29 Jun 2020

PM Jacinda Ardern reveals $150m PPE purchase for border, isolation workers

4:57 pm on 29 June 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed the government is spending $150m on the purchase of PPE, with a focus on supplying frontline border and isolation facility workers.

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Speaking at her weekly post-Cabinet media briefing, Ardern said it was important the recent cases found at the border and the strengthening of border management needed to be kept in perspective.

"The overarching fact remains that New Zealand is in an extremely good position and we'll fight to keep it that way," Ardern said.

"Today we are announcing an additional $150m allocation for the purchase of PPE from the Covid response and recovery fund with a firm focus on ensuring consistent supply for our frontline, border, and managed isolation and quarantine facility workers."

The PPE stocks will include allocations to be given to airlines, so they can have them ready to give to passengers.

All passengers flying into New Zealand will be strongly encouraged to wear masks for their journey, as a further step to protect the border. But wearing PPE won't be compulsory as that would require a law change.

The funding builds on the earlier investment of $200 million in PPE announced in April.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods arrive at a post-Cabinet media briefing.  22/06/20

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods arrive at a post-Cabinet media briefing. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Ardern said the government would also ensure Air New Zealand had access to face masks for international travellers, and returnees would be required to wear masks as they disembarked and travelled to their isolation facility.

There had been no evidence to date of the virus spreading within the facilities, even with wider testing, "but that does not mean that there are not more things that we can do to give ourselves greater assurance that we have put in the highest level of protections in the area that is the highest risk," she said.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield had previously been reluctant to force people to don face masks - other than where it was clearly needed in a clinical setting - saying the jury was still out on whether that was actually effective in reducing the spread of the virus.

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A few weeks ago he said he would asked his team to look at requiring all passengers to wear masks on trans Tasman flights.

Air New Zealand then said it will be giving out masks on all international flights and strongly recommending passengers wear them following new advice from the Director General of Health.

In a release, Health Minister David Clark said the priority would be for gear like gloves and masks for frontline health workers, and people working in managed isolation and quarantine hotels, to ensure isolation and quarantine procedures are maintained.

"It will ensure health workers, who wear comprehensive PPE when they are in close contact with returnees as they do swabbing and health checks, continue to receive it.

"Face masks and gloves must also be available to other workers at the facilities - and returnees will also be required to wear face masks when they are in common or exercise areas," he said.

He said today's announcement ensured anyone flying into the country on Air New Zealand would have access to face masks.

surgical mask

Photo: 123rf.com

This follows an audit of the isolation regime at the border, released over the weekend, that found PPE had not been used consistently on flights, in transit and en route to hotels.

The question of whether people should have to wear masks, especially in small, confined indoor spaces, has been hotly debated, since the early weeks of the outbreak.

She noted cases worldwide had risen to more than 10 million, with more than 500,000 deaths.

"The virus is sadly growing, not slowing."

She said it was not surprising that meant New Zealanders wanted to come home.

"It's unrealistic to think we wouldn't have cases in that way ... let's not forget why they want to come home."

Minister Megan Woods, who has been given ministerial responsibility for the management of the isolation and quarantine facilities, said travellers who did not comply with the requirements could face a fine of up to $4000 and up to six months in prison.

She said 4873 beds are occupied out of a total capacity of 5811.

Housing Minister Megan Woods speaking at a media conference after an announcement that she would take charge of managed isolation and quarantine of returning New Zealanders, after a series of failures.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Cabinet today was expected to discuss changes to the managed isolation and quarantine process, including looking at partial payments for those coming to New Zealand.

On co-payments, Ardern said it would take some time to move through the issue and it was legally complex.

A review of managed isolation by Woods and Air Commodore Webb, who has been given oversight of the facilities, found the system to be under "extreme stress" and unable to respond to the increasing demands being placed on it as more New Zealanders returned home.

Ardern told Morning Report today that New Zealanders should have confidence in the government's response because it had "adjusted our settings every step of the way based on what we've learnt, based on what we know is working and based on what needs to be done. So while there is no playbook, we have been very agile".

"There is not one person to blame for all of this ... we just have to fix it," she said.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield confirmed two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation facilities in New Zealand today.

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