Two women who were allowed to leave their hotel quarantine early in New Zealand after travelling from the UK to visit a dying relative had “limited physical contact” with two friends before testing positive for the coronavirus, the country’s Health Ministry has confirmed.
The pair spent “approximately five minutes” with the friends before driving 650 kilometres from Auckland to Wellington, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday night.
The clarification came after National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed in parliament that the women had shared a “kiss and cuddle” with friends during a short pit stop on their journey.
Health authorities had insisted the women had no contact with anyone during their road trip, but Mr Woodhouse said he had a “reliable source” who said that was not the case.
“My understanding is this couple became disoriented on departing from Auckland and called on some acquaintances for help with directions,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“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.”
Mr Woodhouse also questioned how the pair organised a car for their road trip and how many stops they made on their way.
“I’m aware that the car that they used was borrowed,” he said. “So it’s worth asking the question about how they procured that vehicle and who they came into contact when they did.”
“Frankly a drive, depending on the vehicle, from Auckland to Wellington, with no comfort stops, with no petrol fill-ups, is simply implausible and I think that needs to be examined in more detail,” he added.
The two women were allowed to leave quarantine without being tested for the virus, even though one had mild symptoms.
One of their friends later attended a “hands-on” gym class, the New Zealand Herald reported.
WIDESPREAD ANGER AT BUNGLE
The two cases were confirmed on Tuesday after an impressive 24-day run of no new infections in the country.
The health ministry said it was “not uncommon” for information to evolve or details to be missed during contact tracing, especially when there was “heightened emotion, intense grief and stress” involved.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has now ordered the military to oversee the country’s border controls, saying it was “absolutely nonsensical” that the women were not tested earlier and controls clearly needed to be tightened to prevent similar failures from happening.
“My view is that we need the rigour, we need the confidence, we need the discipline that the military can provide,” she told reporters.
Health Minister David Clark also acknowledged widespread anger at the blunder.
Kiwis endured a stringent seven-week lockdown to eliminate the virus in the country and most social distancing measures have now been scrapped.
“New Zealanders have made great sacrifices to make it to this point,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“Our system has performed incredibly well as a whole in New Zealand. We have eliminated COVID-19, but I want this fixed straight away.”
“We’re the envy of the world in many ways and we want to continue being the envy of the world,” he added.
WHAT ARE THE RULES IN NZ?
New Zealand’s borders are open only to returning Kiwis and their families, with some exceptions for some foreigners on business and compassionate grounds.
But everyone is expected to undergo two weeks mandatory quarantine, mostly staying in hotels and avoiding social contact.
The programme that allowed recent arrivals to leave isolation early on compassionate grounds has now been suspended and everyone in quarantine must test negative for the virus before they are allowed back into the community.
– With wires