Government still can't say how many people released from quarantine without mandatory COVID-19 tests

The Government still cannot say how many people have been released from quarantine facilities without mandatory COVID-19 tests. 

It comes as the tally of new COVID-19 cases keeps ticking up - another two were confirmed in New Zealand on Tuesday, both in quarantine having arrived from overseas last week.

One of the two women with COVID-19 who was released early from isolation without being tested has recovered, bringing the country's total number of active cases to 10.

The women's case highlighted a major flaw in the Government's systems: despite mandatory quarantine testing being introduced, it wasn't being enforced.

Newshub has been asking the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield for a week how many people were released without testing - but he still cannot provide an answer.

And despite the mandatory testing policy, some in managed isolation facilities say testing is not happening despite requests for it.

Jet Park Hotel is supposed to be our toughest quarantine facility where anyone with COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus are brought to - including Michelle, a woman Newshub spoke to who was tested but her partner was not despite their requests.

"To think that I had symptoms and my partner had still sat around for 10 days and not been tested... he could have it and be asymptomatic and no one would know," she said.  

They were told testing was optional.

It was only when the Ministry of Health got busted last Tuesday for releasing two women with COVID-19 without testing them that suddenly there was a mad flurry of tests, including her partner.

Both tested negative.

"Everyone was kind of scrambling to get us tested," Michelle said. "I think he wouldn't have been tested if it hadn't gone to the media - like, I actually think he could have walked out of here without a test."

That scramble of testing since the botch-up has revealed 11 new cases - two more on Tuesday, both men in their 20s, one staying at the Pullman who arrived from India, the other at Jet Park from Los Angeles in the US.

In the Government's defence, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the current border restrictions are heavy compared to other countries.

"Even without testing, New Zealand has some of the strictest requirements at the border in the world," she said on Tuesday.

But they simply weren't testing enough.

In the 37 days before the bungle was revealed, the Ministry of Health didn't identify a single case of COVID-19 at the border. That's despite 7711 arrivals in the country including from coronavirus hotspots.

National leader Todd Muller says the Government is incompetent.

"I see it through a lens of incompetence, bluntly. That's why I have and remain such a fierce critic of [Health Minister] David Clark. The idea that as a minister you don't ask for these simple questions."

Dr Bloomfield admits we may have missed coronavirus cases.

"There may have been some people who were infected and asymptomatic, but the 14 days served its purpose and it will continue to," he said.

Newshub asked Dr Bloomfield if the country was celebrating zero cases when there may have been cases that weren't being identified.

He responded, "We were celebrating zeros because we were very confident there was no infection out in our community."

The Ministry of Health is chasing 2159 people who left self-isolation after compulsory testing was introduced two weeks ago. It has no idea how many were actually tested.

"I wish I could," Dr Bloomfield said. He says there is "very low risk to the community".

The 55 people, who like the two women with COVID-19 were granted compassionate leave from isolation early, have been contacted. But still, it is not known whether they were tested before being released.

"I just don't have the number here with me," Dr Bloomfield said.

As for why the Ministry of Health doesn't just ask them, he said, "I'll come back to you on that."

The Ministry of Health's been promising that for a week.

Analysis by Political Editor Tova O'Brien

It's hugely problematic that the Government still can't answer those questions.

It had rules in place - double testing for everyone in quarantine and no leaving without a negative result.

Like the case of those two women showed us, anyone who left without that represents a potential case of COVID-19 in the community.

It's also hugely problematic that the ministry isn't collecting that basic data.

The Government points to the 14 days' self-isolation as the best defence. But having worked so hard to eliminate the virus and with more and more travellers arriving from COVID-19 hotspots, the country deserves an assurance COVID-19 cases aren't being unwittingly let back into the community.