Two COVID-19-infected women who were freed from managed isolation on compassionate grounds have done nothing wrong and don't deserve blame, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield revealed on Tuesday that New Zealand's two latest COVID-19 cases were a pair of women who returned to Aotearoa from the United Kingdom on June 7. They were put into the Novotel Ellerslie managed isolation facility for their 14 day quarantine period.
Last Friday, they applied for compassionate leave after the death of a family member. That was granted on Saturday and the pair drove to Wellington by themselves in a private vehicle, not meeting anyone along the way. They visited a community assessment centre on Monday and tested positive.
While the pair followed a strict safety plan during their leave to mitigate risks to others in case they had the virus, the circumstances of the exemption have come under fire. Neither of the women were tested beforehand and there are questions about how much the pair were asked about any symptoms. One woman did have mild symptoms which she put down to a pre-existing condition.
That's not up to scratch, Ardern says.
"It is all about making sure, though, that when [Kiwis] are coming home, they are being quarantined properly, tested properly and released when it is safe. What happened yesterday has not met our expectations," she told MoreFM on Wednesday.
"These are not individuals who have broken any rules themselves. They have been granted compassionate leave, but in a way that doesn't meet our expectations.
"The people here, obviously, did have requirements around them and expectations around them. What didn't happen, that should have happened, was testing as early as it should have happened. They were tested but just not in a place that we would have wanted them to be."
The Prime Minister said the pair of women did what they were told and shouldn't be criticised.
"Let me be really clear, they have not done anything wrong here. Our system has. They should not be blamed. They followed the rules, they went through a process. They should not be blamed here. From what I can see, they have done what they should have done. The failure has been on the other end."
Ardern is promising to investigate what happened at the managed isolation facility and to ensure "that what we are being told is happening is actually happening".
"We have been advised that there is an expectation people are being tested day three and day 12... It didn't happen at day three. Obviously, they have been given compassionate leave before day 12. Either way, none of it is reasonable in my mind what has happened here," she said.
On Tuesday, when discussing the new cases, Dr Bloomfield said after alert level 1 came in last week testing was initially focused on people who had been in the facilities for twelve days, meaning those who would be leaving within two days. He said the day three testing was happening from this week.
Ardern said on Wednesday the pair didn't go to a funeral and met only one other person. Contact tracing and testing is now underway for others who had been in and are currently at the managed isolation facility as well as passengers on the pair's planes.
More cases are expected at the border as Kiwis continue to return home. Currently, only New Zealanders and their close family can arrive back in the country. They must stay in a managed isolation facility for 14 days to ensure they don't have the virus.
Compassionate leave exemptions have now been suspended and the Director-General is requiring anyone with an exemption to return a negative test result before leaving.
While New Zealand now has only two active cases, millions are currently infected around the globe.