Coronavirus: Judith Collins claims quarantine staff were refused tests, challenges Jacinda Ardern to release communications

Judith Collins claims to have been contacted by managed isolation facility staff who say they were refused tests, and she is challenging the Prime Minister to release communications to prove otherwise. 

"Staff have contacted us to let us know that they were not refusing to have tests and that they were in fact not offered tests and even some people have contacted us to say that they asked for tests and were refused them because they were asymptomatic," Collins said on Tuesday. 

The National Party leader said she's had a "couple of people" contact her directly about being refused tests - one of them she claims was someone "reasonably senior" at the Jet Park Hotel in Auckland used for quarantining arrivals. 

"Some of our other MPs have received advice that staff have said that they were not offered tests and they did not refuse them - particularly the weekly test they were expecting," Collins said. 

It comes after Newshub's investigations reporter Michael Morrah revealed that just one week before the current community outbreak in Auckland, 63.5 percent of all border and hotel isolation workers in the city had never been tested for COVID-19. 

That was despite the Government's announcement in late June of a new testing strategy to prioritise testing for those who are most likely to have been exposed to COVID-19 which is border and airline staff and those arriving back in New Zealand. 

That new strategy included "regular health checks and asymptomatic testing of all border facing workers" - but the data showed that was not happening.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said on Saturday he was frustrated and disappointed the Government was misled about the level of COVID-19 testing of frontline border staff.  

"Obviously I'm very disappointed by that," Hipkins told Newshub Nation on Saturday. "It has been frustrating - things have not moved as quickly as I would like."

National leader Judith Collins has challenged the Prime Minister to release communications between the Government and Ministry of Health.
National leader Judith Collins has challenged the Prime Minister to release communications between the Government and Ministry of Health. Photo credit: Newshub

Collins said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern should release the communications between the Government and the Ministry of Health.

"We haven't seen the communications between the ministry and the Government and I would challenge the Prime Minister, if she says these informants are wrong, she should release that chain of communication,' she said. 

Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday some border staff were reluctant to be tested. 

"One thing I do want to raise - and this is I think an important point generally - we have picked up on reluctance amongst staff and I do want to be clear here: I'd say that not to blame anyone. We have to ask the question: why were people a bit reluctant?" she said. 

"If you look out on social media right now, you'll see some horrific statements being made about people who were found to have COVID-19."

Collins said Ardern is "entirely wrong". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claims some border workers have been reluctant to be tested for COVID-19.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claims some border workers have been reluctant to be tested for COVID-19. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ardern said testing was happening in the quarantine facilities and that the issue now is whether or not it was "nearly as comprehensive" as Cabinet had expected. 

"There was a testing strategy put out at the end of June... it talked about ongoing, rolling surveillance testing at our borders and at our managed isolation facilities that would include - and this is the important part - asymptomatic and symptomatic people," she said. 

"Now what we are learning is that whilst we did have testing stations set up at the border, on the 10th of July and the 16th of July, it appears that we weren't picking up necessarily all asymptomatic workers as we expected.

"What we requested as a Cabinet was a breakdown of all of the testing that was occurring at the border and the testing that was occurring within our facilities."

Ardern said it is "fair to say" that the level of testing did not meet Cabinet's expectations. 

"We've gone back through and all of that is happening now and we've also now mandated in an order our expectations to make sure everyone is tested. It was our expectation and testing was happening, it just wasn't nearly as comprehensive."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Monday there was "quite extensive" testing being done across a number of sites, but he admitted it required a "lot of coordination". 

"I was checking every single day and there was clearly a dissonance between what the Prime Minister thought was happening and what was happening on the ground."

Hipkins has admitted that when the Government announced the new testing strategy for border workers two months ago, there was no system in place to keep track of how many workers had a swab for COVID-19.