Homeless man reportedly spent weeks in isolation hotel

New Zealand enjoyed being the envy of the world when it announced it was coronavirus-free.

But after 24 days, the star pupil found itself in detention.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ordered the military to oversee border controls, and compassionate exemptions from managed isolation and quarantine have been put on ice.

The Ministry of Health admitted this week two British women left isolation early to see a dying relative, travelling hundreds of kilometres before one tested positive to COVID-19 and two members of a Melbourne family fled after a funeral instead of returning to their hotel.

Now, a homeless man sneaking into a five-star hotel being used as a quarantine facility, reaping the benefits for weeks, is the latest claim to leave Ms Ardern’s government red-faced.

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NZ opposition health spokesman Michael Woodhouse made some startling revelations when he appeared on The AM Show on Thursday.

He said a woman jailed for not complying with isolation protocol had been released several weeks ago from Wiri Prison in Auckland before her COVID-19 test came back positive.

Mr Woodhouse claimed police had to “scramble to try and find her” as they didn’t know where she went after her release, eventually finding her in Palmsteron North.

“The ministry knows about it, and you don’t,” he said, describing it as “very serious”.

Host Duncan Garner asked: “What else do you know? What’s another case that you’re sitting on this morning?”

Mr Woodhouse said he had a “more flippant one” but a “reliable source” told the National Party about it yesterday.

“One of the five-star hotels housed a homeless person for a couple of weeks under the pretence that it was someone who came back from overseas,” he said.

“When the person was ready for discharge, he was asked for a forwarding address, only to tell the official that he didn’t have one because he was homeless.

“He hadn’t come back from overseas, he just joined the back of the queue two weeks ago, and spent a fortnight getting three square meals and a bath every day on the Government.”

Mr Garner described the news as “quite brilliant” and “cunning”.

Mr Woodhouse said: “It just shows what a shambles this thing is. The ministry should be managing this – it’s not actually rocket science.”

He said it was a “very reliable anecdote from a health professional” based in Auckland but called on authorities to investigate the unverified claim.

“The responsibility has to rest with the government with the Minister of Health (David Clark) and the Ministry of Health,” he said.

“We’ve done our job, and they’ve just demonstrably failed to do theirs.”

Asked about the case at a press conference on Thursday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said: “I haven’t had a look into that but now that I know about it, of course I will.”

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The two COVID-19 cases to break the country’s streak of zero new infections were sisters travelling from the UK and released on compassionate grounds to see a dying relative.

The women, one aged in her 30s and the other in her 40s, arrived via Australia on June 7.

Health authorities had insisted they had no contact with anyone during their road trip from Auckland to Wellington or used “any public facilities” on their 650-kilometre journey.

But Mr Woodhouse on Wednesday said he had heard otherwise.

“My understanding is this couple became disoriented on departing from Auckland and called on some acquaintances for help with directions,” he told reporters.

“When they were there, there was close physical contact including a cuddle and a kiss.

“I’m calling on the minister to require the director general to look deeper into the circumstances of that journey and reassure himself that he’s got all of the facts.”

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The revelation was confirmed in some respects by the health ministry on Wednesday night.

“Upon leaving the Novotel in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system,” it said in a statement.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway so they could go in the right direction.

“As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.

“These two people have been contacted by local health authorities for a health check. Both had already had a test for COVID-19 once they heard of the positive results and are in self isolation.”

Dr Bloomfield told RNZ there “were not hugs and kisses”.

“There was a very fleeting arm put around the women to provide comfort,” he said on Thursday.

“This was so fleeting that actually, the women themselves who were very distressed did not recall that happening.”

They had been allowed to leave hotel isolation despite one experiencing mild symptoms.

One of their friends later attended a “hands-on” gym class, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Late on Thursday, Dr Bloomfield said the test result is “pending” for the other friend.


In addition to the British case, six people in managed isolation at the Pullman Auckland, after arriving from Melbourne, were granted special exemption to attend a funeral in Hamilton on June 10 and return later that day.

The ceremony was for Deiderick John Grant, a 57-year-old member of the Mongrel Mob organised street gang who was killed the previous week.

But New Zealand Police were notified after the family absconded.

Former police commissioner Mike Bush told Newstalk ZB the group fled and an eight-year-old boy and 18-year-old boy were missing for “some time”.

“The six members were staying at the Pullman Auckland in managed isolation and were granted exemption on compassionate grounds to attend the tangi and return to the facility on the same day,” the Ministry of Health told the NZ Herald.

“Four members of the family returned. A teenager and a child did not. The child was returned to the hotel managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland.

“The teenager remains in self-isolation at a family property. The teenager in self-isolation in Hamilton has had a COVID-19 test and tested negative.

“The five family members’ request to join the teenager has been declined and they will complete their isolation at the managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland.”

Their attendance had reportedly been under strict conditions including to remain in their vehicle on the journey to Hamilton and to wear personal protective equipment if they got out.

Hundreds of mourners from around the North Island are believed to have attended.

Speaking about the case of the women from the UK on Tuesday, Ms Ardern said while the country’s efforts to beat the virus “have been extraordinary”, there was no room for error.

“Even if it is human error. It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job is now to fix that and that is exactly what I intend to do,” she said.

Dr Bloomfield said he had instructed that no one is to leave any isolation facility unless they have returned a negative COVID-19 test.

“I know that the case of these two women will have upset people and shaken people’s confidence,” he said on Thursday.

“I’ve certainly been upset by it and I apologise that we’ve ended up in this position.”

The suspension of compassionate leave exemptions means no one in managed isolation is allowed to leave to attend funerals or tangihanga – a traditional Maori mourning ceremony – “due to the number of attendees usually present”.

“These may be reinstated later, but people entering New Zealand should not expect to be granted compassionate exemptions for grieving with family, spending time with someone at end of life, or attending funerals or tangihanga,” the government states.

“COVID-19 could now spread quickly at these gatherings, and that risk must be avoided.

“All people planning to enter the country should take this current suspension into consideration in their travel plans.”

New Zealand on Thursday reported a third case of COVID-19 since eradicating the virus.

A man aged in his 60s who had travelled from Pakistan, via Doha and Melbourne, tested positive at the Jet Park Hotel in Auckland.

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