Patrick Gower has called out Countdown for claiming that its Victoria Street West supermarket in Auckland CBD was closed after a COVID-19 case escaped managed isolation and visited the store - despite Gower shopping there on Wednesday.
Gower's receipt shows the Newshub national correspondent visited Countdown on Victoria Street West at 10:42am on Wednesday - more than two hours after Countdown claimed the supermarket had been closed for a "comprehensive deep clean".
In a statement, Countdown said it closed the store at 8:15am on Wednesday after the escaped COVID-19 case visited the supermarket on Tuesday night. It said the store would reopen to the public at 7am on Thursday.
That information was later repeated by Health Minister Chris Hipkins during Wednesday's COVID-19 press conference. Hipkins reiterated that the supermarket had been closed at 8:15am so a deep-clean could be performed.
It was also only revealed at the 1pm briefing that the man - who returned a positive test for COVID-19 the morning after his excursion - had escaped the Stamford Plaza managed isolation facility the night before for roughly 70 minutes.
"The supermarket was still open. This is completely contrary to what the supermarket has been telling the New Zealand public and the Government. The supermarket said it was closed at about 8:15am yesterday morning - that is wrong," Gower, who is self-isolating as a precautionary measure, told The AM Show on Thursday morning.
"My receipt is right here - I was in there at 10:42am... the supermarket stayed open for ages. There were people going in and out of it."
Countdown says the store had been fully cleaned following the man's visit, and had only opened for three minutes "in error". In a statement to Newshub on Thursday Countdown's general manager Kiri Hannifin says the store was not told to close or clean by authorities but did so for "peace of mind".
"Once the deep clean was completed, the store opened, in error, from 10.29 to 10.32am," she said.
"We had actually decided to close the store for the entire day to support our team.[The store] opened for three minutes in error but had already been comprehensively cleaned at this point. There was no risk to Patrick Gower or the 10 other customers who entered the store at that time."
Gower, who is feeling "100 percent fine", is currently awaiting his test results.
The national correspondent reiterated that the information provided by Health Minister Hipkins on Wednesday was "not true".
"The supermarket had stayed open well past what they and the Government had been telling Kiwis," he said.
Gower has questioned why New Zealand was not immediately alerted to the man's escape, noting there was a 17-hour delay between the time the man returned to managed isolation and when the public were informed.
The new arrival is believed to have fled the facility at 6:50pm on Tuesday, arriving at Countdown at 7pm. He spent roughly 20 minutes in the men's grooming aisle, paid for his items using a self-service checkout, and returned to the hotel at 8pm.
At 9:30pm, Housing Minister Megan Woods claimed she was under the impression that the supermarket had been closed.
"What about at 8pm when he got back... why didn't the Government tell people then? People like me wouldn't have gone to the supermarket," Gower said.
"Instead, they stayed quiet about it until 1pm yesterday - that's a 17-hour delay in telling the public the truth that there was an escapee, who had not had a test, and had come from a high-risk country, wandering around Auckland."
Gower says at the very least, the Government could have issued an alert to the public after the escapee returned his positive test result on Wednesday morning.
"My message to the Government is this - this is not tiddlywinks we're playing here, this is COVID-19... The New Zealand public deserve this information a lot sooner - I wouldn't have gone to Countdown," he said.
"I would've got the info, life would've gone on. Instead I'm taking up time at a doctor's, I'm taking up a test, and I'm out of action for a little while. It's crazy - why didn't the Government just put the information out there?"
In an interview with Newshub on Thursday, Countdown's general manager of corporate affairs, quality, safety and sustainability, Kiri Hannifin, said the store was opened "for three minutes" on Wednesday morning by mistake due to a staff "miscommunication".
"The team, in error, opened the store up for three minutes - and then they closed the store again," she told Newshub.
Hannifin says the standard process is to open after a clean, so staff mistakenly opened the store to customers after the deep-clean was performed. She says the supermarket was quickly shut again after the miscommunication.
"There were 10 customers in the store in those three minutes - we let them finish their shop and then the store was closed for the rest of the day."
Hannifin also confirmed the man paid by card but not paywave, indicating that other customers would have touched the same Eftpos pad after him.
Patrick Gower's timeline of events
Friday, July 3
- The man, in his 30s, arrives in Auckland from New Delhi, India.
Tuesday, July 7
- 6:50pm: The man escapes the Stamford Plaza managed isolation facility
- 7pm: He arrives at Countdown on Victoria Street West. He spends 20 minutes in the men's grooming aisle and takes selfies. He is missing in Auckland for about 40 minutes.
- 8pm: The man returns to the managed isolation facility
- 9:30pm: Housing Minister Megan Woods believes she was informed that the supermarket had been closed
- 10pm: The supermarket closes.
Wednesday, July 8
- 7am: Countdown Victoria Street West reopens. During the morning, the man returns a positive test result for COVID-19
- 8:15am: The supermarket is closed, according to Countdown, for a deep-clean
- 10:42am: Patrick Gower purchases a number of items at Countdown Victoria Street West
- 1pm: Health Minister Chris Hipkins informs New Zealand that a man, who has since tested positive for COVID-19, escaped managed isolation on Tuesday night. He claims that the supermarket "remains closed".
This story has been updated to include a response from Countdown.