New Zealand gov’t faces questions over border testing shortfall

Sydney, Australia, Aug 18 (efe-epa).- The New Zealand government was facing questions Tuesday over alleged failures in COVID-19 testing for workers at the country’s borders and in the monitoring of the entry of people from abroad.

The country’s health authorities confirmed a positive case in a maintenance worker at a quarantine center for international arrivals in Auckland, which does not appear to be linked to the local outbreak of COVID-19 detected last week after 102 days without local transmission.

With 1.7 million residents, Auckland is the most populous city in the country and is under lockdown until Aug. 26. It is the epicenter of an outbreak of COVID-19 initially detected last week in four members of the same family and to which around 60 other cases are linked, including 12 confirmed Tuesday.

The origin of the outbreak is still unknown, but authorities suspect that the virus came from abroad, so are conducting testing to detect COVID-19 among its border workers, which was first implemented at the end of June.

“We did have the testing set up. Not everyone who was asymptomatic was going through it. It appears in some cases staff were reluctant to be tested and we needed to compel them. We have done that now. It is an order – everyone has to be,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Newstalk ZB radio on Tuesday.

Despite news that about 75 percent of border workers had not undergone COVID-19 testing as of early August, Ardern expressed confidence in her director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, and Air Commander Darryn Webb, who is in charge of the quarantine centers.

Ardern told Radio New Zealand that mobile testing units were set up at Auckland Airport on July 10 and 16, and that wide testing, including of potential asymptomatic cases, was planned, however “what appears to have been the case is that it was tending not to necessarily have that level of coverage.”

“I have had reported reluctance amongst staff around asymptomatic testing. Our expectation was we would have asymptomatic rolling testing … it was what we had instructed,” she said.

“I don’t feel I’m a position to pinpoint or make any claims about what exactly has been the issue with that testing regime at this point. What I’m looking for is the final outcome,” Ardern added.

In addition to putting Auckland in lockdown, Ardern has imposed restrictions throughout the country due to the outbreak and has postponed the general election due to be held on Sep. 19, to Oct. 17.

New Zealand, the government of which was globally praised for putting the country into a hard lockdown in March when it had about 50 cases, returned to normality in early June with no local transmissions.

It has recorded 1,293 COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic, including 22 deaths, and has 90 active cases. Six are hospitalized. EFE-EPA


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