Grant Robertson defends Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for not sharing information on alleged COVID-positive MIQ escapee

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson is defending his boss Jacinda Ardern for not sharing information about an alleged COVID-positive escapee at her 1pm press conference. 

A man with the Delta strain of COVID-19 was arrested just before 2:30pm on Thursday after allegedly escaping from the Novotel Ellerslie managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility and returning to his home in Ōtāhuhu. 

The man entered quarantine on Wednesday night. CCTV footage showed he left the facility at around 1:07am. It wasn't until 10.30am on Thursday that police were notified after a member of the man's family dobbed him in.

It means there was a Delta case on the run in the community for more than 12 hours, and the public wasn't informed until about 3pm on Thursday by police, despite the Prime Minister knowing about it when she held her 1pm press conference. 

But Robertson told The AM Show on Friday he believes Ardern did the right thing by withholding the information. 

"I understand the Prime Minister found out just a few minutes before she went down to her 1pm press conference, that there had been an incident with an MIQ. At that point it was a live police operation," Robertson said. 

"They were still to apprehend the person. And it would have been irresponsible for the Prime Minister to have given details about a situation she did not have all the details for or while the police were still doing their job. 

"As soon as the police completed their operation, information about the case was released. That's exactly the way it should be handled."

Robertson told host Ryan Bridge Ardern was given "very sketchy details" about what was happening. 

"As far as I'm aware Ryan, she was told that there was an incident involving MIQ, there were very few details at that time, but she was aware that it was a live police operation.

"We're in an alert level environment. People are wearing masks, they're keeping distanced, they're staying in their bubbles - that's exactly what we want them to do. From time to time, incidents will occur. 

"But if police are in the middle of an operation and the Prime Minister comes down and starts talking about it, you would be criticising her for the opposite reason. She did the responsible thing here. The information was released as soon as it possibly could be."

ACT leader David Seymour told The AM Show Ardern should have been upfront about what was going on. 

"It's easy to be hard on the Government for letting him escape; occasionally you get someone who just doesn't want to play along and as this lockdown continues I think you're going to get more desperate people, more people fatigued with the measures," Seymour said. 

"The real issue is this: we are supposedly a team of 5 million, fighting an attack which is really a virus attacking the human species, and we've all been told to bind together and play our part. 

"But time and again, the Government has vital information and it's not prepared to take us into its confidence, treat us like adults, and give us ownership of the solution."

Robertson said officials have deemed the situation to be "relatively low-risk", despite there still being several holes in the investigation to fill, such as how the man travelled to his home from Ellerslie, or where he went when he was supposed to be self-isolating. 

Robertson said when the man was informed he had tested positive, he got in a car and drove somewhere, when he should have been isolating at home by law. When he got back he was transferred to quarantine. 

The investigation is yet to determine where the man went. It's also unclear whether the man walked home from Ellerslie or was picked up by a friend. 

"As far as people are aware, he went pretty much straight to the residence and stayed there. That's the information that we have. Obviously further digging into that will occur over the course of the day," Robertson said. 

"It's really important to say here that the family has been really helpful and cooperative here. I'm not going to get into each and every individual part of their circumstances, but suffice to say, they have been cooperative, those who need to have been tested will have been tested, and there are other members of his bubble that are still in the quarantine facility."

Robertson said it remains to be seen why the man's alleged breach of self-isolating rules didn't trigger MIQ staff to keep a closer watch. They only found out he had left the facility thanks to a family member who informed them. 

"When people go into MIQ they get a risk assessment by the folk at MIQ," Robertson said. 

"MIQs aren't prisons, Ryan, they're there to support the people in there who are COVID-positive and also to make sure that the broader New Zealand population have confidence. 

"In this particular instance something clearly has gone wrong, but let's bear in mind we've had over 170,000 people through MIQ and we've had 16 total abscondees."