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Jacinda Ardern calls in military after New Zealand quarantine blunder

“This case represents an unacceptable failure of the system. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated,” Ardern said Wednesday in Wellington.

By: Bloomberg |
June 17, 2020 9:54:57 am
Jacinda Ardern speaks to media on June 17.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called in the military to enforce border controls after two women who arrived from the U.K. were allowed to leave quarantine early and subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.

“This case represents an unacceptable failure of the system. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated,” Ardern said Wednesday in Wellington. She appointed the Assistant Chief of Defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities, including the processes around the exit of those who have been in them.

The move follows news that two sisters — New Zealand citizens who returned from the U.K. to visit a dying parent — were allowed to leave quarantine early without being tested for Covid-19 and were later found to be infected with the virus. The Ministry of Heath has so far identified 320 close contacts of the women who it is now in the process of contacting, isolating and testing.

The two new cases were the first in more than three weeks and brought an end to New Zealand’s brief period of being virus-free, which came with the recovery of the last of its previous patients on June 8.

New Zealand has lifted all Covid-related restrictions on its population, including the requirement for social distancing. Its border remains closed to everyone except New Zealand citizens and residents, and some foreigners granted exemptions, and all those coming in must serve two weeks of managed isolation in a government facility such as approved hotels.

Ardern said Webb would undertake an audit of facilities and practices and make any changes needed to strengthen the borders. He can also seek access to our military’s logistics, operational expertise and, if needed, personnel to assist in the running of the facilities, she said.

“Our borders and the controls at our borders must be rigorous, they must be disciplined,” she said.

The government yesterday suspended the use of compassionate leave from quarantine, which is what allowed the sisters to exit their Auckland isolation and travel by road to Wellington.

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