Wellington: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called in the military to enforce border controls after two women who arrived from the U.K. were allowed to leave quarantine early and subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.
“This case represents an unacceptable failure of the system. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated,” Ardern said Wednesday in Wellington. She appointed the Assistant Chief of Defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities, including the processes around people exiting them.
The move follows news that two sisters — New Zealand citizens who returned from the U.K. to visit a dying parent — were allowed to leave quarantine early without being tested for Covid-19 and were later found to be infected with the virus. The Ministry of Health has so far identified 320 close contacts of the women, such as those on the flight to New Zealand and in their vicinity at the airport, who it is now in the process of contacting, isolating and testing.
Any further infections would be a major blow for New Zealand, which succeeded in eliminating coronavirus by imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. The two new cases were the first in more than three weeks and brought an end to the country’s brief period of being virus-free, which came with the recovery of the last of its previous patients on June 8.
New Zealand has lifted all Covid-related restrictions on its population, including the requirement for social distancing. Its border remains closed to everyone except New Zealand citizens and residents, and some foreigners who have been granted exemptions, and all those coming in must serve two weeks of managed isolation in a government facility such as approved hotels.
Ardern said Webb would undertake an audit of facilities and practices and make any changes needed to strengthen the borders. He can also seek access to the military’s logistics, operational expertise and, if needed, personnel to assist in the running of the facilities, she said.
“Our borders and the controls at our borders must be rigorous, they must be disciplined,” she said.
The government yesterday suspended the practice of allowing some people to leave quarantine early on compassionate grounds, which was the basis for the sisters exiting their Auckland isolation to travel by car to Wellington. Questions are now being raised about the Health Ministry’s insistence that the women had no contact with anyone on the road trip — a distance of more than 600 kilometers (375 miles) that would take at least eight hours.
Michael Woodhouse, health spokesman for the main opposition National Party, today claimed the sisters became disoriented leaving Auckland and called acquaintances who came to help. They had close physical contact with these people, “including a cuddle and a kiss,” Woodhouse told media, citing a source.- Bloomberg