NZ slammed for allowing people to leave quarantine without COVID-19 testing
Jacinda Ardern’s government has been accused of risking the health of New Zealanders after revelations most people allowed to leave COVID-19 quarantine in June did so without tests.
Of the 55 Kiwis granted compassionate exemptions to leave isolation between June 9 and 16, all but four did so without a coronavirus test.
The Ministry of Health admitted the failing in an after-hours press release after its Director General of Health spent a week unable to answer questions on its testing regime.
Opposition leader Todd Muller seized on the declaration, calling it a “national disgrace” and asking besieged health minister David Clark to resign.
“The minister of health ultimately has been accountable (and must step down. The prime minister seems simply incapable of showing leadership that New Zealand would expect at a time like this,” Mr Muller told Radio NZ.
“If the net effect of all of those lapsed protocols is that we avoid community transmission, we are indeed a lucky country.”
Mr Clark previously offered to resign after being caught making multiple lockdown breaches, only for Ms Ardern to decline it, saying disruption in the portfolio was undesirable during the crisis.
The compassionate exemption system was introduced to allow Kiwis to see terminally-ill loved ones or attend funerals after racing home from overseas.
The revelation that two women were granted releases without being tested – only to test positive last week – prompted Ms Ardern to pause the exemptions regime and conduct a review.
Siouxsie Wlies, a University of Auckland microbiologist who has become one of New Zealand’s most trusted figures through the crisis, said the chances of COVID-19 returning to the community through an exemption was “very low”.
“The isolation is our best defence,” she said.
“It’s not the testing, it’s about the isolation (but in the best case scenario, we’d have no one leaving isolation.”
Under the government’s coronavirus elimination strategy, all international arrivals have been asked to isolate for a fortnight to minimise the risk of the deadly virus spreading back into the community.
While 22 have died from the disease in New Zealand, the country has also achieved COVID-free status earlier this month after the return to health of the last active case.
That allowed Ms Ardern’s government to remove all restrictions on gatherings and businesses, and concentrate the country’s COVID fight at the border.
That has not proved an easy task.
More than 21,000 arrivals – with Australia the most popular country of departure – have gone through a fortnight of isolation, which is managed and paid for by the government.
New Zealand has spent $76 million on the quarantine regime to date with another $279 million budgeted for the rest of the calendar year.