Coronavirus: Collins promises border staff will be tested for COVID-19 under National, calls existing efforts 'pie-in-the-sky'

Judith Collins revealed a small part of National's border policy on Saturday morning, saying it would involve regular testing of all staff at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.

If that sounds familiar, it's because that's the current Government's policy. Collins told Newshub Nation the difference would be that under a National-led Government, voters could be sure it would actually happen.

"If we say that people are being tested, you can understand and believe that they will be tested, that this is not something pie-in-the-sky."

It recently emerged that not all staff at MIQ facilities were being tested regularly. Health Minister Chris Hipkins, appearing on Newshub Nation ahead of Collins, said he was told they were.

"The data I've received as of yesterday suggests it was only about 60 percent, so obviously I'm very disappointed by that. I don't want to point the finger of blame at the moment because we'll have time to get into all of that in due course. 

"I want everybody focused full-tilt on getting things right now, and making sure that all of the testing that needs to be done, is being done." 

Hipkins, who took over the health portfolio at the start of July, had previously expressed reluctance to make testing mandatory, calling it a "big lever". 

"Mandatory medical procedures on people is something that Governments need to be very cautious about, and I think that everyone would expect us to be cautious about that," he told Newshub Nation, also blaming a reluctance from the public to undergo the test, which involves a swab being taken from far up the nasal cavity.

But the new cluster of cases appears to have changed Kiwis' minds, with more than 30,000 undergoing tests in just 48 hours after the first new case was reported. 

"That's all changed pretty dramatically in the last 72 hours, which is making things faster and easier," said Hipkins.

Previously health staff in close contact with patients and new arrivals had shown a high willingness to get tested, others - such as security guards - not so much. Hipkins said there was less risk for those not in close contact with patients, but "to avoid all risk, all staff working at the border or at managed isolation and quarantine facilities will be tested".

Chris Hipkins and Judith Collins on The AM Show.
Chris Hipkins and Judith Collins on Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Collins said if everyone working at the border was undergoing regular testing, the current outbreak could have been avoided. It's not yet clear if the virus came in through the border, as genome testing and contact tracing to date haven't found any links. 

"If we know that everybody's being tested properly, then we won't have to go in and out of lockdown," said Collins.

"I think that's really important. I'm very happy with an elimination strategy because we are an isolated country. It's not like we are France or something. 

"We're very isolated and it's about keeping isolated... we can do it, but we need a policy."

Collins declined to reveal more about National's border policy on the show, saying it would be released next week.