18 Jun 2020

Covid-19: PM denies personal responsibility over border bungle

5:36 pm on 18 June 2020

There have been promises to do better, but no apology from the Prime Minister for the latest bungle at the border.

Recriminations have been flowing thick and fast after the revelation two women were allowed to leave managed isolation early without the required test because of the death of a relative.

They later tested positive and politicians and officials are under pressure not only over the lapse, but also elements of the women's story that only came to light after being revealed in Parliament by the opposition.

On Tuesday the public was assured the women only had contact with one relative in Wellington, but by this morning there was an admission the women got lost heading out of Auckland and had "fleeting contact" with a person who helped them.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has already apologised for the border blunder.

"I've certainly been upset by it and I apologise that we've ended up in this position.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"As I said this morning, I want to reiterate I've taken responsibility to make sure the system is sorted," Dr Bloomfield said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to do the same when asked by reporters, however.

"Of course I feel huge remorse that this has happened, but I am making sure that we are fixing the system.

"If I had any personal responsibility for what happened here of course I'd take that, but my job is to lead, I wear that, and I keep going," Ardern said.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Public and government confidence in the border needs to be restored, she said, which is why the military will oversee all quarantine and isolation facilities.

All New Zealanders had been let down by the system failure, Ardern said.

"When we seek for extra checks at the border and we are told 'yes, they are in place' ... we take that as what is happening.

"To find out that was not was hugely disappointing for all of us," she said.

The Prime Minister and her deputy Winston Peters are also at odds over whether those responsible for allowing the two women to leave should be tracked down.

Ardern said she was focused on fixing border controls, not hunting down the public servants responsible for releasing the two women.

"It's obviously not my approach, nor what I am undertaking because actually what we need is to fix the system, not focus in on a witch hunt," Ardern said.

During Question Time Winston Peters said the error was unacceptable and that "we will find those at the coalface responsible".

"The reality is, there is a full scale investigation into how it happened, and those people will take responsibility," he told the House.

Winston Peters speaks to media on his way to the debating chamber in Parliament, Wellington.


"The fact is we are going to find those people at the coalface who didn't follow the protocols. The only way we can eliminate this sort of irresponsible behaviour or failure to require the protocol requirement is to identify those people and make sure it doesn't, as much as possible, happen again."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Peters said he believed this was the best strategy, despite Ardern's comments.

"I'll tell you why, if we don't find those people, and I'm not disputing anyone else's view, then they are liable to repeat the mistake again.

"I don't know how you think accountability works, but if there's a mistake you go and find out who is responsible, is it the person at the top or the person at the bottom?", he said.

Peters said this was not a "witch hunt", it was about ensuring the same error did not happen again.

"What would you do? If somebody asked you what would you do in this case, would you just say 'well I'm just going to make some spiritual statement', or 'I'm going to find the person'," Peters said.

The government turned the tables back on National during question time and revealed National MP Chris Bishop had advocated for the two sisters to be released from quarantine early.

Bishop dismissed this as desperate smear by the government to hide its own failings at the border.

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National MP Chris Bishop Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

He said he did advocate on behalf of the two women who had asked for help in getting their application urgently assessed.

Bishop said he asked for the case to be looked at by officials, but this was "obviously" on the basis that testing would occur and the rules would be followed.

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