Chris Hipkins admits tracking system for border workers wasn't in place before 'testing strategy' announcement

The Health Minister has revealed that when the Government announced a new testing strategy for border workers two months ago, there was no system in place to keep track of how many workers had had a swab for COVID-19.

Chris Hipkins told Newshub on Tuesday afternoon a system to gather such data was now in place.

"It took too long to get that system in place," Hipkins told Newshub.

"It showed that testing wasn't happening at the level we were led to believe it was happening."

Hipkins said he's "fixing that at the moment".

He also pointed out that testing is just one part of "a very big complex situation that deals with a lot of people".

The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said he didn't think there had been a failure or that the public had been misled. Hipkins also denied misleading the public.

That's despite former Health Minister David Clark issuing a press statement on June 23, almost two months ago, announcing a "testing strategy to keep New Zealand safe".

The strategy was to include "asymptomatic testing of all border-facing workers".

He stated "priority testing" will be given to workers in Customs, biosecurity, immigration and aviation security, and cleaners at the international airport.

"Staff who work in managed isolation and quarantine" and "international air and maritime crew", will also be tested, according to the statement.

Hipkins and Dr Bloomfield continued to reassure the public they had a robust system in place on August 3, when Hipkins stated: "we do have a testing programme in place for all of those people".

Dr Bloomfield supported the Minister's claims, saying on August 3 the workers "are all part of a surveillance testing programme".

And just last week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated testing of border workers was happening "all the way through". 

On Thursday last week, Newshub revealed almost two-thirds of all border and managed isolation hotel workers who were supposedly prioritised for tests, had not had one.

National leader Judith Collins says what's happened is obvious - the public has been misled.

"What they have done is on numerous occasions told the public - all New Zealanders - that they knew what they were doing and that they had the proper testing regimes in place at the borders. They clearly did not," says Collins.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, clearly irritated by what had happened, spoke about the issue on Monday, saying it's not good enough.

"When we ask as a Cabinet for something to happen, we expect it to happen. So of course, that has not met our expectations," Ardern said.

"No one, of course, said to us at any point, that I recall, that what we asked for was not happening."

But Dr Bloomfield says he was providing regular updates.

"There's clearly a dissonance with what the Prime Minister thought was happening, and what was happening on the ground," he said.

"One of the things we will, and want to do, is go back and find out was there a breakdown in communication."

A breakdown in communication is a significant understatement of the situation. Health workers are now playing catch up, testing as many border, hotel and health staff as possible.