'Unacceptable failure': New Zealand PM Ardern criticises bungle after new COVID-19 cases

'Unacceptable failure': New Zealand PM Ardern criticises bungle after new COVID-19 cases

Jacinda Ardern press conference file photo
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference about the COVID-19 coronavirus at Parliament in Wellington on Jun 8, 2020. (File photo: AFP)

WELLINGTON: New Zealand on Wednesday (Jun 17) said the defence force will now oversee the country's quarantine facilities and strengthen border requirements, after a slip-up allowed two people with coronavirus to move around the country.

A 24-day run with no new cases was broken on Tuesday when it emerged two women who recently arrived from Britain were allowed out of quarantine early without being tested for the virus, even though one had mild symptoms.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday she was appointing the assistant chief of defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, to oversee all quarantine and to manage isolation facilities, including the processes of exiting people from these facilities. 

"My view is that we need the rigour, we need the confidence, we need the discipline that the military can provide," Ardern told reporters at a news conference in parliament.

Ardern added that the infected persons should never have been allowed to leave.  

"This represents an unacceptable failure of the system," she said. "We require not one but two tests to be undertaken at those facilities ... it did not, and there are no excuses."

Ardern said Webb can seek access to military logistics, its operational expertise and, if needed, personnel, for running of the quarantine facilities.

She added that an audit would be done to make sure all processes in place are followed and any changes needed can be made to further strengthen the border facilities.

"I cannot allow the gains we have all made to be squandered by processes that are not followed," Ardern said.

"The suspension of compassionate exemptions will continue until such time as we can guarantee a disciplined and rigorous system at the border that ministers have confidence in."

The new infections are a setback to New Zealand, which lifted all social and economic restrictions except border controls last week, declaring it had no new or active cases of the coronavirus, one of the first countries in the world to return to pre-pandemic normality.

READ: In New Zealand, shopping, parties and big hugs mark start of COVID-free life

The two new cases, who are in their 30s and 40s, were in an isolation facility in Auckland and were given special permission to leave the facility to visit a dying parent in Wellington. Both are self-isolating now.

New Zealand's director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said that the authorities have traced 320 close contacts of the two cases, adding there were no new cases on Wednesday. 

New Zealand has won praise for its handling of the pandemic, which involved a strict seven-week lockdown that ended last month after the virus was contained. 

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Source: Agencies/ad(rw)

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