Chris Hipkins, Ashley Bloomfield say 'context' missing from Unite against COVID-19 post contradicting Jacinda Ardern

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield say "context" is missing from a Unite against COVID-19 Facebook post contradicting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

A war of words has broken out between the Prime Minister and one of the recent COVID-19 cases, known as Case L, who worked a shift at KFC despite Jacinda Ardern and the Ministry of Health saying she had been told to self-isolate. 

Case L told Newshub she was just following the advice she'd seen. She's connected to Papatoetoe High School through her younger sister, Case I, who was considered a 'casual plus' contact. She was the first in her family to test positive on February 23.

She said her sister, Case I, received a text message on February 14 - the day of the Valentine's Day outbreak - saying casual contacts needed to self-isolate but their families did not need to. 

Case L said she saw the message, and about a week later went to work at KFC on February 22. Case L's sister, Case J, also contracted the virus after being deemed a 'casual plus' contact. She worked at Kmart Botany on February 19 and February 20. 

On February 23, Case I and Case J tested positive. Case L tested positive three days later on February 26 - last Friday. On that day, the Prime Minister told reporters Case L "should have" stayed at home instead of working on February 22. Case L asked Ardern to apologise. 

Ardern and Dr Bloomfield pushed back on Case L's claims on Tuesday, saying several attempts were made to contact her family via text and phone calls, and emails were sent from Papatoetoe High School urging people connected to the school to get tested. 

But a Facebook post by the official Unite against COVID-19 website - run by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet - backs up Case L's claims, saying she and her sister were "not required to isolate" at the time they went to work.  

"The advice for all staff and students of Papatoetoe High School to isolate was updated on February 23, after the two had attended their shifts at their workplaces. Close contacts and their families were advised to isolate and get tested."

Chris Hipkins, Ashley Bloomfield say 'context' missing from Unite against COVID-19 post contradicting Jacinda Ardern

National leader Judith Collins and ACT leader David Seymour are both calling on the Prime Minister to apologise to Case L for saying she should have stayed at home, when the official Unite against COVID-19 website post says otherwise. 

But Hipkins and Dr Bloomfield say the Facebook post is missing context. 

Dr Bloomfield said on Wednesday that while the instructions did change over time which may have caused confusion, the family should have been tested sooner, because Case I "had actually been symptomatic a few days". 

"It was very clear right from the start that all students in the school needed to be tested, and the student in that family [Case I] hadn't been tested by the Monday [the day after the Valentine's Day outbreak]," Dr Bloomfield said. 

Hipkins said guidance was sent out to all of the families of the school on February 17 saying everybody in connected households should get a test. He said it was repeated, with further information sent out on February 19. 

Hipkins said Case I and Case J started to show symptoms on February 19 and 20, and Case L went to work on February 22, "despite the fact that at that point there were two people in the household showing symptoms and no one had been tested". 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

"The reality is there is certainly enough information there that the person shouldn't have been going to work. I think that's the point that the Prime Minister was making. I think it's a very fair point to be making," Hipkins said. 

"Information changes as risk changes. There was clearly enough risk here for this family to know that they should have been engaging widely with the community."

Dr Bloomfield said the Unite against COVID-19 post was written without the context of when the siblings started showing symptoms. 

"That was a comment about the general advice that had gone to all families without, at that point, the knowledge that indeed there were members of the family who had been symptomatic and should have been tested earlier than perhaps they were."

Hipkins did not accept that the Prime Minister caused a social media pile-on after saying Case L should have stayed home, resulting in her being bullied online. 

"I don't think putting facts out there is doing that. I think how people respond to that is up to individual people, and our message to them is that we should be showing kindness towards people who are coming forward," Hipkins said. 

"They were all asked to be tested and none of them were."