A man who tested positive for Covid-19 before absconding from a quarantine facility in Auckland on Thursday had attempted to escape three times before he was successful, health officials report.
New Zealand police arrested the man at a south Auckland address on Thursday afternoon, roughly 10km from the Novotel Ibis hotel in Ellerslie, where he was quarantining. He had been in the community for at least 12 hours at the time of his arrest.
The man has been charged with failing to comply with the Covid-19 health order. He is now at the Jet Park quarantine facility with a permanent guard outside his room.
RNZ reports that it was his first night at the Ellerslie hotel and MIQ officials said CCTV footage showed he left his room three times between 11.40pm and just after 1am.
On the final attempt, he scaled down a fire stairwell to a fence before hiding in a bush and making his exit.
The joint head of MIQ, Brig Rose King, told RNZ that MIQ was working through a investigation to find out what occurred.
“As part of our procedures we do have CCTV and all of our facilities, but again, I am trying to … confirm what happened in this case.”
The deputy prime minister, Grant Robertson, told RNZ: “Everyone is disappointed by what’s happened here, but there are strict security arrangements at all of the quarantine facilities, and I’m sure the person will be being well looked after.”
It is not yet clear how many people the man came into contact with.
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has come under fire from opposition politicians for failing to reveal in her daily Covid-19 update on Thursday afternoon that the man had absconded from quarantine.
Robertson said: “The prime minister was given a sketchy set of details of an incident that it was taking place – bear in mind it was a live police operation at the point where the prime minister was told just before the 1pm press conference. And I think it would have been irresponsible, while a live police operation was under way, to go down and speculate about that.”
Speaking to TVNZ, the 23-year old man’s mother said she and her husband had called police when they realised their son was no longer in the facility.
“It’s hard for us parents to speak up and report our own son. We want to protect him, but when we think about the community, that’s what makes us change our mind.”
The woman apologised for her son’s behaviour and said she believed he was feeling homesick and anxious when he made the trip home.
She had also called police on her son on Wednesday morning, when he left home after receiving a positive Covid-19 test result. He returned after 10 minutes, before police arrived. The family were transferred to the quarantine facility that evening.
At least nine members of the family have tested positive for the virus, including the woman’s 75-year-old mother, who is being treated at Middlemore hospital.
The National party’s Covid-19 response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, told RNZ that round-the-clock monitoring for people, such as the abscondee, should be considered.
“The evidence shows that this particular person had absconded from his home isolation, for example, beforehand, and had some very, shall we say, extreme views in relation to vaccinations.
“So I think reasonable people would say that this is something that should have been to the knowledge of the authorities and maybe should have been some extra steps taken for him when he was in quarantine.”