COVID-19: Auckland cluster families who failed to isolate are 'remorseful', no need for punitive approach - Bloomfield

Households that failed to follow public health advice and later tested positive for COVID-19 are "extremely remorseful", according to Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield - and the national backlash is punishment enough.  

It was revealed last week that a student at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) - also known as Case M - did not isolate after getting tested for COVID-19, visiting Papatoetoe CityFitness and several public spots. He later returned a positive result. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the 21-year-old had created "multiple high risk situations" by failing to isolate while he was potentially infectious. His mother, Case N, also contracted the virus.

It was confirmed on Monday that the household had contact with another family in the cluster, and Case N had gone for a walk with the mother of Case D - a student at Papatoetoe High School.

There have been calls for the Government to crack down on public health breaches and enforce penalties for those who put the safety of others at risk. However, a number of officials - including the Prime Minister, Dr Bloomfield, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff - have suggested that a punitive approach could be detrimental to the overall effort by discouraging people from coming forward.

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, Dr Bloomfield argued that the cases who ignored official instructions had already been subjected to intense public backlash - suggesting it would be unfair to enforce additional punishment. 

"You can imagine how these folk are feeling at the moment. I imagine they're extremely remorseful," he said. 

"I saw an article in the paper this morning about them feeling the weight of the country on their shoulders. It wouldn't be a very pleasant position to be in and I think most people would understand that."

When host Duncan Garner pressed the health official, he said "most people" would agree that the backlash was punishment enough. 

"I don't think they did anything deliberate to land us in this situation and the information about the connection between the two families was actually volunteered very early by the mother in this latest group. That's been very helpful.

"I don't think anyone failed here - I think it happened, for whatever reason, and it's what we do now that's important."

Dr Bloomfield said is currently focused on controlling the outbreak rather than launching an official prosecution, reiterating that a punitive approach could be "counterproductive".

"We can't afford to give this virus an inch, and if taking a punitive punishment approach could deter people from coming forward and getting tested, we've got a bigger problem on our hands," he said.

Instead, Dr Bloomfield encouraged people to hold each other accountable to ensure everyone is adhering to the public health measures. 

"Let's hold each other to account. The reason we've done well is because we've acted together, we've been united rather than divided against the virus."

As of 7:30am, there are no new cases of COVID-19 to report from the tests processed overnight. 

However, the Ministry of Health is still awaiting results from people who had contact with Case M at the gym and at MIT.

On Monday, another case from the cluster accused of failing to follow official instructions claimed she was never told to self-isolate.

Case L, a KFC employee and household contact of Cases I, J, K and O, asked for an apology from the Prime Minister for saying the family had failed to self-isolate, claiming there was no evidence the Government had tried multiple times to contact them. 

Both Case L and Case J went to work while potentially infectious - the former at KFC and the latter at Kmart Botany. Their sibling, Case I, is another student at Papatoetoe High School.