Coronavirus: MIQ boss reveals exact number of border workers who might never have been tested for COVID-19

The head of the managed isolation and quarantine system (MIQ) has revealed exactly how many border workers might not have been tested for COVID-19 at all - 74.

That's despite regular fortnightly testing being a legal requirement since September last year

It comes after COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed a security guard at the Grand Millennium in Auckland who contracted the deadly virus hadn't been tested for five months.

"I'm incredibly disappointed that this has happened," MIQ joint head Megan Main told The AM Show on Thursday morning. "This isn't what we want out of the MIQ system and we're all working really hard to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Just how the security guard went five months without a test remains unclear. In Parliament on Wednesday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the 24-year-old had "lied". His employer First Security said all its guards are "required to sign declarations that they are up-to-date with the COVID-19 testing requirements", but that it also has "current proof of up-to-date COVID-19 testing from all guards working at MIQ facilities".

Main said the employer's testing information didn't match what the Ministry of Health had, which is how they found out the worker hadn't been tested. She wasn't sure if the worker had provided actual proof of testing to his employer, or just lied about it. 

"He was providing assurances. Each employer has a different way of keeping track of their employees' status - that's something they're required to do under the testing order, and each employer will do that differently."

From April 27, all border employers will be required to use a centralised register. 

"We will all be using the same data," said Main. "When we run reports and give them to employers about where we see anomalies, that will match what the employer's getting as well. We will have, if you like, a single source of truth about testing data in two weeks' time."

Megan Main.
Megan Main. Photo credit: The AM Show

Right now, 90 percent of the 4000-plus border workers have been tested in the past two weeks.

"That doesn't mean the remaining 10 percent haven't been tested," said Main. "We can see that of that 10 percent, 80 percent have been tested, but not in the 14-day window... of that 10 percent, we know that a subset of that - 74 people, according to our data - have been on-site into one of our facilities, but haven't got a test result. 

"We contacted them yesterday to find out what their situation is. It could be that they're new to MIQ, or it could be some other reason that we need to address with the employer."

First Security said it would hold its own investigation into the worker's compliance once he had recovered. He is currently at the Jet Park quarantine facility. 

Opposition response 

National Party COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said it was "deeply unedifying of the Prime Minister to essentially punch down to a security guard".

"She hasn't even waited for the investigation - she's pre-judged the investigation and said that the security guard was lying," he told Newshub. "In reality, the Government is culpable for the system failure that has led to this point... Why was there no checking done by the Ministry of Health?" 

Main said MIQ was a "human system" with 300 employers which "relies on every player doing their part".

"Employees, who are required to get tested; ... employers, who have to ensure their employees get tested and keep records; and we absolutely have a responsibility as the system owner to make sure the system is working and is improving." 

Chris Bishop.
Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Newshub.

The figure of 74 workers with an unknown testing status is slightly below Newshub's estimate on Wednesday of 85, based on data supplied by Hipkins' office, and more than the 60 estimated by the New Zealand Herald

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment boss Carolyn Tremain was unable to cite any figure when asked by Bishop at a select committee on Wednesday.

The people on the front line change frequently, Main said, with police and Defence Force staff for example being rotated on and off. 

Vaccine latest

As for the vaccine, as of Tuesday night 90 percent of MIQ border workers had had their shots. Any who haven't by May 1 will be taken off the front line. Main said there were a variety of reasons the remaining 500 or so hadn't had the jab. Some remain nervous, while others didn't want to be the "first cab off the rank".

"We'll always have a small number of people who can't be vaccinated... we'll have some who are pregnant... we need to let the employers work with these people individually right up to the time we've allowed, which is the end of April."