New Zealand police to patrol quarantine hotels after breakouts

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Police officers will patrol New Zealand’s quarantine hotels around-the-clock after a number of people – including a man who tested positive for coronavirus – escaped the managed isolation facilities.

In two separate incidents in Auckland hotels guests in isolation left their quarantine hotels, with one woman escaping over a hedge, and another man over a small fence.

The 32-year-old man – who was away for 70 minutes and visited a busy inner-city supermarket – tested positive for Covid-19. He has since been charged under new public health legislation. He faces a large fine or six months in prison.

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Government minister Megan Woods said on Thursday “the abscondees are a new phenomenon” and that their carelessness put the health of the whole country at risk. New Zealand has in effect eliminated the virus after a six-week lockdown, with ongoing tight border controls.

Woods said the escapees “didn’t deserve to be part of the team of 5 million”. Close to 28,000 people have passed through managed isolation in Auckland, but numbers are now beginning to slow after Air New Zealand agreed to manage the number of international arrivals.

New arrivals in the country – the majority of whom are New Zealand citizens – have reported growing hostility from New Zealanders, some of whom feel the country’s Covid-free status is being jeopardised.

Woods said returning New Zealanders deserved “love and support”, but they also needed to make a sacrifice by sticking to the rules and remaining in their hotels for the full two weeks. The majority of new arrivals had done so, she emphasised, but the small trickle of rule-breakers needed to be promptly dealt with.

“What has become clear to us is we’re seeing a number of incidents that mean we need to have police on-site around the clock with all the powers police have,” Woods said. “Climbing fences, slipping through gaps in fences … they are the sorts of behaviours that are of most concern to us.”

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Air Commodore Darryn Webb, who is managing the mass quarantine exercise, said six-foot-high fences had been erected at every isolation facility in the country, and exercise schedules and grounds had been reorganised to ensure better security.

There are 5,648 people in managed isolation and quarantine, and on Thursday a further three new arrivals tested positive for Covid-19.