Jacinda Ardern not backing down in dispute with COVID-19 Case L

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not backing down in her dispute with a COVID-positive KFC worker, who she says should not have gone to work. 

"I've consistently stood by what I've said and I will continue to do so," Ardern said on Friday, after announcing that Auckland will shift out of alert level 3 lockdown on Sunday. 

"I don't think anyone's deliberately gone out to act against advice or instructions or to create the situation we're in. I don't believe that for a moment, which is one of the reasons I haven't seen merit in continuing a back and forth on some of the particular cases."

The past week has been dominated by Case L, a KFC worker in one of the infected families who tested positive last Friday. She ended up in a war of words with Ardern after claiming she wasn't given clear instructions to self-isolate. 

Case L told Newshub earlier this week that 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. 

It contradicted Ardern who said Case L should not have gone to work. 

Case L said she saw the text message her sister received and went to work at KFC on February 22. Case L's sister, Case J, was also deemed a 'casual plus' contact and 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, Ardern told reporters Case L "should have" stayed at home instead of working on February 22. 

Case L told Newshub she expected an apology from Ardern because she went to work the day before her siblings tested positive. 

A Facebook post by the official Unite Against COVID-19 website backed up Case L's claims, saying she and her sister were "not required to isolate" at the time they went to work.  

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins leapt to Ardern's defence on Thursday, saying the Facebook post was missing context that Cases I and J were already showing symptoms on February 19 and 20 - before Case L went to work. 

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

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Ardern said she never wanted the public to pile on and blame Case L. 

"While I stand by what I said, I've never believed and never, ever claimed that anything has been deliberate here, and nor have I ever wanted to see a pile in on anyone," she said. 

"I've always said we need to create an environment where people feel like they can come through and get tested because we rely on that."

While Auckland is shifting to alert level 2 on Sunday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has issued a health order under the Health Act to ensure people who may have come into contact with a positive case stay isolated. 

It comes after a COVID-positive 21-year-old visited a gym while he was symptomatic, and after he had received a test - a breach of the rules. It left the Government no choice but to put Auckland into alert level 3 for seven days, after it had just come out five days earlier.

Anyone who was at City Fitness Gym at Hunters Plaza on February 20 between 11:15am and 1:45pm or on February 26 between 3:25pm and 4:30pm must isolate at home and get a test. 

ACT leader David Seymour thinks the health order was made to avoid any confusion similar to the miscommunication with Case L. 

"The Prime Minister spent most of the week attacking citizens for breaking rules that didn't exist, at the end of the week the Government put such rules in place. The introduction of these rules should be accompanied by an apology."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not backing down in her dispute with a COVID-positive KFC worker, who she says should not have gone to work.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not backing down in her dispute with a COVID-positive KFC worker, who she says should not have gone to work. Photo credit: File

Ardern said the Government's response has never been perfect. 

"In August, we had some quite significant breaches - relatively widespread ones. They weren't always canvassed in as much detail and in part it was probably because it was larger and there wasn't so much focus on individual cases," she said. 

"The point I've always tried to make is that as a team we've gotten through all of those scenarios too and we will continue to do so."

Ardern said on Friday morning she caught up with her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who is overseeing a country where 26,788 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths were reported in one day. By comparison, New Zealand has had no new community cases for five days. 

"The general provisions we've worked through and operated by here in New Zealand over the past year are by and large very well understood."