Health boss stands by COVID-19 border measures as National blasts 'not good enough' response

The Ministry of Health is standing by the current border control measures of only requiring forced quarantine if an arrival shows COVID-19 symptoms, but a National MP says that's "not good enough". 

Paul Goldsmith, the National Party's finance spokesperson, told Magic Talk the Government's main focus should be on getting the country through the lockdown as quickly as possible to avoid an economic catastrophe. 

He said that's why it's important people are protected from potential virus-carriers coming in from overseas, and that he was "frustrated" to learn from Police Commissioner Mike Bush that not every arrival had been followed up on

"The police are meant to check up on them, the Prime Minister keeps saying the police will check up on them, but the commissioner admitted yesterday 'we haven't, but don't worry we're going to give them a call'. That's just not good enough."

Goldsmith said the Government needs to ensure the border is secure, as well as following up with people who have come in, and doing lots of testing. 

"The critical decision the country will face in the coming weeks is how we get out of this and what the framework is that we're going to use to make the decision to get out of lockdown," he told Magic Talk. 

"Having the data available and having a sense of the economic challenge we're facing, all of this information is critical for New Zealanders to understand.

"We've tried not to be too critical of the Government and tried to be supportive in this economic, social and health crisis, but we do need to ask these questions and we do need to get some answers, and frankly the answers have not been very forthcoming."

National MP Paul Goldsmith.
National MP Paul Goldsmith. Photo credit: Getty

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Friday there is still a strong link to overseas travel in the more than 800 cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, although it has dipped below 50 percent at 49 percent. 

"So far, we have community transmission in just 1 percent of cases, but there is that 17 percent of cases that are still under investigation and we would expect many of those to be community transmission."

Dr Bloomfield stood by the Government's border measures, saying just 300 people arrived into New Zealand on Thursday and all of them were Kiwis returning home - no visitors - and all of them have been required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

He said each of them was required to fill out a set of questions on the back of their arrival card, including information about possible exposure to COVID-19, any symptoms they have and whether they have been tested. 

"The health officials at the gate when they disembark talk about their plans for self-isolation. If people are symptomatic, then they are assessed and have their temperature taken and then they are quarantined and tested."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

Dr Bloomfield said at the moment there are 135 people in quarantine. 

"Those that don't have plans that satisfy the officials there for self-isolation are then put into managed accommodation, and we have 1405 people in that managed isolation at the moment," he said. 

"If someone does have a good plan, then they are required to go into self-isolation according to that plan, to get home and do that."

That's where the police are stepping in and supposed to check up on them. 

Police have been testing a new technology that allows them to track the reply of a person who is supposed to be self-isolating, to ensure they're not breaking rules, as long as the person gives their consent. 

Those receiving texts are asked to click on a hyperlink to share their location with police, and should the text message go unanswered, or anyone refuse to respond, police may follow up with a personal visit.

Since 31 March, 6250 text messages have been sent to returning travellers who consented to being contacted. More than 3000 people responded to the text message.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards's office said he has been briefed by police after concerns were raised about the software, with some saying the website did not look official and wondered whether it was a scam.

The website is currently being redeveloped to make it clear it is an official New Zealand Government website.