Coronavirus: Transfer of Fiji COVID-19 case to NZ 'a risk we didn't need to take' - expert

A leading medical expert has criticised authorities' decision to allow a COVID-19 patient from Fiji to be transferred to New Zealand for treatment, saying "it's a pity" health workers here have been put at risk.

The patient, who arrived in New Zealand earlier this week, is a senior official for Fiji's United Nations (UN) Development Programme and is currently being treated at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.

On Friday night, the Ministry of Health said a health professional at Middlemore Hospital had been placed in quarantine "as a precaution following a PPE protocol incident during the management of a COVID-19 patient".

The ministry later confirmed the worker in question was part of the team helping treat the patient from Fiji, though insists "any risks from this incident are low".

But Des Gorman, a professor of medicine at the University of Auckland, says the patient never should have been sent to New Zealand in the first place.

He says not only does the patient put Kiwis at risk, but it's unfair that "someone who works at the UN gets preferential treatment whereas other people literally dying in Fiji don't".

On Saturday, Fiji recorded 1121 new cases of COVID-19, while a total of 238 people have died from the virus in the country to date.

Dr Gorman says the current outbreak in Australia shows just how quickly COVID-19 can get out of control in the community and New Zealand can't afford to let our guard down. 

"Eighty-five percent of New Zealanders are not vaccinated, they're not immune," he told Newshub.

"We are unbelievably vulnerable - so I think this is a risk we didn't need to take."

The decision to transfer the patient has also been criticised by intensive care workers in New Zealand, with one senior clinician telling Newshub they believe the decision "has been politicised". 

Specialists at the hospital were not informed before the decision to transfer the patient was made, the clinician claimed.

"I think management had pressure brought to bear on them by the ministry and above and… those clinical decisions were overruled," the clinician told Newshub.

Dr Gorman says if specialists were not consulted that would be a "mistake". 

"There is always a necessity to listen to the clinicians on the ground because they understand the risks and benefits of this person coming here and the care they can deliver versus the care they'd get in Fiji.

"So to not actually listen to the clinicians, or at least not to listen to many of the clinicians, I think is always a mistake."