COVID-19: Government rules don't require negative test result to cross borders

Northland remains on high alert on Tuesday after confirmation a second woman who had been travelling there has tested positive for the virus. She was located by police on Monday night and taken to a quarantine hotel.

But now there are fresh questions about whether either of the positive women who travelled to Northland had to produce negative test results when they crossed the border. It's possible they didn't - because the official rules state you don't need one.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker says there's so many holes in the system "you could drive a truck through it".

It's day four of level 3 lockdown for Northland and locals have responded at testing and vaccination sites.

"Definitely worried about it after what happened the last couple of days," one person told Newshub.

"Because of what's happened with Northland, it's even closer to home so I think it's feeling very real for people and people are concerned," says Northland DHB vaccination coordinator Linda Matthews.

But there remains scant information about how the two women gamed the system and caused this multi-million dollar dilemma.

"Real anger and frustration and quite honestly they're just feeling these people have no respect for them at all," Far North Mayor John Carter says.

Here's what we know: they were initially part of a group of four that sought legitimate "essential worker" exemptions. Two got through the border using falsified documents. One case refused to talk and 17 of her close contacts have returned negative tests. The second, who's also tested positive, is being interviewed.

"Rather extraordinary in the fact that we've got almost complete silence from one of the individuals and that is something we've experienced less often, but we now have a second individual who I am told is sharing the information that we need," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

But a closer look at the Government's COVID website shows officials haven't been getting robust information from the Auckland border. Those crossing don't even need to show a negative test result.

The COVID website says "most workers" must have "evidence" of a COVID-19 test. You do not need evidence of a "negative result".

Or if you can't be tested, "a medical certificate confirming you don't have COVID19 symptoms" will suffice.

"Just based on the rules for getting tests before you leave Auckland, there are so many holes in that system it doesn't look fit for purpose at the moment," Prof Baker says. "I mean it makes the rest of New Zealand vulnerable."

And there are a whole lot of people who are exempt from border testing, including people carrying out border services like Customs or MPI, Corrections and GCSB staff, people from the parole board, parliamentary staff and ministers of the Crown.

Professor Baker told Newshub a lot of the people who are exempt perform frontline roles where they frequently interact with the public and could "easily be exposed to the virus".

"I'm not sure why they're exempt. There shouldn't really be any justification for not getting a test before you leave Auckland," Prof Baker says.

A sentiment likely shared by all those queuing in Whangarei today.

Newshub asked police directly whether either of the COVID-positive women produced negative test results when they went north but a spokesperson said it wasn't required. 

"Anyone travelling through the alert level boundary as a permitted worker is not required to provide evidence of a negative test, just evidence of having had a recent test."

It's not clear if police checked whether they'd had a recent test. 

"This is subject to investigation by Health and Police and we have nothing further to add," a police spokesperson told Newshub.