21 Sep 2021

Timeline: How Covid-19 left Auckland with a man on bail

7:06 am on 21 September 2021

A pocket of the Waikato has been plunged into a "bespoke level 4" lockdown after Covid-19 slipped through the strict Auckland border.

The virus travelled with a recently released prisoner who had been bailed to a Firth of Thames address.

But why could he cross the Auckland boundary and how was he infected? Political reporter Katie Scotcher traces his steps.

A police checkpoint in Mercer, near Auckland's border with Waikato.

Police at a border checkpoint south of Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

The man had been in custody at Mount Eden Prison since April 2021 and was released on bail on Wednesday 8 September.

He received his first dose of the vaccine before leaving the facility that day.

According to Corrections, his bail conditions required him to be collected by a family member who would take him to his bail address without any unnecessary stops.

He was picked up by three people, one of whom was infected with Covid-19, and driven to a house in Whakatīwai.

Health officials believe the prisoner picked up the virus from the infected person who was in the car. They are trying to establish how long exactly they were in each other's company.

The group made several stops along the way, but officials know the exact locations because the inmate was wearing a GPS tracker.

They include two private addresses in Mount Albert and Māngere and a Pōkeno supermarket.

The trip, which would usually take about an hour, took the group 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Health officials believe he developed symptoms on 11 September, three days after first arriving at the bail address.

His infection, however, was only picked up almost a week later.

On 16 September, the inmate left his home and travelled to a police checkpoint at the Auckland boundary.

He could no longer stay at the house in Whakatīwai, so his bail was revoked by the court and a warrant was issue for his arrest, Corrections said.

The man was kept in a police cell overnight and appeared at the Manukau District Court before being taken to Mount Eden Prison on Friday evening.

Corrections has told RNZ the man denied having symptoms when he was taken into custody, but regardless, he was tested on arrival (standard procedure under alert levels 3 and 4).

He was double-bunked that night and tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday morning.

Both prisoners have now been moved to a dedicated quarantine area.

Positive cases and close contacts

As of Monday evening, three of the nine people who lived at the man's bail address had tested positive for the virus.

All three positive cases, and an accompanying adult caregiver, have been moved to a quarantine facility.

His six other household contacts have been tested - five have returned negative results. The final result is pending.

It's not yet clear if everyone who picked the man up from prison and everyone he visited at private addresses on the way to his bail address have been tested.

Five prisoners at Mount Eden Prison who came into contact with the infected inmate have returned negative day three tests.

Corrections said two of the prisoners initially refused to be tested but at least one has now changed their mind.

Six of the seven prison staff members who were also identified as contacts have returned negative tests and are isolating at home.

Police and court staff who were also identified as close contacts have returned negative tests.

Whakatīwai locals were also tested on Monday - 340 of them.

A steady flow of people have been going through a testing centre near Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames following the discovery of three Covid-19 cases in the area, outside the level 4 boundary.

A steady flow of people have been going through a testing centre near Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames following the discovery of three Covid-19 cases in the area, outside the alert level 4 boundary. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Crossing the Auckland boundary

Some have expressed frustration the prisoner was bailed to an address outside of the Auckland boundary.

But Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu said it was within the law. Specifically, the Covid-19 Public Health Response Order.

The order allowed a judge to release a person across an alert level boundary, Taumaunu said.

"The judge will consider a range of factors set out in the Bail Act 2000 including the seriousness of the charges and the time already spent in custody. In this case, the judge was satisfied that the grant of electronically monitored bail and the proposed bail address were appropriate," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was, however, asking Corrections why multiple people picked him up.

"There was a specified person who was meant to take them back to their bail address, so we're just working through whether or not bail conditions mean that that must be an exclusive arrangement, or not."

'Bespoke' lockdown

A map of the northern Hauraki area covered by the "bespoke" lockdown, to the left of the main Auckland boundary and outlined in blue.

A map of the northern Hauraki area covered by the "bespoke" lockdown, to the left of the main Auckland boundary and outlined in blue. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Part of northern Waikato has been put in a "bespoke" lockdown, as officials try to determine if the virus has spread beyond the man's bail address.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has issued a section 70 notice which covers an area north of State Highway 2 around Mangatangi.

Anyone who lives, works or has visited the area since 8 September must now stay home and monitor for symptoms.

Bloomfield has put the restrictions in place for five days.

"It could be shorter. It's for five days or until a medical officer of health says that people can be released. We think that will give us a good amount of time and we can adjust it as well, that's the good thing about a section 70 notice, we can just adjust it as we go if there is new information that emerges," Bloomfield said.

People can be fined up to $4000 or face six months in jail for breaching the section 70 notice.

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