Health Minister confirms lack of testing for border officials and isolation staff

The Health Minister has admitted there has not been enough COVID-19 tests of border and isolation staff following the new cases of community transmission in New Zealand. 

"I would have liked to see more tests earlier, yes it would be fair to say that," Chris Hipkins said during a media briefing on Friday.

There are now concerns among such workers that public statements on the testing issue have been misleading. 

Just last week, health officials reassured the public "regular" testing of these workers was happening. 

On Tuesday, August 4, Hipkins said there was a testing program in place for the required people, with the Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield backing him up saying that they were "all part of an ongoing surveillance testing programme".

On Thursday, the Prime Minister further reassured the public that there had been testing happening at the border "all the way through".

However, Newshub revealed on Thursday that as of last Monday, 63.5 percent of border workers in Auckland had never been tested. 

Even on Friday, of the total 2459 managed isolation workers, only 1435 have had a swab. By the Government's own numbers, 41.7 percent are still yet to be tested. 

A man who wished to remain anonymous, says his partner is a nurse who's worked face-to-face with returnees, at multiple isolation hotels over the past four months. He claims Government officials have been misleading "because there was never once an offer for a test".

His partner had her first test on Thursday. The man wants health officials to tell the truth, telling Newshub they should "front up, be truthful and admit your mistakes. And be honest with the public."

It's a sentiment shared by an airport worker who has been doing face-to-face temperature checks with overseas arrivals. 

"What they say is different from what's happening behind doors," Jane said.

Jane's first test was also on Thursday, after all staff were told to urgently get a swab, before that she said there was no regular testing regime. 

“I've raised a concern about it, and nothing was done about it. It got to a point where I got really upset.” 

Another source told Newshub: "My family member is an Avsec employee seconded to the hotels. She flats with two other fellow workers, and until last week not one of them has had a covid test."

Now testing for this high risk group is ramping up, with dedicated testing stations set up for border staff, police and people working at managed isolation hotels. 

Hipkins said testing of such workers is now compulsory - but doing this earlier might have been too harsh. He said "compulsory testing is quite a big lever to pull" and "the Government exercises a great deal of caution when making it compulsory for someone to undergo a medical procedure."

But pulling that lever early is likely what most New Zealanders would have wanted, if it meant our borders would be more secure.