COVID-19: Health Minister defends coronavirus response as Opposition digs in on testing, border control

The Health Minister is defending the Government's "above and beyond" coronavirus response as the Opposition digs in on what it perceives as a lack of border control and testing. 

National MP Michael Woodhouse said in Parliament on Tuesday that a "clearly unwell passenger from an effected country had to be escorted through the border control in a wheelchair and was not approached at all by officials". 

Woodhouse, the Opposition's health spokesperson, said if "that is the extent of the checking taking place at our airports I think it's appropriate to be concerned". 

Health Minister David Clark shot back, telling Woodhouse to be "very careful about the assumptions that he is making" because "that person had mobility issues that were clearly signalled in advance and that is the reason that they were escorted".

Woodhouse knocked the Government's response to the confirmation on Friday of New Zealand's first confirmed case of COVID-19, or coronavirus, after the person in their 60s arrived on an Emirates flight from Iran.  

The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Sunday that not all passengers who sat near the infected person on the plane would be tested for the virus unless they become symptomatic.  

The 18 people who sat in "seats of interest" near the infected person during the flight would be placed in supervised self-isolation for 14 days. 

Woodhouse said he's been informed that passengers came in close proximity to the infected passenger, and yet were told by health authorities that "because of the strict criteria for testing they themselves would not be tested". 

"If it's true that this isn't an issue of cost, and that the goal of the Government is to provide reassurance, then I would've thought that speedy and timely testing of those passengers - if only to ease their anxiety - would be appropriate."

Dr Clark said the Government "has chosen to reach out and contact all passengers on the plane to provide reassurance and any health advice they want". 

The Health Minister said the Government has "gone above and beyond and actively gone with reaching out to anybody with any anxiety beyond that".  

He said in respect of testing asymptomatic people, it goes "against health advice to be testing people who do not have symptoms, who do not meet the case definition". 

Dr Clark also defended the Government's border control response, pointing to extended restrictions on China and Iran, and new requirements on travellers from South Korea and northern Italy to self-isolate upon arrival in New Zealand for 14 days. 

Woodhouse also raised concern about reports of people are being turned away from testing at Wellington Hospital, despite showing symptoms, because they travelled to regions not currently considered at-risk. l

"The issue being raised by senior doctors in Wellington Hospital... New Zealanders are not feeling as well informed and reassured as the minister would have us portray."

Dr Clark told Woodhouse that in the Wellington region alone, there is capacity for 200 people per day to be tested, and that out of around 200 tests in the last month, only one has tested positive. 

"I'm confident in our public health experts and in the decisions being made by doctors."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed on Tuesday that the results for one of two people suspected of having coronavirus in New Zealand have returned negative.

It was later confirmed that the results for the second person came back negative, too. 

The Ministry of Health has confirmed there are no new cases of the virus in New Zealand.