COVID-19 outbreak: Waikato mayor furious prisoner was remanded into region from Auckland despite different alert levels

Waikato's mayor is furious an Auckland prisoner was remanded into the region despite the two regions being in different COVID-19 alert levels. 

On Sunday the Ministry of Health said three household contacts of a remand prisoner with COVID-19 have tested positive. 

Two of the three household members attend Mangatangi School. All three positive cases, and an accompanying adult caregiver, are being moved to a quarantine facility.

At least one of the young people was symptomatic at school on Thursday. The school has been closed and parents have been contacted. Arrangements are being made for the students and their families to be tested.

The remand prisoner was released on e-monitored bail from Mt Eden Prison on September 8 to a residence in the Firth of Thames. Electronic monitoring shows he remained at the property from when he arrived on September 8 until he self-reported to Police at the East Coast Road boundary checkpoint at Waharau Regional Park. He was held in custody in a cell on his own until his court appearance in the Manukau District Court on Friday, September 17.

Waikato District Council Mayor Allan Sanson told Newshub he is "absolutely gutted" about the new cases and furious the prisoner was remanded into a region with a different alert level. 

"I'm incredibly concerned the courts in Auckland remanded an Auckland-based person into the Waikato under a totally different COVID-19 alert level.

"I just cannot believe somebody in the courts of Auckland was so stupid to do that. And I want to know who that person is and why the courts think they sit above what is a health order prohibiting people to move across that border unless you're an essential person and I am damn sure remanding someone to an address in Kaiaua isn't essential. So that's the answer to a question that I would like from someone within the Justice Department."

The Unite Against COVID-19 website says travelling across an alert level border is permitted for various reasons including leaving or relocating on a court order. 

The website says someone can cross the border if they're "leaving or changing your place of detention or place of residence as required by a court order or as directed by the New Zealand Parole Board, a probation officer or similar authority". 

Sanson said the decision has put an entire community at risk and it's likely they will be forced to move up alert levels today as a result. 

"If we dodge this bullet we are incredibly lucky but I just feel so sorry for those communities up there that now have to endure that.

"It would not surprise me today if at the stand up this afternoon the Government announces the Waikato region is going into alert level 3 with Auckland, that would not surprise me. I would hope not but I don't know what other options they've got."  

He said anyone who has any connection to the school needs to get tested immediately. 

"I understand one of the children was at school on Thursday and was unwell at the time. You can imagine that's four or five days ago, I would think that people in the Mangatangi area probably as far as Maramarua through Kaiaua and Miranda, they need to go and get tested."

A pop-up testing centre is being set up at the Wharekawa Marae in Whakatīwai and the Ministry of Health is encouraging locals with symptoms to get tested. Anyone in the area with symptoms is asked to please get tested. 

Auckland is currently in alert level 4 and the rest of the country, including the Waikato, is in level 2. Last week Cabinet made an in-principle decision to move Auckland to level 3 at 11:59pm on Tuesday but the new cases are throwing doubt on that. The Government will provide an alert level update at 4pm which will be streamed on and Three. 

The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.