Jacinda Ardern defends border bungle: 'It's important these issues are put into perspective'

Prime Minister Jacinda Adern defends border bungle.
Prime Minister Jacinda Adern defends border bungle. Photo credit: Getty Images

Criticism of the Government's handling of new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand needs to be "put into perspective", Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a speech on Monday.

The Prime Minister said the past couple of weeks have been "dominated" by new cases of COVID-19 arriving into quarantine and managed isolation facilities at the border and the strengthening of border defense measures.

"With no playbook to pre-empt the twists and turns of this virus, we will have issues to fix as we go, and it is right that these concerns are raised, and you will not find a harsher critic than me when things aren't perfect in our system," Ardern said.

"But it's important these issues are put into perspective and examined alongside the facts and also within the global context. The overarching fact remains that New Zealand is in an extremely good position and we will fight to keep it that way."

The Government has been grappling with a quarantine testing botch-up after it was revealed that from June 9 to 16, the Ministry of Health let 55 people out of managed isolation on a compassionate exemption - and only four of those people were tested.

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 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.

Ardern addressed the bungle, highlighting how testing has ramped up.
"In the 13 days since the positive confirmation of the New Zealand sisters who returned from London to visit their dying parent, 82,862 tests have been conducted in New Zealand with not a single case in the community identified," she said.

"That represents 21 percent of all the testing we have done since the outbreak started in just the last two weeks. Since we began testing, we have been averaging 2487 tests a day. In the past two weeks, that average jumped to 6028, and as I say: still no evidence of cases outside of managed isolation facilities."

She said the evidence from the last 14 days is that all new cases have been picked up through routine testing on about day three and day 12. That means all 22 of the current cases in New Zealand are in a facility of some form.

Ardern said New Zealand is doing well in combating the virus compared to other nations.
"Australia has reported over 400 cases. In fact, they reported 37 new cases across the country on Saturday and the state of Victoria reported 75 cases today alone, with medical staff now going door-to-door testing people in areas where outbreaks have occurred," she said.

"Our best wishes are with our colleagues in Australia as they continue their battle."

Ardern said with 10 million cases across the globe and 500,000 deaths so far, it is not surprising that more and more New Zealanders are seeking to come home.

"That does mean that some will bring the virus with them and into our managed facilities," she said. "It is unrealistic to think that we wouldn't have cases in that way and that is exactly why we have these facilities in the first place."

Ardern's speech followed Health Minister David Clark's announcement of $150 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) and is requiring face masks to be worn by returnees in managed isolation facilities.

An audit on Sunday found that PPE distribution was patchy.

National leader Todd Muller says he understands why there has been backlash against the Government over its handling of the managed isolation facilities.

"In my perspective the Government has completely let the country down," Muller told Magic Talk on Monday.

"I found it remarkable that for the four weeks they were supposed to be testing but weren't, we found no cases, and in the last 10 days when suddenly they found out how to test or needed to, we seem to be having two or three or four every day."