Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the testing of border and managed isolation staff has not been “executed at the scale and speed necessary”, so the Government has strengthened measures in response, Marc Daalder reports

An extra 500 Defence Force personnel will be deployed to marine ports and the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

A new “team” will also be set up to aid the Ministry of Health in rolling out its testing strategy nationally and at the borders. The new body will be led by Heather Simpson, who chaired a recent review of the health and disability sector, and Sir Brian Roche, who is currently in charge of the Contact Tracing Assurance Committee.

The rest of the team would be revealed in the coming days, Ardern said.

The measures come after a week of furore over the lack of testing of border and managed isolation staff. A national testing strategy announced on June 23 promised that staff working at the borders and in MIQ facilities would be regularly tested. However, as many as three in five workers had yet to be tested even once by the start of the latest outbreak in Auckland.

Mandatory testing was quickly ushered in by the Government – and this identified the case of a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility yesterday.

Defence Force personnel will progressively replace contracted security guards over the next six weeks, Ardern said. Contractors in key security roles will be phased out first. Any remaining security guards will then be employed through the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, which is in charge of MIQ facilities. The guards will be paid a living wage.

Ardern said Roche is currently working alongside the Auckland Public Health Unit to help the ongoing contact tracing of the cold store cluster. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said 1,983 close contacts of community cases had been identified since August 11 and 1,861 of them – more than 90 percent – had been contacted and asked to self-isolate.

The announcement came as part of the daily case numbers update, at which Bloomfield reported there were six new cases in New Zealand. Five of them were community cases that are linked to the Auckland cold store cluster. The last is a new case in a managed isolation facility in Rotorua who will be transferred to the Jet Park quarantine facility in Auckland.

Five people are in hospital with Covid-19.

On Tuesday, the country processed 23,038 tests. Over the past week, 136,710 tests have been conducted.

Bloomfield also said that serology or antibody testing was being used in the Rydges Hotel to identify if any staff members may have been infected as an intermediary who then infected the hotel worker whose case was reported Tuesday. The worker was the only staff member to test positive after the entire hotel staff was tested last week, but antibody tests could reveal someone was previously infected even if they test negative on the usual PCR test.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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