Coronavirus: National, ACT rip into Government's response to Wellington-New South Wales case

Opposition parties have ripped into the Government's response to the COVID-19 case who travelled to Wellington from Australia over the weekend, prompting the capital to move to alert level 2 on Wednesday.

Australian authorities revealed late on Tuesday night that a COVID-19 case flew to Wellington from Sydney on Friday and then returned to New South Wales on Monday, when they tested positive for the infectious virus.

While New Zealand officials became aware of the case before 8pm on Tuesday night, it wasn't until just before 6:15am on Wednesday that the Ministry of Health confirmed the case had visited Wellington. It then revealed locations of interest in batches throughout the morning.

That response is coming under scrutiny from opposition parties, who say the Government was too slow to act. National's Judith Collins wants to make sure the Ministry of Health has someone "manning the desk at night because COVID doesn't sleep" while ACT's David Seymour also questioned why it took so long to tell the public about key locations. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins rejected the suggestion the response was "sluggish". 

"It was put out as soon as it was available, as soon as we were able to assemble that information. Obviously, in situations like this, time is of the essence," he said on Wednesday.

"I don't think it would be fair to characterise that as sluggish."

Asked why it took officials about 10 hours to confirm the case (between being notified at around 8pm on Tuesday and sending confirmation to media at 6:15am), Hipkins said: "There is a night-time in between then". 

"The contact tracers were working into the evening and again early this morning to put that information together."

Coronavirus: National, ACT rip into Government's response to Wellington-New South Wales case
Photo credit: Getty Images.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said officials quickly identified the case's four close contacts, isolated them and then spoke to the case "into the early hours of the morning". 

"There is a process that needs to be gone through by our experts to assess what the risk is to determine what it is we are going to ask people to do who have been in those settings. That was done as quickly as possible this morning."

The process includes corroborating information received from the case and assessing the risk and whether the locations need to become public. 

Dr Bloomfield said he believes officials did a "good job" at getting the information together.

"If you look as we have gone through our various cases and outbreaks here in New Zealand, we have got faster and faster at getting these locations of interest out. You will see this time real clarity about what is expected of people without any confusion around definitions of whether people are close or some other sort of contact."

He said officials like to notify businesses that they are locations of interest before it becomes public.

"Some of them may then choose to put a message out either through social media or to call staff." 

Locations of interest include the popular Te Papa museum, a large number of bars and cafes and central city bookstore. Many people who visited those sites are being asked to self-isolate and get tested. 

Seymour said the delay to confirm the case and release places of interest is "frankly unacceptable".

"Why are we being drip fed places of interest throughout the morning? Why wasn’t the Ministry of Health able to identify these places and let us know immediately?

"People who have been at locations of interest have gone about their business for an entire morning when they should have been isolating.

"COVID has been around long enough and we’ve had enough lockdowns that we should know by now what to do."

Both Seymour and Collins believe Wellingtonians should have been alerted on Tuesday night. 

The National leader said there are "modern things called emails, texts and other forms of communication".

"I think if the Australians had the information, we should have had it."

She said businesses that are locations of interest should be told at the same time as the public.

Collins, however, is supportive of the move to alert level 2.

Wellington will move to alert level 2 at 6pm on Wednesday until at least 11:59pm on Sunday. All four close contacts have tested negative.  

The full list of locations of interest can be found here.