Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington, New Zealand, in March 2019.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Two women who traveled from the UK to New Zealand earlier this month tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, becoming New Zealand’s first new infections in 24 days.
The arrivals had been allowed to leave isolation four days early to travel around the country, under an established compassionate exemption, to visit a dying relative.
Health officials said the arrivals had not been tested for the coronavirus before leaving isolation, despite new rules saying they should be tested on the third and 12th days of isolation.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the episode “an unacceptable failure of the system,” and put the military in charge of border quarantine processes.
Health officials are now scrambling to trace 320 close contacts of the pair, according to The Guardian.
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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called the decision to allow two arrivals from the UK travel the country without being tested for COVID-19 “an unacceptable failure of the system,” and put the military in charge of quarantining people at the border from now on.
Two women who traveled from the UK to New Zealand earlier this month tested positive on Tuesday, marking the country’s first new infections in 24 days. Ardern had announced last week that the country had eliminated the coronavirus.
People coming into the country are ordinarily kept in 14-day managed isolation. Additionally, under rules introduced on June 9 — two days after the arrivals came — arrivals should be tested for the virus on the third and 12th day.
However, the two visitors were not tested before being allowed to travel the country, according to The Guardian. The pair were in the country to see a dying relative, and were allowed to leave isolation four days early under the compassionate exemption.
The pair — whose nationalities are not known — tested positive for the virus after making an eight-hour drive from Auckland to Wellington in a private car, according to The Guardian. According to News.com.au, they were allowed to travel on the basis that they would be tested when they got to Wellington.
Ardern has now put the quarantine system at the border under military control, and removed an exemption of compassionate grounds that had allowed the two women to leave quarantine early.
Authorities are now tracing 320 close contacts of the women, including those who were on their plane, and in the same hotel during isolation, The Guardian reported.
Another guest at the hotel at the same time as the two women told Television New Zealand that she had not been tested before leaving either, having been offered an “optional” test.
New Zealand has taken what Ardern called “an extraordinarily cautious approach” at the border, allowing only New Zealanders, essential workers and those in exceptional circumstances to enter the country.
Ardern said the new cases do not affect the country’s coronavirus-free status.
“Our definition always assumed there would be cases at the border,” she said, according to The Guardian.
The country remains at Alert Level 1, which asserts that the coronavirus is contained in the country.
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