Jacinda Ardern calls for politics to be taken 'out of the COVID-19 response' in clash with Judith Collins

Watch as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Opposition leader Judith Collins go head-to-head in Parliament. Credit: Parliament TV

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for politics to be taken out of the Government's COVID-19 response as Opposition leader Judith Collins grilled her on the lack of testing of border workers. 

The Prime Minister acknowledged in Parliament on Tuesday that the Opposition has contributed to constructive criticism of the Government's response, paying tribute to National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti. 

"I have to concede that in my view that at these times I absolutely expect as a Government we should be held to account. That is why we are here," Ardern said. 

"I also have to say that the kinds of contributions by Dr Reti are the kinds of contributions that I think add something when New Zealand is in the situation we are in."

But the Prime Minister hit out at the Opposition over criticism of the Government's testing regime and previous calls to ease lockdown restrictions. 

"What I don't think adds to the situation is if we have anyone that unnecessarily calls into question the role, for instance, of testing, the importance of restrictions and limiting spread. There are areas where I think it would be useful if we took the politics out of the response."

Ardern's comments came after Collins ripped into the Government over Newshub's revealtions that one week before the current COVID-19 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: border and airline staff and those arriving back in New Zealand. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants politics taken out of the Government's COVID-19 response. Photo credit: Parliament TV

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 has since issued a health order making it compulsory to test staff working at the border and in managed isolation facilities. 

Collins asked Ardern in Parliament if the Government was made aware before the Auckland outbreak last week that people working in the managed isolation and quarantine facilities who should've been tested had not been. 

The Prime Minister conceded that the testing coverage "wasn't as comprehensive" as the Government expected it to be. 

"I've been very open about that, which is why on the 22nd of July, Cabinet minuted a decision of our expectation that every worker in a managed isolation facility or quarantine facility be tested."

Ardern said it is "not sufficient" for the Opposition to claim that testing is the only response required to tackle COVID-19. 

"If it was, it would be patently insufficient. Even weekly testing would not, for instance, pick up someone who may be tested on a Tuesday, come in contact with COVID on a Wednesday, be infectious by a Saturday, and take it back to work again on a Monday," she said. 

"You have to include health checks, [personal protective equipment] and infection control and that is what we had across our high-risk areas alongside the expectation of testing."

Collins hit back, asking "If that is so, then why is testing now compulsory?"

Ardern said the Government is dealing with a "tricky virus". 

Opposition leader Judith Collins has ripped into the Government over the lack of testing of border workers. Photo credit: Parliament TV

"I again would point out to the member that this is a virus - not simply a human we are dealing with. It is not a straight-forward management control issue. Every country in the world has had an experience like in New Zealand. We happen currently to be in a much better position than most."

Ardern slammed the Opposition for questioning the timing of the Government's COVID-19 precautions earlier this month. 

"When we prepared for a resurgence plan, the Opposition claimed we were scaremongering. Now they seem to be claiming that somehow our resurgence plan was not sufficient," she said. 

"We have always prepared for this scenario because no one has managed to get themselves to a situation where they haven't experienced a second wave - no one."

It comes as the Government faces questions over a new case of COVID-19 that is not linked to the south Auckland cluster which sparked the alert level 3 lockdown in Auckland. 

A maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility in Auckland has tested positive for the virus, and his partial genome sequencing results indicate his case is not linked to the community cluster, but imported from the US.  

The Minister of Managed Isolation Megan Woods pointed out in Parliament that there is still no confirmed link to a managed isolation facility and the current Auckland cluster.

The source of the outbreak in Auckland is still unknown. 

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