COVID-19: Judith Collins claims credit for Government adopting 'CovidCard' technology in isolation and quarantine facilities

Opposition leader Judith Collins has claimed credit for the Government rolling out a 'CovidCard' technology pilot in COVID-19 managed isolation and quarantine facilities. 

Managed Isolation Minister Megan Woods announced on Thursday that the Government will be starting a pilot of CovidCard technology with staff inside a managed isolation facility, with a view to a wider roll out in the coming months. 

Half an hour later, the National Party's border policy was released, which outlined an intention to explore alternative contact tracing technologies, such as 'CovidCard', which the Government had already said it was exploring. 

'CovidCard' technology detects and records close contacts using Bluetooth. It is designed to be worn on a lanyard around the neck when in public spaces. The device detects and keeps on it a record of close contacts for 21 days. 

National said it would "immediately invest" and seek to rapidly deploy Bluetooth technologies to enhance contract tracing, making them mandatory for border facility workers and District Health Board staff who treat or test patients.

The Government announced earlier this month that Rotorua had been selected for a community-wide trial of CovidCard technology, but the results of that trial have not yet been released. 

Dr Woods said on Thursday the technology will add a layer of assurance to track movements within managed isolation and quarantine facilities and to enable rapid contact tracing. 

Collins was asked if she was pipped at the post by the Government with the announcement coming out half an hour before the National Party's policy. 

"I think New Zealanders have been sold a pup by the current Government," Collins said. "I think it is important to understand that this is a serious issue and it is good that the current Government has now come on board with our proposal."

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said a National-led Government would be "committing to actually deploying" the technology with a wide range of developers who could rapidly bring it to market. 

"What we've seen is that the current Government has been very good at promises," Collins said. "They've simply been utterly remiss when it comes to making sure things get done."

National's border policy proposes the requirement of returnees to present a negative COVID-19 test from three days prior before their flight ahead of going into managed isolation when they return to New Zealand.

National would also aim to ramp up the speed of tests by exploring a 'test on demand' system, with the ambition of waiting no longer than 60 minutes for a COVID-19 test. COVID-19 would be overseen by a new NZ Border Protection Agency. 

The Government has been grappling with Newshub's revelation that the week before the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland more than 60 percent of all border-facing workers in the city had never been tested, falling well-short of its testing strategy. 

It was also revealed that hundreds of people left managed isolation without being tested, despite rules requiring a test at days three and 12, and a negative result required for the day 12 test before being allowed to leave.  

On top of that, several people managed to escape the facilities over the last couple of months.  

The Government has responded by introducing an additional 500 Defence Force personnel to the facilities, and rolling out thermal CCTV that triggers an alarm if returnees break out, at a cost of around $6 million. 

Dr Woods, who is also Housing Minister, said keeping COVID-19 at the border is a priority for the Government and the security enhancements are "another tool in our toolbox" to ensure returnees stay in the facilities and limit risk to the community.

Collins said the Government is full of promises but cannot deliver. 

"What you can know with us is that we would make things happen. We would not just have the Minister of Housing in charge of this issue with no overall authority across other agencies and their responses," she said.

"You can be certain of this, as New Zealanders can, that we will make it happen."