nurse again on Monday morning to say she hadn't yet been tested but would get one within 24 hours.

Within hours Pacific health centre The Fono contacted her urgently.

They told her the Ministry of Health had told them that they were looking for her and if they didn't locate her by 5pm she would be reported to the police.

"I was taken aback because I had no idea that that was the plan or that's was what they were going to do because even when I talked to the nurse and told her 'Hey, I'm either going to go today or tomorrow' there still wasn't a time limit or warning.

"I had literally spoken to the nurse that morning, so I was quite confused about what was going on."

The Fono health centre told the ministry had said they had had no any communication from her and that no-one knew where she was, she said, "and that's why they were about to report me to the police".

"It's funny but it was also confusing at the time.

"They did have all my details. It's not like I was MIA or my number was wrong or my home address was wrong. Everything was correct in the information that I had given when I landed."

The Fono arranged for a nurse to test her in her home before the 5pm deadline on Monday.

The test results came back negative. 

Chief executive Tevita Funaki confirmed to First Up that the Ministry of Health staff had been in touch with the clinic looking for her.

"They asked for some assistance in locating some of the Pacific people who had been in isolation and who had been released on compassionate exemptions but hadn't been tested.

"The timing was that if we couldn't locate her before 5pm then they will pass that on to the police." 

"Obviously there's a whole lot of miscommunication going on all over the place because she had been contacted by the ARPHS nurse to be tested."

Funaki said the ministry had reached out to Pacific providers looking for a couple of people who had been released on exemption and hadn't been tested.

The ministry said its protocol is that people get a text first, then a call, and then they make at least four calls to try and make contact with them.