10 Jul 2020

Covid-19 isolation escapes: 'These are not prisons, these are hotels' - Health Minister

1:49 pm on 10 July 2020

Health Minister Chris Hipkins says there are two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and has defended the managed isolation system, saying the third escape this week did not represent a failure of the system.

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The first new case is a man in his 20s who arrived in New Zealand on 28 June from India and has been staying at the Sudima Auckland Airport. He tested negative on day 3 of his stay, but then tested positive to a day 12 test.

The second case is another man in his 20s who arrived on 27 June from England. He has been in managed isolation at the Sudima Lake Rotorua and tested positive on 9 July on day 12 of his stay.

There have now been a total of 1192 cases of the coronavirus in this country. Three more people have recovered, bringing the total number of active cases to 23.

Hipkins said it had been 70 days since the last case of Covid-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source.

There were 2575 tests completed yesterday. Hipkins said he had been advised that the number of tests will increase over the coming days.

It was confirmed today that a 50-year-old man has been arrested after he cut through fence ties in a 1.8 metre fence to break out of a managed isolation facility in Hamilton yesterday.

Hipkins said he has spoken to the local medical officer of health in Hamilton about that incident and that he had been advised that a second test taken this morning returned a negative result.

He said he was also advised that there were no other customers in the store when the escapee was there, based on the CCTV footage.

Hipkins said he was advised there was a police officer present at the hotel but that the person left through a fire exit then cut through the fence surrounding the facility.

He also defended the system in place for managed isolation.

"Nearly 30,000 people have been through quarantine and managed isolation facilities since the Covid-19 response began and we are talking about three cases here.

"The vast majority of people in these facilities are good law abiding people who are coming home, who are doing the right thing. I don't accept that people knowingly and willingly breaking the law necessarily represents a failure of the system, these are not prisons, these are hotels."

Hipkins touched on the contact tracing tools used for the people who escaped their managed isolation facilities.

He said health officials and police were using tactics such as interviews, reviewing CCTV footage, cell phone movements and bank transactions in order to understand where they went.

"Alongside this, health officials will also make contact with businesses where these people may have visited. In the instance in Auckland, I'm aware that communications did occur between the supermarket and health officials the morning following the incident, with police having had contact during the evening of the incident.

"However, I have asked officials that they tighten up that process around providing advice to businesses in these situations, including the advice they provide to staff."

Hipkins was pressed on whether the Ministry of Health provided any advice to the Countdown in Auckland on Wednesday morning on what the supermarket should do following the incident involving the escapee.

"My understanding is that (the Ministry) Health spoke to them, but it was later in the day, I've been very clear that needs to be much faster.

"I think Countdown have worked very hard to do the right thing, they were not as well supported as they should have been and I think that that lesson has been taken on board."

Yesterday, there were three new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, all in managed isolation.

There was a total of 1190 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand and the total number of active cases was 24.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

On Wednesday, the one new case of Covid-19 was a man who had absconded from managed isolation at Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland and went to a Countdown supermarket on Victoria Street. The man is to face charges.

As a result of that escape and another incident on Saturday, the minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, Megan Woods, announced that there would be a permanent police presence at isolation facilities.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

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