Military to monitor NZ quarantine after two cases detected in blunder

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday ordered a top defence official to monitor COVID-19 isolation facilities and borders after a “failure of the system” in which two overseas arrivals were able to leave managed quarantine and later tested positive for the virus.

Ardern, whose government has been praised for its early, strict and effective response to the pandemic, adopted the measure after reports emerged that two women, who had arrived in New Zealand from the United Kingdom on June 7, travelled some 650 kms (404 miles) from Auckland to Wellington without completing the mandatory 14-day quarantine or undergoing COVID-19 testing, Efe news reported.

The women, who were allowed on compassionate grounds to travel six days after their arrival in New Zealand, later tested positive for COVID-19, following which New Zealand authorities have contacted the 320 close contacts of the pair to ask them to be tested for the virus.

“This case represents an unacceptable failure of the system. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated,” Ardern said.

Ardern reiterated that people in quarantine and isolation facilities were required to be tested for the virus on Day 3 and Day 12 of their stay.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday. It did not and there are no excuses,” she said.

“Our borders and our controls at the borders must be rigorous,” the leader stressed. “They must be disciplined and they must have the confidence of ministers and all of you, New Zealanders, who got us here (to zero cases previously).”

Ardern then announced that she was appointing Assistant Chief of Defence Air Commodore Digby Webb to oversee all government quarantine and isolation facilities and undertake an audit of the existing processes to ensure they are being fully implemented.

“Air Commodore Webb will regularly report to ministers. As the assistant chief of defense he can also seek access to our military logistics operational expertise, and if needed personnel to assist in the running of the facility,” she said.

The PM added that Webb will make any changes needed to further strengthen border defences.

She also announced that the suspension of compassionate exemptions will continue “until such time as we can guarantee a disciplined and rigorous system at the border that ministers have confidence in.”

The two new infections have broken the 24-day streak of zero coronavirus cases in the country, which overall has recorded 1,156 confirmed cases and 22 deaths due to the virus.

New Zealand imposed one of the strictest quarantines in the world in March when it had only 50 COVID-19 cases and gradually relaxed its restrictions until returning to normal on June 9.