Growing calls for an apology after Unite Against COVID-19 post contradicts Jacinda Ardern

There are growing calls for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to apologise to a young KFC worker accused of failing to isolate during the current COVID-19 outbreak. 

On Friday, February 26, Ardern expressed her displeasure at a 19-year-old COVID-19 victim, known as "Case L" who works at KFC. 

Ardern said she was "frustrated" and said the teenager "should have been" isolating.  

However, on the same day, a Government COVID-19 website stated Case L was "not required to isolate." 

"I think she's made the statement, so if I was her I would be the one to apologise," National leader Judith Collins said.

ACT leader David Seymour has drawn attention to the power imbalance between the Prime Minister and the KFC worker.

"It's clear that either the government is spreading misinformation on Facebook or the Prime Minister is spreading misinformation through the media," Seymour said. 

"The Prime Minister has been whipping up hysteria from the highest pulpit in the land against people who cannot defend themselves."

After Ardern's comments, the public started piling into Case L online for not isolating.

"My parents are really upset and English isn't their first language and they don't know how to fight this which is why I'm doing this now," Case L told Newshub. 

Then, the Government's own COVID-19 website leapt to the KFC worker's defence - setting the record straight. 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," the post said.  "The family complied with the advice they were given at the time."

Here's why the date of February 23 is so important. Case L went to work at KFC on February 22 and the ministry's advice was updated the day after she went to work - on February 23.

The new advice was that all households of Papatoetoe High School should isolate. By that stage, on the 23rd, Case L and her entire family were isolating.

Case L's sister - a student who was a "casual plus" contact known as Case I - tested positive for COVID-19 on February 23.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said, despite all that, "other" advice was sent to families earlier.

Hipkins. Photo credit: News

"Very clear guidance was sent out to all of the families saying everyone in the households should get a test," he told a media briefing on Wednesday.

But Collins accused Hipkins of "spinning".

"This is simply not acceptable," she said. "People should have one piece of advice."

University of Otago epidemiologist Amanda Kvalsvig said the public is getting confused about what's happening because things are changing rapidly.

"So that's the challenge - being able to communicate clearly about risk when the risk is uncertain," she told Newshub.

Case L, who's not a student at Papatoetoe High School, would not have been sent anything directly. The school only sent information advice to students and their parents.

Growing calls for an apology after Unite Against COVID-19 post contradicts Jacinda Ardern
Photo credit: Getty/Newshub.

She maintains such information was never received.  

Newshub asked why the Unite Against COVID-19 website contradicted what the Prime Minister had said, but a response wasn't forthcoming.  A spokesperson from the Office of the Prime Minister said Case L went to work when her sisters had symptoms. 

Case L told Newshub one of her sisters had some aches, but she did not associate those symptoms with the more common COVID-19 symptoms like a sore throat and shortness of breath.

She said if she'd known her sister had COVID-19 she "would have never gone into work". 

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield warned on February 24, after Case L had gone to work and her family were in quarantine, that aches and pains were symptoms to watch out for with the UK variant.


Growing calls for an apology after Unite Against COVID-19 post contradicts Jacinda Ardern
Photo credit: United Against COVID-19/Facebook

The Prime Minister's office said most of the Papatoetoe High community got tested in a timely manner. 

"However, the Prime Minister has said she’s happy to go back and see if anything further could have been done to ensure these messages got through to this family," a spokesperson said.