Coronavirus: PM Jacinda Ardern announces raft of changes after two new COVID-19 cases

The Assistant Chief of Defence will take over the management of New Zealand's quarantine facilities, the Prime Minister has announced, after two new COVID-19 cases emerged on Tuesday.

Jacinda Ardern said the infected people should never have been allowed to leave the Novotel Auckland to attend a funeral in Wellington last week, and a raft of new changes have now been implemented to correct this mistake.

"This represents an unacceptable failure of the system," she told media from Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

"It should never have happened, and it can't be repeated again. We required not one but two tests to be undertaken of those in facilities - one at day 3 and one at day 12.

"That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday. It did not, and there are no excuses."

Ardern says the controls at New Zealand's borders must now be "rigorous", and called together the operational leads of quarantined and managed isolation facilities on Wednesday morning to reveal some changes.

Changes to quarantining at the border

  1. "I am appointing the Assistant Chief of Defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities, including the processes around the exit of those who have been in these facilities," Ardern explained.
  2. "Air Commodore Webb will undertake a start-to-finish audit of existing systems and written protocols to ensure they are being fully implemented, and will make any changes needed to further strengthen our border defences.
  3. "The suspension of compassionate exemptions will continue until such time as we can guarantee a disciplined and rigorous system at the border that ministers have confidence in."

Ardern says while she knows the latter change will be upsetting to some New Zealanders heading home to visit dying loved ones, the risks are too great to allow any more exemptions.

"This case has proven our need for caution," she said. "While it may be a hard and unpopular position to take, it is the right one for our country."

The Prime Minister was at pains to stress the two new cases - a woman in her 30s and another in her 40s who flew from New Zealand to the UK earlier in June - did nothing wrong in leaving their managed isolation facility.

"It is not their fault the system failed. From all accounts, they have followed the health protocols required of them."

Contract tracing is currently underway to identify anyone who has come into close contact with the women.