Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears to be pointing the finger at public heath officials over the failure to regularly test border workers for Covid, before a new outbreak occurred in Auckland.
She said some border staff had been reluctant to take tests - and asked this morning by Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking why the Government hadn't picked up on the lack of testing, she said that was a question she was asking of public health officials.
"You can imagine the conversations we are having at the moment," Ardern said.
Her comments came as the rigorousness of New Zealand's alert level system has been thrust back into the spotlight after director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield floated a tightening of the level-1 setting.
Ardern acknowledged this morning that workers were not being tested "to the extent we wanted" in July and earlier in August.
Hosking: But why?
Ardern: "We did have the testing set up. Not everyone who was asymptomatic was going through it. It appears in some cases staff were reluctant to be tested and we needed to compel them. We have done that now. It is an order - everyone has to be. There are issues we are going back through."
She said it was not the only thing the Government was relying on to stop an outbreak - there were also daily health checks, machine cleaning and PPE use as well.
Even a weekly system of testing of people as espoused by the likes of epidemiologist David Skegg was not failsafe, she said.
Ardern did not directly answer why border staff were not being tested regularly, and why this wasn't picked up earlier, even though mobile testing stations had been set up in July.
Ultimately, she said, she needed to ask public health officials on the ground why that was the case.
"You can see what our expectations were, and they were very clear. That there would be regular routine testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic people working at high-risk places."
She said there was no expectation of a daily regime. Hosking quoted Skegg as saying the government's plan to do tests every two or three weeks was still not good enough, yet the Government wasn't even doing that.
Ardern said: "In our MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) we did have testing regularly going through... Cabinet then were of the view that we needed to make sure we had, in the Jet Park in particular, that it needed to be across every single worker. That was a reflection that we were hearing of a reluctance of workers to be tested that regularly. Our view was that should not be choice - it had to be done."
A "new normal", as Bloomfield put it when speaking to media yesterday, might include the enhanced use of masks when nationwide restrictions are eased.
"This outbreak will give us pause for thought about what alert level 1 looks like and what our minimum expectations of every New Zealander might be," Bloomfield said.
And this is advice the Government appears to be open to.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said ministers were constantly looking to make sure the alert level system was fit for purpose.
"If we got some advice that there were some shifts and some changes that could be made [we would look at that advice]."
This comes as nine new Covid-19 cases were revealed yesterday – all but two linked to the Auckland cluster.
But Bloomfield said he expected the other two to be linked back after more testing had been done.
There were just over 26,000 tests done on Sunday – five people are in hospital.
And, speaking to media in his daily briefing yesterday, Bloomfield appeared to pitch a pseudo alert level 1.5.
With the exception of Auckland – which is at level 3 – all of New Zealand is currently at alert level 2, where it will stay until at least August 26.
When the country eventually moves back down a level, Bloomfield said normal life might look different that it did before the second outbreak.
He said the aim should be to get back to "life as normal" as soon as possible.
"But the new normal [may] include perhaps a little more physical distancing, more frequent use of hand gels [and] possibly even the use of masks in some settings."
He mooted a new alert setting "somewhere between level 1 and 2".
This would mean, according to Bloomfield, the economy could remain open and people could still attend large events.
"All New Zealanders would prefer that we stayed in alert level 1, and would be prepared to perhaps modify what our behaviours are in alert level 1."
Although Robertson appeared open to the new alert level, Health Minister Chris Hipkins did not appear as keen.
"I actually think our level 1 settings are pretty good."
Meanwhile, health officials continue to investigate the source of the new outbreak.
Tests from the Americold factory in Auckland, which is where the first trace of the new virus was detected – have been sent back to Wellington for further forensic testing.
It will take a week for that testing to conclude.
But Bloomfield said environmental contamination – whereby Covid-19 lingered on cargo that was shipped to New Zealand after coming into contact with someone who had the virus – was a possibility.
"It could have been human, to a contamination of a surface, to human."
Bloomfield was also pressed on the latest testing blunder at his press conference yesterday.
Both he and Hipkins have come under fire for the amount of Covid-19 staff tested in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.
Over the weekend, Hipkins revealed just 60 per cent of all staff at the Jet Park hotel – the country's main quarantine facility – were being tested once a week.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the levels of testing had "not met our expectations".
But Bloomfield said no one had been misled and he had communicated frequently with ministers about testing border-facing workers.
"I was checking every single day. There was clearly a dissonance between what the Prime Minister thought was happening and what was happening on the ground."
He said there was no tension between him and the operational arm of the ministry, and there should be a review to make what was happening clearer, and to make "information flows clearer in both directions".
National's health spokesman Shane Reti said the saga jeopardised New Zealand's whole Covid-19 response.
"This is a serious system failure that needs to be addressed if we are to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand," he said.
"New Zealanders have been let down by this lack of testing and a complacent attitude from the Government."
But it wasn't all bad news for the Government yesterday.
The extension of the wage subsidy scheme – which is expected to cover 470,000 jobs – has been welcomed by unions and business lobby groups alike.
The current scheme was meant to expire on September 1, but Robertson announced yesterday that it had been extended another two weeks.
It is expected to cost the Government just over $500 million.
The mortgage deferral scheme has also been extended until March 31 next year.
"The Government is again moving quickly to cushion the blow for businesses and workers," Robertson said.