Coronavirus: Ministry of Health blasted as 'far too slow' to act in NZ-linked Korean COVID-19 case

The Ministry of Health has been criticised for not acting sooner to implement surveillance testing, after learning a man who'd been travelling here landed in South Korea with COVID-19.

It contacted staff at the country's biggest mall, Sylvia park, on Friday, informing them the man had eaten there, and announced a testing programme starting in three areas tomorrow. 

A new testing site in South Auckland's Wiri, preparing for a busy weekend. It's one of many sites being set up, all in response to the mystery South Korean case.

"The response has been far too slow," said Des Gorman, a Professor of Medicine at Auckland University.

"As soon as the person had the first test - regardless of whether you believe that test or not - these public health measures should have been put in place immediately."

The Ministry of Health was told by South Korea on July 25, six days ago, that the man had tested positive after landing there from Auckland.

It then asked for another test, which returned another positive on Friday. 

"You don't wait, and you don't wait for a confirmatory test - you act immediately," said Prof Gorman.

The ministry responded saying: "Contacts of the person have been traced and referred for testing since the day health officials found out about the case. The public health risk continues to be low."

Even so, testing is starting on Saturday in three areas the man visited: South Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown. 

"I think we've had issues over the amount of community surveillance that's gone on," says Dr Bryan Betty, Medical Director at the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

"I think there's been a degree of complacency about the need for community surveillance."

Dr Betty says a surveillance programme is key to ruling out any community transmission.  "The bigger risk is that we miss it, and everything we've done over the last six months is for nothing." 

The man is known to have been in south Auckland from June 20 to July 1. He then flew to Queenstown for four days in early July, before flying back to south Auckland where he stayed until July 20.

On July 20 he flew to Christchurch Airport where he left the country from.

Just on Friday, the food court at Sylvia Park mall was shut down as staff carried out a deep clean of the area.  

Management at the mall were contacted by the Ministry of Health and staff were told that the man had visited the food court 15 days ago. Staff say they did the deep clean as a precautionary measure. 

Health officials believe risks at the mall would be small, but the advice for anyone in the three areas is clear: if you feel sick, get a test.