Coronavirus: Why the Government's sticking with Auckland for isolation hotels, despite the risks

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says the Government won't be moving its isolation facilities for new arrivals out of Auckland, despite an outbreak of COVID-19 putting the city back into lockdown.

He says there's still no evidence the outbreak, which has resulted in dozens of people catching the deadly virus, can be traced back to any of the Government-run facilities. 

So far more than 40,000 people have done their 14 days and two tests before entering the country, ensuring they're COVID-free. Anyone who refuses a test has to wait 28 days before being allowed out. 

Most of the hotels hosting returnees are in Auckland - as the country's biggest city and the point of arrival for most international flights, it also has the infrastructure to house people safely.

But it also means if the virus gets out somehow, it's Auckland - the engine of the country's economy - that needs to be put under restrictions. While most of the country is only at level 2 presently, the Government broke a prior promise not to extend the wage subsidy scheme nationwide, acknowledging the outsized impact the city has on the nationwide economy.

Asked on Newshub Nation on Saturday if the Government had considered hosting returnees somewhere less risky to the economy, Robertson said no.

"There is no evidence linking this breakout to managed isolation or quarantine," he told host Simon Shepherd.

"The community cluster we're talking about at the moment has not been linked to those facilities. Having those facilities, many of them in the Auckland region, is sensible - it's close to where people arrive, it means they can be transported there easily, they are the kinds of facilities that provide the separation among those who are there that we need to ensure the public health outcomes." 

Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Zero outbreaks just a 'target' - National 

Contact tracing and genomic testing hasn't linked the outbreak to the isolation or quarantine facilities. National leader Judith Collins said last week it was "pretty clear" the border was the source of the outbreak, even without any evidence.

"This is not something that was lurking in the community... It's come in through the border in some way." 

She promised "zero tolerance" for the virus, saying it "simply would not be allowed in". 

Robertson said there's only a single proven case of someone contracting the virus from a returnee - a maintenance worker at the Rydges, who's believed to have picked it up after using an elevator after a confirmed case - not at the same time. No other cases, as of Friday afternoon, had been linked to that case. 

"You've got to take a bit of perspective here. We've had the best part of 40,000 people through our managed isolation facilities, and at the moment we have one issue which has been contained, in terms of the maintenance worker at the Rydges... Expecting 100 percent perfection at the border is not going to be possible anywhere in the world. With 40,000 people through those facilities, I'm confident we've got them working well." 

National's health spokesperson Shane Reti walked back Collins' claims somewhat, saying not having an outbreak was a "target".

"There's always going to be human error - we understand that - but we say that if we do a really good job at the border, then we can minimise the amount of spread that comes into the community... We continue to have zero tolerance, but then again there's always human error... We'll have zero tolerance in ourselves and we'll hold ourselves to that and we'll form policies around that."

He said the party's proposed Border Protection Agency would give New Zealand a better chance of staying COVID-free than the current arrangement.