Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern 'incredibly angry' at 'oversimplified', 'wrong' Auckland testing message

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called an "important" public health directive that was published on official Unite Against COVID-19 social media pages as "oversimplified" and "wrong".

The message, which was published on Friday, said, "If you're in south or west Auckland, please have a test".

The message contradicted earlier guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, with both Health Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield urging those in good health to stay away from testing centres so workers could prioritise symptomatic people. 

Posts with this message have since been removed from all Unite Against COVID-19 pages.

Ardern said while the detail within the message was correct, these posts are not what health officials are currently asking.

"It was wrong, it was over-simplified, and we're working very hard now to deal with what that's created with the community and making sure that, of course, we're correcting that," she said during a press conference on Sunday.

"I haven't seen it, but I'm told within the message itself, I'm told the details were correct, the topline messaging was simply over-simplified and it was incorrect. So we will keep correcting that."

She said the message made her "incredibly angry" due to the importance of being clear and direct with what protocols health officials ask the public to follow.

"It's made an ask that's just not correct. We are not asking every single person in west and south Auckland to get a test. That is not our ask, that's not what we're encouraging," Ardern said.

"We're asking people who have cold symptoms, who have flu symptoms and if they have any connection to the cases that we're currently very focussed on, those are the individuals who we want tested."

She added while there is asymptomatic testing being undertaken in certain places, she's not asking west and south Auckland residents to get a test "without reason" at this point in time.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ardern said an "issue" within government agencies is that not all communication is individually signed off by her, so there needs to be processes in place to ensure there isn't an "oversimplification of messaging".

"We just can't afford to have messages like that go out incorrectly," she said.

"Everything you've heard from this podium [during press conferences] consistently has said the same thing. Someone who unfortunately has been working on the [communications] hasn't adhered to what is being said here."

The 'advice' in the now-deleted social media posts caused confusion among Aucklanders, with one woman claiming Healthline hadn't been briefed on the updated information.

"I just called Healthline to ask about the test, and I was told that they weren't briefed about this. What's the deal? We are in west Auckland and [have] no symptoms. Should we go get a test? And will the children need testing too?"

In response to concern over the social media posts and to clarify its testing message, a COVID-19 all-of-government spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday that widespread testing remains a "critical part" of eliminating the virus, especially for those who have come into contact with confirmed or probable cases.

"We've seen from this resurgence that a number of workplaces and other social and religious venues have been affected. That's why we are encouraging people located in south or west Auckland who have either been in contact with a confirmed or probable case, or have been at one of the workplaces or religious venues, to get tested, even if they don't have symptoms," they said.

"We are also encouraging those who have a greater risk of poor health outcomes if they were to get COVID-19, to get a test as well. If in doubt, it's best to get a test. Our ability to stop this virus comes down to ensuring we track it and contain it before it spreads further."

They didn't mention asymptomatic testing directly.