David Seymour declares New Zealand's borders 'world's dumbest' after COVID-19 testing botch-up

ACT leader David Seymour says New Zealand's borders are the "world's dumbest" after the Ministry of Health let 51 people out of isolation without being tested. 

From June 9 to 16, the Ministry of Health let 55 people out of managed isolation on a compassionate exemption, but it was confirmed on Tuesday that only four of those people were tested. 

"New Zealand officially has the world's dumbest borders," Seymour, MP for Epsom, said. "The cost is not just the risk of COVID-19. We are so far from smart borders that anyone who needs openness just took a massive setback." 

The Government introduced new rules on June 9 that people in managed isolation and quarantine facilities need to be tested at days 3 and 12, and that a negative result is required for the day 12 test before being allowed to leave.

But last week it appeared the policy was not being enforced, after two COVID-19-carrying sisters had been allowed to leave an Auckland managed isolation facility on compassionate grounds without being tested first. 

The Ministry of Health said it has been in communication with all 55 of those who left isolation on compassionate grounds, and 39 have returned negative tests, while four are awaiting results, and another four are yet to be tested. 

Seven will not be tested, either on the basis of health, because they are a child or they have left the country; while the remaining person had their application approval withdrawn before they left isolation.

Seymour said Health Minister David Clark should have been asking "the basic questions". 

"Had the Health Minister been physically and mentally present, all he had to do was to ask Ashley Bloomfield 'these people who are released early, you're testing them, right?'"

'Strictest border controls' 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday New Zealand has "some of the strictest border controls that there is" across the globe, as she announced plans to further strengthen the border

The Government has made it compulsory to pass a COVID-19 test before leaving managed isolation, and the ban on cruise ships that was due to expire on June 30 has been extended.

For any vessel in a New Zealand port, crew who are coming into New Zealand must complete a 14-day period of managed isolation here, unless they have been on the boat for more than 28 days.

Dr Clark announced an updated testing strategy on Tuesday, whereby border staff, air and maritime crew, and workers who manage isolation and quarantine facilities will now be prioritised.   

He also said anyone showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be offered testing even if they have no history of international travel or contact with travellers. 

Microbiologist Dr Joshua Freeman described the announcement as a "mixed bag" because there is no current evidence of community transmission in New Zealand. 

"In the current environment where we know the probability of undetected chains of community transmission is vanishingly low, such broad and undirected testing has marginal benefit, leads to substantial waste."

Otago University Associate Professor Lynn McBain said the enhanced testing regime for those at higher risk is "a good step" forward. But she echoed Dr Freeman that widespread testing may not be necessary.  

"I agree with community testing  - however there is a risk that the numbers of tests required to test all of these with any of these listed symptoms will mean that health services are diverting staff and resources to testing and away from usual care." 

A record 9174 tests were done on Tuesday. 

But Seymour believes testing should be more readily available after a constituent reported waiting for four hours to get tested at the St Lukes Community Based Assessment Centre in Auckland.

"People already face poor incentives to be tested. Some people can't afford to be taken out of action for two weeks by a positive test," Seymour said.

"Making them wait four hours makes it worse. How many people in the queue that day simply turned around after a few hours and went home, potentially spreading the virus?"

The Ministry of Health confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand on Tuesday - both in managed isolation facilities - bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 10.