Coronavirus: Unite against COVID-19 Facebook post contradicts PM's claim infected KFC worker was told to isolate

The Government is under fire for providing contradicting information regarding Case L, a KFC employee who tested positive for the virus four days after working a shift at the Botany Downs' fast-food restaurant.

More information has come to light that appears to corroborate Case L's claims that she and her sibling, Case J - a Kmart Botany employee who worked two shifts before testing positive - were not asked to self-isolate by health officials.

Case L is a household contact of Case I, a Papatoetoe High School student and a casual-plus contact of the first student to test positive, Case A. Case I was the first in the family to contract the virus, testing positive on February 23.

Case L is also a household contact of Case J, the teenager who worked two shifts at Kmart Botany before her diagnosis, and Case K, an infant. 

Case L tested positive for the virus on February 26 after being shifted to quarantine with her family. It was revealed she had worked a shift at KFC on February 22 while she was potentially infectious.

As Case I is a casual-plus contact of the initial Papatoetoe High School case and a member of the school community, health officials have claimed the whole household should have been isolating - indicating Case J and Case L breached the rules by going to work.

At a news briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Case L "should have" isolated instead of working her shift at KFC, expressing "frustration" at the new case.

Both Case J and Case L have since faced public backlash for appearing to flout the official instructions and putting the safety of the public at risk. 

But the KFC employee said to Newshub that she was not told to self-isolate - and asked for an apology from the Prime Minister following her "upsetting" comments. 

"It's not fair on our end that we're getting all this backlash for something that we haven't actually done," Case L told Newshub.

Case L told Newshub her sister, Case I, received a text message on February 14 - the day the first three cases in the cluster were announced - saying casual contacts needed to self-isolate, but their families did not need to. 

Health officials pushed back against the claims, arguing there were multiple attempts to contact the family and the advice had been clear and consistent.

But a comment, posted by the Unite against COVID-19 Facebook page four days ago, clearly states that "Case J (Kmart worker) and Case L (KFC worker) were not required to isolate at the time".

In a response to a member of the public, the Unite against COVID-19 team said Case J and Case L had completed their shifts before the new rules were introduced - which required them to self-isolate.

The Unite against COVID-19 team said Case L, a KFC worker, was not required to self-isolate at the time she worked her shift - despite claims from health officials that Case L shouldn't have gone to work on February 22.
The Unite against COVID-19 team said Case L, a KFC worker, was not required to self-isolate at the time she worked her shift - despite claims from health officials that Case L shouldn't have gone to work on February 22. Photo credit: Unite against COVID-19 / Facebook

"The advice for all staff and students of Papatoetoe High School was updated on 23 February, after the two had attended their shifts at their workplaces," the comment said.

It also gave weight to Case L's claims by confirming that casual-plus contacts such as Case I were required to get a test and self-isolate, but their household members were not required to do so.

"The family complied with the advice they were given at the time."

Records also show that at the time, the Ministry of Health's advice for 'casual-plus' contacts was: "While you are staying at home, members of your household can come and go from the house as normal."

The information contradicts Ardern, who pushed back against Case L's claims on Tuesday. She said the messaging was "very, very, very clear", and that if Case L had gotten a test earlier, "then ultimately we wouldn't be in a debate over whether or not family members should be isolating". 

The Facebook comment has also come to the attention of ACT leader David Seymour, an outspoken critic of the Government's COVID-19 response. He said the Prime Minister "has some serious explaining to do".

"The Prime Minister has some serious explaining to do after her Government's Official COVID-19 Facebook Page contradicted her claim that Case J (Kmart worker) and Case L (KFC worker) were told to isolate," Seymour said in a statement on Tuesday night.

"Either the Government is spreading misinformation on Facebook, or the Prime Minister is spreading it through the media. Either case is totally unacceptable.

"The Prime Minister has not only misled the whole country but subsequently doubled down on her claims that the workers were instructed to isolate, which cannot be true because the isolation orders were issued after the workers had completed their shifts."

National leader Judith Collins also says the Prime Minister owes the KFC worker an apology.

"The Prime Minister needs to explain whether the COVID-19 Facebook post is accurate. If it is then she should apologise to the KFC employee," Collins said on Wednesday.

"The communications coming from the Government has left a lot to be desired of late. The invention of new terms on the fly like 'casual plus' and 'close plus' contacts is confusing too many people.

"The Government needs to get its public messaging right. Communication breakdowns like this can be the difference between Kiwis living COVID-free and a lockdown that costs the New Zealand economy $500 million a week."

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins argued that the official advice can change - and people need to "keep plugged in" to ensure they're not missing any messages. 

He also denied the Government was at fault, echoing Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield's stance that the messaging was "quite clear".

"It's important to remember that sometimes, the messages for some people will change… if the risk-profile changes, the advice might change. We do need to say to everybody - keep plugged in, because sometimes the advice will change," he said.

"I think it was very clear to the school community what we were asking them to do."

When pressed by host Duncan Garner regarding the response from Unite against COVID-19, Hipkins said he couldn't make "an educated comment" without seeing the correspondence with the household.

"I think it highlights one of the problems with looking backwards, and even apportioning blame to people," he said. "There will always be different sides to a story. The key thing here is looking forward and stamping out the risk of it spreading any further. That's got to be where our energies are focused.

"My energy is focused on identifying what the risk is here and making sure we're isolating the people we need to isolate… looking backwards isn't going to help with that effort. At some point, when we've contained the cluster, we'll look back… and [identify] things that didn't go according to plan and could be improved."

The Ministry of Health has been contacted for comment.