9 Jul 2020

Ministry apparently MIA for hours after managed isolation escape

9:04 pm on 9 July 2020

Power Play - It's only been three weeks since Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Darryn Webb brought fresh eyes to the country's isolation and quarantine facilities, yet cracks in operating procedures are already being conceded.

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Air Commodore Darryn Webb and government minister Megan Woods were brought in to oversee management of isolation and quarantine facilities after flaws in the system were exposed. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

A gaping hole has been exposed in the country's Covid plan after two people absconded from managed isolation facilities.

The most recent was on Tuesday night when a man escaped a hotel in Auckland and shopped at a busy central supermarket - he was later found to be Covid-19 positive.

After 70 minutes he returned to his isolation hotel at 7.58pm and police arrived at the Countdown supermarket at 9.30pm.

Countdown and police worked through CCTV footage in the supermarket to see where the man had been and what he'd touched.

Together police and Countdown made a decision to wipe down surfaces, in particular the self-service checkout used by the escapee, at 10.30pm.

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

So where was the Ministry of Health in all this?

Nowhere, apparently.

Nowhere to be seen until after the store had reopened at 7am the next morning and Countdown emailed the Ministry to advise what actions they'd taken the night before.

At 8.15am the supermarket made the decision to close again for a deep clean.

With the exception of a staff member mistakenly opening it again for three minutes mid-morning - allowing 11 customers to enter and shop - the store remained closed for the rest of the day.

It's understood the Ministry of Health didn't give any instructions to Countdown about what to do, they made all decisions off their own bat.

When asked why the supermarket wasn't closed down on Tuesday night, Woods said that was a question better directed at the supermarket.

She said the supermarket had "done what needed to be done".

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The minister overseeing managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

But given the Ministry hadn't offered any advice on Tuesday night and Countdown isn't considered an expert in the field of epidemiology - it's unclear what Woods is basing that statement on.

Grilled as to where the health advice was in all this, Woods accepted RNZ had identified things that need to be looked at, and conceded there was no standard operating procedure that brings together, within minutes, all the key players.

A startling revelation given the country moved to level 3 more than two months ago and in that time any number of businesses could have faced a situation where a potential Covid patient had visited.

Asked whether this was a clear communication failure by the Ministry of Health, Air Commodore Webb said it demonstrated the complexity of how many agencies are involved.

But this isn't the first time communication, or the lack of it, has been highlighted.

Two weeks ago Webb and Woods released a review of quarantine and managed isolation facilities after a series of blunders, including two women being able to leave isolation early without first being tested.

At the time, Webb said one of the biggest problems identified in the review was a lack of communication.

It seems little has been done to address such a pressing failure.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, is taking a well deserved break this week.

It appears his ministry has decided to take one too.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

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