The New Zealand Prime Minister has slammed a blunder that resulted in two women from the UK with coronavirus being released from quarantine without being tested.
The revelation has resulted in a race being launched by health officials to trace 320 ‘close contacts’ of the travellers so they can be tested.
These include passengers on their flight to New Zealand and other quarantined travellers at their Auckland hotel, as well as hotel staff and flight crew.
The two women were released from quarantine early under a ‘compassionate exemption’ so they could visit a dying family member 650km away in Wellington.
One later suffered Covid-19 symptoms so they were both tested and proved positive.
They are now self-isolating with a relative.
The Guardian reports Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday it was “absolutely nonsensical” the women had not been tested adding that “it should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”
The Government’s defence force has been tasked with managing the quarantine of new arrivals and audit the process.
This comes a week after Ms Arden lifted restrictions in New Zealand after announcing the nation was “coronavirus free”.
Speaking at a news conference, she said the country would move to national alert level 1, making New Zealand one of the first industrialised countries to do so.
The PM added public and private events can go on without restrictions, retail and hospitality sectors can operate normally, and all public transport can resume.
She said the two new cases would not change the country’s status.
“Our definition always assumed there would be cases at the border,” she said.
Todd Muller, the country’s opposition leader, dubbed the failure “clumsy and totally inappropriate” and is calling for David Clark, the health minister, to be sacked.
He told Radio New Zealand : “I’m as furious as I suspect most New Zealanders are.
“We have systems in place that we expect to be followed and they simply weren’t.”
Currently only New Zealand citizens, their families, and essential workers are allowed into the country.
New arrivals are supposed to stay in managed isolation for 14 days, during which they should be tested twice for the virus.
But the government brought in the “compassionate exemption” following complaints that the policy was stopping people from visiting dying relatives
Ms Ardern said the exemptions have been suspended until a “disciplined and rigorous” process was in place.
She said: “I cannot allow the gains we have all made to be squandered by processes not being upheld.
“It may be a hard and unpopular decision to take, but it is the right one for the country.”
New Zealand’s government attracted praise from across the globe for its swift and stringent lockdown that halted the spread of coronavirus with less than 1,500 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.
But scientists said the two women testing positive shows how easily a “second wave” of infection could spread.
Amanda Kvalsvig, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, said: “These two new cases illustrate very vividly how quickly rules and guidelines can unravel when they collide with real life.
“We’re now in a situation where potentially hundreds of people have travelled for several hours in an enclosed space with someone who was infectious,” she said.
“There is an enormous amount of ‘mopping up’ to do to make sure that all potential transmission chains have been extinguished.”
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s top health official, said he was “not nervous” given they had “done everything right” when asked if the two cases could cause a new outbreak.