There are 28 new cases of Covid-19 in the current outbreak, while the Government says nobody was put at risk by an escapee from MIQ

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has defended the Government’s failure to notify the public about a Covid-infected person who had escaped from quarantine until after they were captured by police, saying there was no risk to public safety.

On Thursday afternoon, police arrested a man at a house in Ōtāhuhu after he fled from an MIQ facility in the early hours.

While officials were notified about the man’s disappearance mid-morning on Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not disclose the incident at the day’s 1pm press conference.

Speaking to media on Friday afternoon, Robertson said the escapee had been tested as a close contact of another case and were notified on Wednesday afternoon that he had tested positive.

After dropping a car at the house of the friend who was also in isolation as a close contact, the man returned to his home and on Wednesday evening it was agreed he would be transferred to an MIQ facility.

CCTV footage from that night showed he had left his room three times between 11.30pm and 1am, escaping just after 1am when he hid in the bushes as a security guard passed by.

The man then walked home to his house, with CCTV footage inspected by health officials and police confirming there were no locations of interest as a result of his escape.

“I want to be very clear, the advice that we have had from the Auckland regional public health service on the basis of all of this information is that there was no risk to public safety through this incident,” Robertson said.

“However, it is clearly a regrettable incident, and one that has now been thoroughly investigated, and we will obviously release information about that investigation as soon as it comes to hand.”

Asked why Ardern had not informed the public of a potential threat to their health, Robertson said he rejected that assertion as the Government did not have any evidence of a risk to public safety.

The police operation was “an evolving situation” at the time the press conference was held

“I believe the responsible thing to do here is to let the police do their job – as soon as it was possible to release information, that information was released…

“There was a variety of details that were coming forward, but none of them would trump the fact that the police were still involved in an active operation, and we need to leave the police to do the job.”

Providing Friday’s case update, Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said there had been just 28 new community cases identified, 27 of which were in Auckland and just one in Wellington – the latter a close contact of an existing case, and who was already in an MIQ facility.

The day’s tally has taken the overall Covid-19 outbreak to 764 cases, 33 of whom had already recovered from the virus.

“While this fall in today’s numbers is encouraging, we are mindful that these outbreaks can have a long tail and we can’t afford to become complacent,” McElnay said.

Thirty-five percent of the 49 cases announced on Thursday were considered to have been infectious in the community, but had visited either a supermarket, healthcare provider or a social worker under lockdown rules.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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