Coronavirus: Expert condemns new arrivals for refusing to get COVID-19 tested

A professor of medicine at the University of Auckland has condemned returning Kiwis who refuse to get tested for COVID-19, saying there "shouldn't be any negotiating" on the matter.

Seventy-nine people have refused the test, which they're allowed to do. Current rules state they have to stay in isolation for 28 days instead of the usual 14, to make doubly sure they're not carrying the virus, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world in just a few months.

Des Gorman says there is no room for mistakes.

"I think that any border control has to be low-trust, high surveillance. It shouldn't just be discretionary. Once you enter the border and go into quarantine, there shouldn't be any negotiating about whether you have tests or not." 

More tests for the virus than ever have been carried out in the past week, as the flu season swings into gear, butthe only positive tests are showing up at the border. More community testing centres have opened in Auckland to help meet demand. 

Health officials are sure there's no transmission of the disease in the community, despite a few high-profile cases of people being let out of quarantine, some of whom later tested positive.

Dr Gorman says it's vital the border is secure to ensure the day comes when they're no longer needed.

"There's an expectation from the public that health officials will actually achieve a level of behaviour which is consistent with that demonstrated by the public. I think the public feels understandably betrayed." 

Des Gorman.
Des Gorman. Photo credit: The AM Show

The New Zealand Bill of Rights says "everyone has the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment". 

There have been reports of slack adherence to distancing rules at some of the hotels operating as quarantine and isolation centres, including mingling between arrivals at different stages of their isolation. 

Minister in charge Megan Woods told Newshub Nation on Saturday she's not seen any evidence of that. Dr Woods said she's been to six of the facilities "and seen what's happening on the ground" with Air Commodore Darryn Webb, who's overseeing the running of the isolation and quarantine system. 

"Some of the problems that are being reported... I certainly am not seeing when I'm on the ground at the hotels."

There are currently 16 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, all in managed facilities. The country has had 1522 confirmed and probable cases in total - a tiny contributor to the world's confirmed 10 million infections to date.

In April, Dr Gorman said New Zealand moved too slowly to stop the disease getting here in the first place.

"We had the huge advantage of geography - we're a remote island nation at the bottom of the Pacific. Our pandemic readiness had to be around our border, because we quite simply didn't have the resources to deal with a pandemic once it got ashore... If you look at the overall strategy which was 'keep it out, stamp it out', the amount of work we've had to do to stamp it out demonstrated we've materially failed to keep it out."

But since then he's pushed for a reopening of the economy, saying at level 3 we should already have been at level 2, and at level 2 was pushing to go to level 1, which is where we're at now.