A man who allegedly made off with a Northland District Health Board worker's vehicle as he was being escorted to hospital got more attention than he bargained for because the car contained a freshly taken Covid test swab.
Police had no way of knowing if the swab was positive — or had been interfered with during its unplanned detour — so they had to swing their Covid-19 protocols into action.
The vehicle was, however, quickly recovered by police with the swab still safely confined to a chilly bin.
The incident occurred late Thursday afternoon when a mental health patient ran away from his escort, jumped into a parked health board vehicle and drove away.
Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain said the car was attended at the time but the driver was getting something out of the boot.
''The police were immediately alerted and they recovered the vehicle, which was returned undamaged. The patient was returned to the hospital safely,'' he said.
A chilly bin in the car had a Covid-19 swab in it but had not been tampered with. The recovered swab was delivered to the laboratory.
The staff member involved was being supported and returned to work on Friday.
The circumstances of the event, which Chamberlain described as ''extraordinarily rare'', were being investigated.
Chamberlain said he was confident there was no risk to patient or staff safety.
Senior Sergeant Brain Swann of Northland police said the man and the vehicle were located at the man's home a short time later.
He confirmed the swab was recovered and had not been interfered with.
No decision had been made as to whether the man would face charges.
The good news for all concerned — including the patient who was tested for Covid-19 — is that the swab returned a negative result.