Coronavirus: Incorrect Auckland testing information kept online due to issues 'lost in translation' - Chris Hipkins

Incorrect and since-deleted information asking west and south Aucklanders to have a COVID-19 test was left on the Ministry of Health website for three days due to "some issues that were lost in translation", the Health Minister says.

Chris Hipkins said on Monday the guidance, which was also posted on Unite Against COVID-19 social media pages, was a "misunderstanding" and a shortened version of the Government's official advice.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the posts "wrong" and "over-simplified", and said on Sunday the messaging in them made her "incredibly angry".

Hipkins said he's confident the miscommunication has been addressed and there's been reflections on how it happened in the first place.

"I think what happened was a relatively long set of guidance around who should be tested was then translated into a couple of sentences which got put into a social media ad," he said during a press conference.

"I'm confident that everyone involved has learnt the right lesson from that and that will be tightened up."

He said he learnt about the miscommunication on Sunday morning at "almost certainly" the same time as Ardern. However, he said he only found out about the incident following a radio interview earlier that morning, meaning he couldn't personally correct the record at the time.

But he added the "buck ultimately stops" with the Government, and he and Ardern accept responsibility for the messaging, even though neither of them saw the posts before they were published.

"I think as the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, there is some sensitivity around paid advertising at the moment because we're in the regulated period, and I think that meant officials didn't run the wording of those advertisements passed us in the way they might've done previously," he said.

"Our feedback to them is they should continue to do that. These are not political advertisements, these are factual advertisements. We want to see them before they're going out. That last set of eyes sometimes spots things that everyone else in the chain might not have spotted."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

The miscommunication was slammed as "muddled and ad-hoc" by National leader Judith Collins, who said it was the latest in "mixed messaging" from the Government.

"At a time when the country is losing thousands of jobs a week due to lockdown, the Prime Minister should stop playing the blame game and make sure her Government is holding up their end of the deal."

ACT leader David Seymour also said it is "poor leadership" to blame communications staff for the messaging.

"The Prime Minister told me in Parliament the other day that we shouldn't be apportioning blame when mistakes happen. But now she's throwing staff under the bus," he said.

Seymour added Ardern "throwing staff under the bus" is part of a "pattern" in the Government.

"[Then-Health Minister] David Clark threw Ashley Bloomfield under the bus, too. In good times, we're all in this together. In bad times, they blame the help."

He added it reflects "confusion" about the Government's COVID-19 strategy and claimed "they're making it up as they go".

The guidance, which also asked asymptomatic people to be tested, contradicted earlier advice given by the Ministry of Health, with both Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield urging those in good health to stay away from testing centres so workers could prioritise symptomatic people. 

But Hipkins clarified that health officials are currently grappling with sending a message to the public that it may not be just people who are symptomatic in those communities who may be asked to be tested.

"I think what the health team were trying to do is make sure that it's clear that if you're asked to get a test, even if you're not showing symptoms, you're being asked for a reason. [Either] because of the community you live in, because of the fact we are doing surveillance there to make sure that we have absolutely picked up all of the cases around the edges of the cluster," he said.

"I think it's clear that some of those communications could have been clearer and I'm absolutely confident that those are being really tightened up now."

He added that as Auckland comes out the other side of its cluster and he's confident it's more contained, he wants to see asymptomatic testing rates rise.

"That doesn't mean everybody getting a test though, and I think that wasn't as clear as it should have been."