19 Jun 2020

Megan Woods on beefing up border controls: 'We are determined to make this work'

6:29 pm on 19 June 2020

Housing Minister Megan Woods has vowed there will be "robust systems" in place to ensure the managed isolation and quarantine of returning New Zealanders, and there will be consequences for people who break those rules.

Woods and Air Commodore Darryn Webb have briefed media on how they will oversee the managed isolation and quarantine operation.

Watch the media conference here:

It was announced earlier today that Woods would take charge of the managed isolation and quarantine of returning New Zealanders, after a series of failures.

The move follows the revelation two women were able to leave managed isolation at an Auckland hotel on compassionate grounds, without having a Covid-19 test.

Woods said this afternoon that the processes must be robust and this week showed they were not.

"We must be vigilant in preserving the status we have got to as one of only a handful of countries among hundreds to the point we have with zero community transmission."

She said there would always be people who will look to break the rules.

"But what I will guarantee is that we will have robust systems in place and there will be consequences for people who break those rules."

Consequences for returnees breaking rules could include a $4000 fine or six-month prison sentence.

"We cannot give up our privileged position," said Woods.

"We are determined to make this work because the alternative is unthinkable."

The management of people arriving at the border has cost the government $81 million so far.

Woods said that's the cost for the operation until the end of the month.

She said work is under way on getting travellers to cover costs in the future.

New Zealanders have the right to return home, so it is very complicated, she said.

Webb's first act since taking on the oversight of hotel quarantine and isolation is doubling the military presence at hotels from 36 to 72.

He said other reinforcements are also coming - with police onsite presence being increased at each facility, and after hours support available.

The testing regime has also been bolstered - with an assurance no one can leave quarantine without a negative test.

Earlier, a government spokesperson said Woods' role is new and she will have Ministerial oversight for the isolation and quarantine facilities.

The move follows the announcement this week that Air Commodore Webb was being brought in to review and take over border processes.

Webb will also undertake an audit of all the existing systems and written protocols to ensure they were being fully implemented.

Webb said this afternoon he had commissioned an end-to-end review of the managed isolation process, and a report is due next week.

"There is no doubt that this is a complex matter, but is also the most important part of our collective defence against Covid-19 while we remain in a global pandemic."

Woods' appointment comes amid opposition calls for Health Minister David Clark to resign over the litany of lapses in the isolation management system.

The revelation that the two women who were released had since tested positive for Covid-19 led to all compassionate exemptions being suspended earlier this week.

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