New Zealand’s military will now oversee its quarantine process after a slip up at the border allowed two people with Covid-19 to move around the country, which was previously considered virus-free.
Two women from the UK – who are New Zealand citizens – were released from quarantine before being tested for coronavirus.
They had flown from London to visit a dying parent and were granted an exemption to leave their mandatory 14-day quarantine early on compassionate grounds, the Associated Press reported.
They then travelled by car from Auckland to Wellington, where they tested positive for coronavirus.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern branded the incident an “unacceptable failure”.
Health officials said the women had no contact with other people on their road trip – but that they were contacting 320 people who may have come into contact with them on their flight or in their quarantine hotel.
Before the two new cases were announced on Tuesday, New Zealand had gone more than three weeks without reporting any new cases and was considered virus-free.
Last week, it became one of the first countries in the world to eliminate Covid-19 and return to pre-pandemic conditions, lifting all social and economic restrictions except border controls.
Ardern has now assigned a top military leader – the assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Digby Webb – to oversee New Zealand’s quarantine facilities and to strengthen border requirements.
The PM has advocated tough border measures to prevent another outbreak and has cancelled quarantine exemptions on compassionate grounds while the case is investigated further.