Coronavirus: MP in charge of isolation not worried early exits will cause outbreak

Megan Woods, the MP brought in to oversee New Zealand's isolation and quarantine systems for Kiwis coming home, is playing down fears new arrivals who weren't tested will be spreading COVID-19 in the community.

Despite more testing than ever in the past week, there have been no cases of community transmission of the deadly virus detected in the past few weeks.

But epidemiologists have said while unlikely, it can't be ruled out, and National Party leader Todd Muller earlier this week said he suspected it was happening, despite the lack of evidence.

"We've only just found out this morning that 51 out of the 55 people that were let out of quarantine or managed isolation early to go to funerals had not been tested, so four had been tested when 55 should have been," he told TVNZ. 

And before the Government tightened up its testing protocols for people in isolation and quarantine after arriving in the country, dozens were released after exercising their right to refuse a test and being let out after 14 days. 

Dr Woods told Newshub Nation on Saturday the fortnight new arrivals have to spend in isolation before they're allowed out is more important than any testing. 

"The testing is an extra line of defense... the most important public health measure is keeping people isolated for 14 days so that we can protect the gains that we all made here."

Simon Shepherd grills Megan Woods.
Simon Shepherd grills Megan Woods. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Director-General of Health is now requiring people who refuse a test to stay an extra 14 days, just to be sure. For those who want to leave on time, Dr Woods says they now must have a test - no ifs or buts.

"No one is being released from a facility without there being the notification to the operational lead at the facility. And their operational leader at the moment as a member of the New Zealand Defense Force says, yep, this person's got to test the negative."

Facility visits find no evidence of mingling

Embattled Health Minister David Clark admitted this week he hadn't been to inspect any of the facilities himself, saying the "time frames haven't worked perfectly".

"It has been important to me to let them get on with their jobs - my job is to oversee the system, make sure the policies are right, and make sure we're heading in the right direction in protecting the health of New Zealanders."

But Dr Woods said she's been to six of the facilities "and seen what's happening on the ground" with Air Commodore Darryn Webb, who's overseeing the running of the isolation and quarantine system. 

There have been reports of interaction at hotels between people arriving on different flights at different times, and social distancing guidelines being ignored. Dr Woods said she'd seen no evidence of this.

"Cdre Weeb has asked us that there'd be no one else in their area as a new cohort arrives, except the people that are required... They have been assigned to their rooms. The expectation is that people are in their rooms except for when they want to go out and walk around to a defined area at the hotel, or taken from some facilities to an area where they can get some fresh air and some sunlight and exercise.

"What I have seen is not having mixing and mingling. And I think we just need to go back and realise that some of the problems that are being reported... I certainly am not seeing when I'm on the ground at the hotels."

The visits were often at short notice, she said, so hotels wouldn't be able to make arrangements to impress her and Commodore Webb.