2 Sep 2021

Police arrest alleged MIQ escaper in Auckland

10:17 pm on 2 September 2021

A man with Covid-19 who allegedly escaped an Auckland MIQ facility this morning has been charged with breaking lockdown rules and has been bailed to return to a managed quarantine facility.

Security fences at the Novotel Ellerslie.

Security fences at the Novotel Ellerslie. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

The man was arrested this afternoon at an Ōtāhuhu address by police in full PPE gear after leaving the Novotel & Ibis Ellerslie without permission earlier today.

MIQ said the man has now been transferred to the Jet Park quarantine facility where he will complete his quarantine with additional security measures in place including a security guard permanently stationed on his floor.

RNZ understands after the man tested positive for Covid-19, he was told to stay at home and wait until someone arrived to take him to quarantine.

It's understood police were alerted and once he returned to the house, he was taken by police to the quarantine hotel and formally processed, and at some point after that allegedly escaped from the Ellerslie Hotel.

RNZ also understands a friend of his was involved in picking him up and returning him to the house where he was arrested this afternoon.

The man has been charged under the Health Order with failing to comply with an order (Covid-19) and has appeared in the Auckland District Court via a video link this afternoon. A judge has bailed him to return to a managed quarantine facility.

Police said the man's family have been "extremely cooperative".

Superintendent Steve Kehoe said police were notified just after 10.30am that the man had escaped from the facility in Ellerslie.

After reviewing CCTV footage, MIQ revealed the individual had left his room three times between 11.40pm on 1 September and 1.04am on 2 September.

The man then exited the building using the fire stairwell and approached the fence line.

After hiding in bushes as an MIQ staff member passed, he departed the facility at 1.07am.

Police later cordoned off an Ōtāhuhu address while they prepared to arrest him, Superintendent Kehoe said in a statement.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the alleged escaper had last been seen at the Ellerslie MIQ about 1am.

It was his understanding the person was located at their usual home address.

He said it was not known yet how the person escaped, how they got home, or how long they were there.

"We still don't have all of the confirmed information," he said.

The Novotel Ibis-Ellerslie

The Novotel Ibis-Ellerslie Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

He said CCTV reviews were happening.

"I do have information that suggests that there is some CCTV of someone hiding in a bush while a security guard walked past them."

It was not clear if the area was single- or double-fenced, he said.

"Most of the areas that people who are staying in that facility have access to are double fenced, so the exercise area has a 1.8m fence followed by a 2m fence."

He said somebody deliberately putting others at risk was unacceptable.

"If there has been in any way a lapse in the system that has allowed them to do that then that is something that I'm concerned about and we will absolutely be looking at.

"A lot of work has gone into making these facilities as secure as possible. If someone has made it out - particularly from a quarantine facility, where we extra-staff quarantine facilities because we know there's extra risk there - then of course I'm concerned about that."

The Novotel Ibis-Ellerslie was only recently converted from a managed isolation into a more heavily secured quarantine site, beginning operations at midday last Monday, 27 August.

"Obviously they've been stood up at relatively short notice, but nonetheless it should not be the case that somebody is able to get out of that facility," Hipkins said.

"Our expectation is that people should not be able to leave them until they've been cleared to leave them so I'll be expecting MIQ to provide a very robust defence as to what's happened here because it is not okay for people to be able to get out .... the security should be sufficient."

Responding police were dressed in full PPE.

Police also liaised with the Ministry of Health to understand the man's movements since he left MIQ and was found in Ōtāhuhu.

Officers are working on where the man will be taken and assured the community that every precaution was being taken.

A family member reported the man missing and the minister was informed 12 hours later.

Ardern, Hipkins knew before 1pm

Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were briefed about the escape before the 1pm Covid-19 briefing today but she did not raise it throughout the duration of the media conference.

A spokesperson for her office said they were advised before the update of an "unfolding situation" being led by police.

They say because it was a "live" event the prime minister would not talk about it while it was still under way.

Hipkins told reporters he was advised before this afternoon's question time the man had been arrested by the police, but made no reference to the situation in Parliament.

In a statement, National's Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said there were three questions that needed to be answered.

"Why it took 10 hours for police to be informed of the escape ... at what time management at the MIQ facility knew or suspected this person had escaped ... why the prime minister did not see fit to inform the public of the escape at today's press conference.

"Police have confirmed the person escaped at 12.34am, but they were only told at 10.30am the next morning," he said.

"The last thing we need is Delta spreading further into the community through poor oversight of security at MIQ."

Joint Head of MIQ Brigadier Rose King said the individual entered the facility yesterday evening.

"The fact that someone has absconded from one of our facilities is a disappointing and unacceptable breach.

"We are investigating how this happened and will make more information available as we gather the facts."

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