Health Minister Chris Hipkins admits he hasn't read Ministry of Health's COVID-19 testing strategy

Health Minister Chris Hipkins admits he hasn't read the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 testing strategy.

It comes after Newshub revealed on Wednesday the Government was told testing all border workers was "not thought to be viable" - advice sitting in plain sight in the Ministry of Health's official testing strategy. 

The testing strategy published in June, and still not updated, states that "screening of all asymptomatic border-facing staff would represent a zero-risk approach... however since risk mitigation measures are in place and given the invasive nature of the test... this approach is not thought to be viable".   

Newshub asked Hipkins on Thursday if he had read the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 testing strategy and he admitted he hadn't. He said he had only read the Government's testing strategy.

"I've read the Government's testing strategy," he said. "I haven't seen the information that the Ministry of Health has prepared." 

The Government is on the defensive after Newshub's revelation 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.  

On Thursday, the Government put up another line of defense - better security for managed isolation facilities including more CCTV to check on mingling in common areas, thermal technology, and alarms to prevent escapes.

"It's a process of continual improvement," Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine facilities, told Newshub on Thursday. 

Opposition leader Judith Collins said it "sounds like catch-up" to her. 

The National Party released its border policy on Thursday outlining how a negative COVID-19 test would be required of returnees before their flight, ahead of managed isolation when they return to New Zealand. 

"This is tough - but tough times need tough measures,' Collins said. 

It's so tough on the border that National has used a photo of a US Homeland Security officer in a bulletproof vest to promote the policy, and compared the impact of COVID-19 to America's darkest day. 

Health Minister Chris Hipkins admits he hasn't read Ministry of Health's COVID-19 testing strategy
Photo credit: Screenshot

"Just as 9/11 changed the way we travel forever almost 20 years ago, COVID-19 now also means the world is no longer the same," Collins said. 

Her rules are simple - no matter what country people are coming from - no test, no travel.

"They can't come back," Collins said, when asked about people planning a return to New Zealand but can't obtain a COVID-19 test overseas. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield doesn't see it working. 

"It won't stop them potentially being infected in transit," he said. "It may miss some people who are early in infection, and it wouldn't preclude still needing to have them in quarantine for 14 days or managed isolation, and testing twice while they were here."

National is promising to test border workers weekly and Newshub understands a Cabinet minute from July 20 also mandated weekly testing of managed isolation and quarantine workers - which we now know didn't happen. 

The ACT Party, meanwhile, is just going full-blown 'lock 'em up'. 

"If you break those rules, then you can finish your 14 days in Mt Eden, and I don't mean the nice new remand centre, I mean the old one they closed 30 years ago," leader David Seymour said.  

National is also promising to tighten lockdowns - instead of regional, they'd go suburban. It's the same strategy used in Australia's Victoria - the state had more than 4000 active cases as of Thursday. 

"You might have part of a suburb, you might have a street, it may be a grouping of people, but it's not a third of the country," Collins said.  

This COVID-19 election was shaping up to be a finance fight - economy front and centre - but after this latest testing botch-up, it's also becoming a battle of the border.