Coronavirus: Testing would not have stopped Rydges Hotel worker from contracting COVID-19 - Megan Woods

A test would not have prevented a Rydges Hotel maintenance worker from contracting COVID-19 - a fact New Zealanders need to "reflect on", according to Megan Woods.

It was revealed on Tuesday that a staff member at the Auckland managed isolation facility had tested positive for the virus, yet was not linked to the city's existing cluster. Genome sequencing discovered the strain contracted by the worker was most closely linked to samples collected from a US traveller, who had stayed at the Rydges after arriving in July.

However, it has yet to be established how the maintenance worker was exposed to the virus, as initial investigations show he had no face-to-face contact with the infected traveller.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the origins of the worker's infection remain a "bit of a mystery".

When asked by The AM Show host Duncan Garner whether the Government's "failure" to enforce compulsory testing at the border was responsible for COVID-19's reemergence, Woods - the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine - argued that a test will not prevent someone from contracting the virus. 

"There is one worker in an isolation facility that has tested positive for this virus. He received his test two days after he showed symptoms. A test would not have stopped him contracting COVID - that's one of the things we need to pause and reflect on," she told Garner on Wednesday.

"A test is only ever going to tell us if someone has [the virus], which is important because we need to do the contact tracing."

The entrance to the Rydges Hotel.
The entrance to the Rydges Hotel. Photo credit: Getty

The Government has faced heavy backlash after it was revealed that numerous staffers working at the border or in managed isolation and quarantine facilities had never been tested, despite their high-risk roles. 

Last week, Newshub found that 63.5 percent of border workers and facility staff had never been tested for COVID-19 in the week prior to the current outbreak - despite the Ministry of Health's assurance there were protocols in place ensuring at-risk workers were regularly tested.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said testing rates of border staff "did not meet" the Government's expectations.

"What we are learning is while we did have testing stations at the border... we weren't picking up necessarily all asymptomatic workers as we expected," she told The AM Show.

Woods argued that testing of staff in high-risk roles across the border and managed isolation facilities had been voluntary until last week.

"We didn't have a requirement under the order for compulsory testing until Friday," she reiterated. 

"We are moving to more mandatory systems across the board that we need to ensure greater rates of compliance."

Dr Bloomfield said the origin of the Rydges Hotel worker's infections remains "a mystery", although genome sequencing shows his case is most closely linked to that of a US traveller.
Dr Bloomfield said the origin of the Rydges Hotel worker's infections remains "a mystery", although genome sequencing shows his case is most closely linked to that of a US traveller. Photo credit: Getty

Woods said the first line of defence across the facilities would always be "proactive measures" such as PPE and physical distancing, to prevent getting staff from contracting the virus in the first place.

The minister said the results from the second round of staff testing at the Rydges Hotel should be available on Wednesday or Thursday.

It's understood that close contacts of the maintenance worker, including colleagues and family members, have returned negative results.