The man who escaped a Hamilton hotel last night evaded a police guard, climbed down a fire escape, cut through a fence and rushed to a liquor store, the Health Minister says.
And Chris Hipkins has admonished the Ministry of Health for failing to provide timely advice to the Countdown that was visited by another man who escaped a managed isolation facility in Auckland on Tuesday night.
There have now been three people who have escaped managed isolation since Saturday, and Hipkins said that could be an indication of the type of Kiwis now returning from overseas.
"There are fewer families coming through, there are more single people coming back, there are more people who have more complex health needs."
He said there have been three people escaping out of just under 28,000 people in total who have come through quarantine and managed isolation facilities.
"I don't accept people knowingly and willingly breaking the law represent a flaw in the system. These are not maximum security prisons. These are hotels," Hipkins said.
"If someone broke into your house and stole all of your stuff, and then turned around and said, 'Well, you should have had better locks,' I don't think anyone would accept that.
"These people are knowingly breaking the law, and as such they should be held accountable for their actions, and they will be."
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Hipkins said the man who fled from the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton had already tested negative for Covid-19, and a second test this morning had already returned a second negative result.
He had rushed out for 30 minutes and returned of his own accord.
Hipkins didn't want to speculate whether the man's brazen escape was because he didn't have access to alcohol, or whether he might have dependency issues.
Managed isolation facilities had a duty to be a responsible host, he said, and health services were available for returnees with addition issues.
Countdown experience not up to scratch
Hipkins said health officials had provided advice to the Hamilton liquor store visited by the absconder.
But this had not been given to the Auckland Countdown, which was visited by a man who escaped from The Stamford Plaza on Tuesday night, until late on Wednesday.
By that time Countdown had, off its own bat, already shut shop, completed a deep clean and chosen to self-isolate 18 staff members.
"The health communication with Countdown was certainly too late in the piece," Hipkins said.
"It does not meet my expectations around the speed of the response and that message has been well understood by all of the relevant health officials."
Good, timely, expert health advice on the ground in such circumstances was needed to reassure the community, he added.
"What you've seen from the Hamilton response is that that lesson has certainly been taken on board."
He praised both the Hamilton liquor store and the Countdown for taking steps to ensure safety.
"I think Countdown worked hard to do the right thing but weren't as well supported as they should have been."
Hipkins said tighter monitoring for people in managed isolation and quarantine facilities was being looked at, but he wouldn't be drawn on whether electronic bracelets were part of the mix.
Nor did he know if restricting people to their rooms until they returned a negative day-three test was still being considered.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb was investigating options.
Two more cases of Covid-19 today
It has been 70 days since the last case of community transmission, and there are two new cases today which are both contained in managed isolation facilities.
The first case is a man in his 20s who arrived in New Zealand on June 28 from India. He has been at the Sudima Auckland Airport facility since arrival.
He tested negative on day three of his stay and has subsequently tested positive on his day 12 test.
The second case is a man in his 20s who arrived in New Zealand on June 27 from England.
He has been in managed isolation at the Sudima Lake Rotorua. He tested positive on July 9 on day 12 of his stay.
There were now 23 active cases of coronavirus after three people recovered in the past 24 hours.
Yesterday there were 2575 tests, still well short of the recommended 4000 daily tests, and Hipkins said the numbers would ramp up in coming days.
Part of the reason the testing was too low, he said, was that GPs had told people to get tested but they were then not being tested by clinicians at community-based assessment centres (CBAC).
Every person showing up at CBACs with a GP's instruction to be tested should be tested, he said.
How much is too much to pay for booze?
Hipkins said hotels that were used for managed isolation had their own policies about serving alcohol, but they had to be responsible hosts.
"It is important that people adhere to moderate consumption of alcohol in these facilities."
Hipkins said for those with drug and alcohol addictions, health officials were available in managed isolation facilities.
People were not allowed to have alcohol delivered on their shopping lists.
He said it was his understanding that people in the hotels weren't paying the inflated prices that normally exist in hotels.
He would not be drawn on the motives behind the Hamilton man's escape.
Police had been at the hotel at the time, but the man had eluded them.
The Police Association has criticised the new policy of having a police presence 24/7 at every quarantine and managed isolation facility, saying police are not baby-sitters and it diverted resources away from important police work.
But Hipkins rejected this, saying part of being in the police is keeping New Zealanders safe.
"I've spoken to some police who are quite keen to do it because they want to be contributing to our collective efforts to the community keep safe."
Escapee's Hamilton booze run
Earlier today Air Commodore Webb confirmed that a man had cut through fence ties to escape the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton last night and bought booze from a liquor store on Te Rapa Road before returning about half an hour later.
A man who served him said he spent just two minutes in the store and bought a four pack of Leffe Blonde and a pinot noir.
He said the man paid by cash. Because of this every single note and coin in the register had to be cleaned this morning.
The man said it wasn't until this morning that police contacted the shop and asked to see footage from last night.
"We've wiped down all the counters with sanitiser and we trashed all the empty boxes he touched," said the man.
The man who escaped is due to appear in court later today.
Webb said that health officials had given advice to the store owner, which had not been given to the Countdown in Auckland that was visited by a man who escaped managed isolation at The Stamford Plaza on Tuesday night.
"As we have said repeatedly - actions such as these are completely unacceptable," said Webb.
"Returnees are given clear instructions and information about what their responsibilities are. Managed isolation is a critical part in our defence against Covid-19, and it is up to each and every person entering this country to play their part and abide by the law.
"We take any breach of the Covid-19 rules very seriously. Wilfully leaving our facilities will not be tolerated, and the appropriate action will be taken."
Third escape in a week
This is third person to escape from managed isolation within a week.
On Saturday, a woman jumped two fences at the Pullman Hotel shortly before 6.20pm and was located soon after a couple of blocks away at 8pm on Anzac Ave. She is appearing in the Auckland District Court on Monday.
On Tuesday night, a man sneaked through a gap in the fence at the Stamford Plaza and visited a Countdown Supermarket before returning 70 minutes later.
Yesterday Webb and Cabinet Minister Megan Woods said a review of the system had been done, and there would be a 24/7 police presence at every one of the quarantine and managed isolation facilities.
There will also be a lead security person at each facility.
"We expect to have these people on site in the next 24 to 48 hours," Webb said yesterday.
Both escapees from the Pullman and the Stamford had been from outdoor smoking areas, but a decision had been made not to close these. Instead they would be monitored all the time, and in circumstances where that was not possible, they would be closed.