Authorities in New Zealand are beefing up security at isolation sites following reports of people escaping quarantine facilities in Auckland this week. On Tuesday night, a 32-year-old man absconded from Stamford Plaza, with reports saying that he was out in the city for over an hour. The man tested positive for the coronavirus the next morning.
Cabinet Minister Megan Woods, who heads the country’s isolation and quarantine facilities for travelers, said that the government will press charges against the escapee.
“We will come down on them with the full weight of the law,” Woods added. “They are putting New Zealanders at risk. Frankly, they don’t deserve to join the team of five million.”
On Thursday, health officials reported three new cases, all of them identified in isolation facilities. To date, New Zealand has 24 active cases, as well as 5,468 people in managed isolation or quarantine. The country has one of the world’s most effective responses to the coronavirus, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved swiftly to close borders and enforce lockdowns during the early stages of the outbreak. Currently, the country has a caseload of 1,542, with 22 deaths, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.
According to local reports, the man was under quarantine at Stamford Plaza, after arriving from India on July 3. He escaped the facility from a smoking area, with security mistaking him for a construction worker. In an interview with the Herald, the man felt “healthy and fine” but was “very stressed” by his situation. He also said that his reasons for leaving the hotel were different from those provided by officials, but he refused to elaborate.
Based on official reports, the man climbed through the fenced section of a smoking area at the hotel to escape. He was then seen walking through town to a supermarket, spending 20 minutes inside and taking selfies on his phone. He then made a phone call using free Wi-Fi outside a shop. Officials say that he was wearing a mask and did not come into close contact with anyone.
“Overall, the assessment of risk from this incident continues to be low,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.
This is the second report of a person fleeing from an isolation facility this month. Last week, a 43-year old woman escaped from the Pullman Hotel, wandering the streets for over an hour. The woman, who has since been located and charged, is set to appear in court this week.
Flights limited to ease overflow in quarantine facilities
Meanwhile, the government is planning to limit the number of Kiwis flying home to manage the country’s overflowing quarantine facilities. Bookings for Air New Zealand flights, in particular, will temporarily be suspended “to ensure the government is able to safely place” arrivals in either managed isolation or quarantine. In response, the airline has placed a three-week hold on new bookings on international flights in compliance with the government’s request.
Many Kiwis have recently been heading back to the South Pacific nation, especially after it eliminated the coronavirus within its borders. Foreigners are still from barred entering, and returning citizens or residents are placed in managed isolation facilities for two weeks before re-entering the country.
Since it was implemented in March, over 26,400 people have been through managed isolation and quarantine. To date, over 28 facilities – usually hotels approved for the purpose – serve as managed isolation areas in the country. The government is working on adding more facilities in an effort to accommodate an increase in arrivals. (Related: Wealthy Americans are ESCAPING CORONAVIRUS by bugging out to luxury survival bunkers.)
“Standing up new capacity at the required levels for people to stay in for 14 days of isolation is a hugely complex undertaking,” added Air Commodore Darryn Webb, head of managed isolation and quarantine in New Zealand. “It needs appropriate levels of health and other services near by, New Zealand Defence Force personnel and extra security to ensure that people are looked after properly and the risk of COVID getting out into the community is minimized.”
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