National's Gerry Brownlee wants 'good hard look' at COVID-19 isolation facilities after eighth escapee incident

National's COVID-19 border response spokesperson Gerry Brownlee wants a "good hard look" at the Government's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities following the eighth escape incident to date. 

The head of MIQ, Air Commodore Darryn Webb, revealed that on Wednesday night, a returnee absconded from the managed isolation facility at the Sudima Rotorua. 

The man was located by Defence Force staff near the facility about 11:30pm and Webb said there is no information, at this stage, to suggest the man came into contact with any other person while he was outside the facility. 

Public COVID-19 health risk has been assessed as low, but it's the eighth incident involving 12 people absconding from managed isolation so far. Security has been bolstered at the Rotorua facility following the latest incident. 

Initial information is the man exited through a fenced area.

"We are in the midst of the deepest recession in living memory. We can't risk another lockdown because Labour has failed to secure the border," Brownlee said on Thursday. 

"There needs to be a good hard look at how breakouts have been allowed to occur at quarantine facilities in Auckland, Hamilton and Rotorua and an assurance it won't happen again."

Brownlee said it only takes one person getting through managed isolation to potentially cause community transmission and another lockdown. The escapee was symptom-free and tested negative for his day three test.  

About 50,000 people have been through managed isolation and returned safely to their families and communities without incident so far. 

Auckland has been under alert level 3 and 2.5 lockdown restrictions for more than a month now, ever since COVID-19 was re-discovered in the community in the south of the city. 

It is still unknown how COVID-19 got back into New Zealand after 100 days of no community transmission, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted that it must have come through the border somehow.  

The Ministry of Health reported seven new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand on Thursday, but all of them are in MIQ facilities, making it the third day no cases have been discovered in the community. 

It comes three days before the Prime Minister is set to announce next Monday whether the current alert level 2.5 restrictions in Auckland and the level 2 rules for the rest of the country will remain or be lifted. 

"Certainly, that is what we were looking for, for those decisions that we will be making - that confirmation of our plan that we'll be making on Monday on the final advice of the Director-General of Health," Ardern said on Thursday. 

She revealed that plan a few days ago when the restrictions were extended for another week. Ardern said if there continued to be no cases of COVID-19 outside of Auckland, then the rest of the country will move to alert level 1. 

As for Auckland, Ardern said Cabinet will review the alert level 2.5 settings with the expectation of increasing social gathering limits from the current cap of 10. If that change is agreed to, it would come into effect on Wednesday, September 23.

"What we've always said of course is that yes, the cases that we have that's what we track; we also look at the wider risk profile and what the modelling is telling us. All of that helps to inform the Director-General's advice," Ardern said. 

"It does say we're on track. Our plan, once again, is working. It's doing what we intended. We always need to just be a bit cautious because we are a country who has adopted a strategy of eliminating and then going to full freedoms, so you have to be careful that when you go to those full freedoms you're ready."

The total number of active cases in New Zealand is now 77 - 44 in the community and 33 at the Auckland quarantine facility. There are four people in hospital with COVID-19, and on Wednesday the country recorded a 25th death.