New details about the trip between Auckland and Wellington two women with COVID-19 took on Saturday have been revealed by the Director-General of Health.
Two women who returned to New Zealand on June 7 from the United Kingdom were granted compassionate leave from managed isolation last Saturday after the death of their mother.
While it was initially said by the Ministry of Health the pair travelled to Wellington without coming into contact with anyone, the Ministry said on Wednesday they had been informed the women did have "limited physical contact" with friends for about five minutes after they got lost and needed help.
On Monday, in Wellington, the pair tested positive for COVID-19.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told The AM Show on Thursday morning that at his Tuesday media standup he provided all the information he had at the time.
Then things changed.
"There was more information gleaned from the two women on the Tuesday night by the Public Health Unit. They actually didn't think that the contact that they had had was material and so they didn't communicate that to me," he said.
On Wednesday, National MP Michael Woodhouse revealed details from a source about the pair meeting friends after getting lost and having a cuddle and kiss with them. This led Dr Bloomfield to investigate further.
"Once I heard this information, that Michael Woodhouse had shared, I then had a conversation I had twice with the Medical Officer of Health and that updated information, which included a 50-minute conversation between the Medical Officer of Health and the women, I have now given an updated statement last night confirming some of what had been released and just making sure we are keeping the public fully informed."
Dr Bloomfield also provided The AM Show with new details of how the pair got lost after leaving the Novotel Ellerslie hotel, which is located beside the motorway heading south.
"The information I have got is that they took the wrong entry onto the motorway out of Auckland. I have lived in Auckland, but if you haven't lived in Auckland, you can get confused. They ended up heading north instead of south," he said.
"They were in a pretty distressed situation, a parent had just died the night before. They rang the friends, they met them by the side of the motorway just to make sure they were on their way. They were clearly very distressed and upset."
While meeting on the side of the road, "they had a conversation".
"At one point, one of the people who they met, put an arm around from the side, the woman," Dr Bloomfield said.
"The women themselves, the two cases, had no recollection of that and I think that reflects the fact they were so upset and distressed at the time. It was very fleeting."
The Director-General said the two people the women met have been tested and are now in self-isolation. Results are expected back later on Thursday.
The friends the women met are the same friends who supplied the pair a vehicle for their trip.
Dr Bloomfield takes responsibility
The circumstances of the two women's release from managed isolation have been scrutinised, with both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Dr David Clark saying the release wasn't up to standard.
Neither of the women were tested and there have also been questions about what the pair were asked about symptoms. One of the women had symptoms she put down to a pre-existing condition.
"We have been advised that there is an expectation people are being tested day three and day 12... It didn't happen at day three. Obviously, they have been given compassionate leave before day 12. Either way, none of it is reasonable in my mind what has happened here," Ardern said on Wednesday.
Dr Bloomfield said on Tuesday that after alert level 1 came into play last week, focus was put on testing those on their twelfth day. Day three testing only started this week, after the two women had been released.
On The AM Show on Thursday, Dr Bloomfield said there had been a "gap in effective implementation".
"There was more a gap of making sure the protocols and procedures were really clear for all staff. There are 15 facilities across Auckland. I thought it was all clear. I found out it wasn't," he said.
"I'll take responsibility for the fact that the introduction didn't happen immediately. It was being rolled out."
He affirmed that since this incident he has sent out a directive stressing anyone leaving managed isolation must return a negative test result before being let out.
Dr Bloomfield also apologised for the blunder.
"I don't think it is harsh. Of course, I've apologised to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health... We have got really high expectations and New Zealanders have those of us. We didn't meet them on this occasion and I am sorry for that. I am taking responsibility for making sure it is sorted out," he said.
The two women are doing physically well, Dr Bloomfield confirmed, and are self-isolating in Wellington. They are being regularly checked on by health officials.
Assistant Chief of Defence Air Commodore Digby Webb has been asked to oversee the quarantine and managed isolation facilities, including processes around exits.