Jacinda Ardern blames 'mismatch' in data for delay in sharing info about border worker COVID-19 case

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern blames a "mismatch" in data for sitting on information for nearly a week about a COVID-positive border worker who went five months without a test. 

Newshub revealed the Government knew about the five-month lag for six days before telling the public, despite being repeatedly grilled about when the border worker's last test was. 

Officials first learnt the security guard, known as Case B, hadn't been tested since November, on the morning of April 8. It was soon kicked upstairs to the team that manages COVID-19 cases. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield was then briefed and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was told ahead of a 1pm press conference that day. But the Government didn't tell the public until six days later despite being repeatedly questioned about it by media and MPs. 

The fact the border worker hadn't been tested for five months wasn't revealed to the public until April 14, when Carolyn Tremain, chief executive of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), told a parliamentary committee

On that day, Ardern labelled the border worker a "liar" several times in Parliament, comments she later admitted were "a bit blunt"

The Government is coming under fire for sitting on the information for six days, but Ardern says the delay was necessary due to a "mismatch" in what the testing data showed and what the border worker had told them. 

"We didn't speculate on this occasion," Ardern said on Tuesday.

"On this occasion, we actually didn't have clarity. We had a record that showed one thing and a claim that showed the other, and we didn't want to get into a position of putting out information that we couldn't verify at that point."

Pictured: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
Pictured: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Hipkins also defended not sharing the information when he first knew. 

"I got information right before a media conference that suggested that the person may not have been tested since November. At that point I was also given information to suggest that person was contesting that information and that their employer was also contesting that information.

"Clearly, before making public comment on that, we needed some time to reconcile those things."

National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says the Government is lying by omission.

"For the Government to sit on that information for six days, to dance on the head of a pin in press conference after press conference and not disclose that information is a real failure of duty by the Government."

Ardern's labelling of the security worker has been described as echoing her treatment of a KFC worker, who upon testing positive in February was pilloried online after the Prime Minister blamed her for going to work and ignoring instructions to self-isolate. 

The KFC worker argued she'd never been told to self-isolate and last month, documents revealed the KFC worker wasn't contacted directly by health officials until after her shift.  

Ardern didn't back down.  

"We never changed our position on that worker. We were consistent all the way through on what was required of them. We never reconciled from that," Ardern said on Tuesday. 

"Here, we actually had a lack of clarity of information and I think it's only the responsible thing to do to hold fire till we can work through what we know."

National leader Judith Collins suggested Ardern is trying to avoid blame.  

"She's refused to apologise the KFC worker who she wrongly blamed for causing the second-to-last lockdown in Auckland and then she's refused to apologise to the security guard who she's pretty much wrongly blamed for causing the last one."