A recently-returned New Zealander has hit back at minister Megan Woods for taking a crack at his credibility after he claimed different groups had been mixing in managed isolation.
Returnee Michael Lunjevich alleges that on his first day at an unnamed managed isolation facility, he came into contact with guests nearing the end of their 14-day stay. He claims that groups at different stages of their mandatory isolation period were not separated in the facility, meaning new arrivals - who may not be COVID-free - were able to come into the vicinity of those about to be released into the community.
"You arrive at the hotel and you see people on day 14 of their [isolation period], and we're on day one," Lunjevich told The AM Show on Tuesday.
"We arrived, we got tested on day four, got our results on day seven. And in that time there's been two or three different groups that have checked out of the hotel and gone out to the community, thinking that they're COVID-free. Thankfully we were negative - but if we were positive, they could've caught it from us."
He called for better management of returnees at different stages of the 14-day period, claiming staff are managing "a spread of 14 days in one facility".
"It's not that hard to [group] people together," he said.
On Wednesday, The AM Show host Duncan Garner relayed Lunjevich's claims to Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine. However, she flatly rejected the allegations.
"What would have happened is he would've been checked in, [in a] cohort that would've arrived together," she said. "He would not have been mixing and mingling with people from different cohorts.
"He would've been checked in, he would've been taken to his room. You're allowed out of your room for exercise, for smokers to go and have a cigarette. That is all done in a very prescribed way."
Woods dismissed the allegations of poor management, implying that if any "mixing and mingling" of returnees had occurred, it was because Lunjevich had breached the rules.
"He shouldn't be mixing with anybody. That's the clear expectation of anyone in isolation," she said. "If someone is choosing to break the rules and mix and mingle with anyone outside of their bubble, they're letting all of us down.
"If he claims he was mixing and mingling with other people, that is well below the expectations... I think that individual needs to take some responsibility for his actions inside the facility."
Following the minister's crack at his credibility, Lunjevich issued a response to The AM Show. He clarified he had come into contact with the other guests as they had been allocated neighbouring rooms.
"It is difficult to avoid coming within metres of such people when they are in the room next to you. Also, what about the smokers in the smoking area? Typical of this Government to blame everybody else for their failures," he said.
"It's frankly reprehensible that [Woods] is not on top of the various ways the virus is transmitted. Person-to-person contact is not the only way of transmission. It's also transmitted on surfaces. Has she learnt nothing in the last eight months?
"She's living in dreamland if she thinks every single person who goes through these facilities is going to obey every rule. She has no grasp on human nature."
The back-and-forth follows the positive test result of a maintenance worker at Auckland's Rydges Hotel. Early investigations found the man was not linked to the current cluster of community transmission, with genome sequencing showing his case was most closely linked to samples taken from a returnee from the US. The person arrived in New Zealand in July and was taken to the Rydges Hotel facility for managed isolation before testing positive for the virus.
However, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the origin of the man's infection remains "a bit of a mystery", as there is no evidence he had any contact with the US returnee.