Two women who have tested positive for Covid-19 got lost on their drive from Auckland to Wellington and required help - giving the person a "kiss and a cuddle", Parliament has been told.
National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed today that the pair, who travelled from Britain to New Zealand, had to ask someone for help with directions.
He said a source told him the two women were in a borrowed car and got lost on their way from Auckland to Wellington so stopped and asked someone for directions.
The women thanked their helper with a "kiss and a cuddle", Woodhouse claimed in the House.
Health Minister David Clark said he would be "deeply concerned" if that were the case as he had been assured the women had no contact with anyone during their journey.
Earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said neither she nor Clark were responsible for the failings at the border that allowed the two women with Covid-19 to leave their hotel room without first being tested.
She said ministers understood that the proper protocols were being applied to the women, who are now in isolation, including being tested before being allowed to leave on compassionate grounds.
Instead director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has taken the blame, but whether any heads will roll is still unclear.
"I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions," Bloomfield said today.
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"In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.
"I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again."
He added: "We have always expected that New Zealand would get more cases of Covid-19, especially with more people from overseas coming into the country.
"The risk of spread of Covid-19 from these two cases while they were travelling to New Zealand and in the managed isolation facility they were in is low but not impossible, so we are ensuring all steps are in place to mitigate the risk."
He announced that there were no new cases of Covid-19 today, and authorities have traced 320 close contacts of the two women.
Most of those individuals will be contacted by the end of the day and will be encouraged to be tested, Bloomfield said.
Health Minister to keep his job
National Party leader Todd Muller has demanded David Clark be sacked.
But Ardern said that Clark was in the same position as she was, and they had both understood that the proper protocols were in place.
"In this case, that is not what has happened."
She said Clark had been part of the successful Covid response and would keep his job. They were both focused on fixing the problem.
"He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem."
It was up to Bloomfield to decide where responsibility for the failure lay, she added.
Clark said ministers had been told guests wouldn't be leaving managed isolation without a negative test, which was why Bloomfield had taken responsibility for the situation.
He didn't want compassionate leave granted until there was an assurance protocols were being followed.
"I, for one, feel badly for those who are missing out on seeing loved ones but we've got to be tight here because this is critical to New Zealand maintaining the status that it has that it's the envy of the world."
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said a minister shouldn't be responsible for an official not following a system.
He said NZ First had been calling for the military to be involved at the border since "day one".
Ardern said that because testing could provide a false negative, everyone was also isolated for 14 days.
She did not know how many of the 200-odd people granted compassionate leave had been released without being tested, adding that the ministry was working through that.
She said caution was needed at the border in light of louder calls for more open borders. There was still a need for New Zealand to be "extraordinarily careful ... and I send that message to the Opposition".
Ardern said that tests for the women on day three and day 12 should have happened and there were "no excuses".
The border controls must be rigorous and disciplined, and need to have the confidence of ministers as well as all New Zealanders.
She announced that assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn (Digby) Webb would oversee all quarantine and isolation facilities.
Webb can use military resources and personnel, if needed.
He will also audit the system and the written protocols to ensure they are fully implemented, Ardern said.
"There is no room for error, even if it is human error," Ardern said.
"It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not.
"Our job is now to fix that."
Bloomfield said that people on the women's flight or in the Auckland hotel at the same time were considered close contacts who have potentially been exposed.
"We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received."
He said he was confident no contact was made with anyone on the two women's journey between Auckland and Wellington.
"The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility.
"I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy continues to be respected during this time."
Mild symptoms before travel
The woman were not tested before they left on the condition they were tested in Wellington, which returned positive results.
One of the women had mild symptoms before being tested, but it was put down to a pre-existing condition.
Bloomfield said yesterday their conditions might have been picked up if the daily health check in managed isolation had been done properly, including asking them about every individual Covid-19 symptom.
The two infected women had been staying at the hotel since they arrived on a flight from the United Kingdom, via Brisbane, on Sunday, June 7. They left the hotel on Saturday, June 13, to drive to Wellington without being tested.
Guests at the Novotel Auckland hotel where the women were in managed isolation are being told to stay in their rooms.
All leave for compassionate reasons has temporarily been stopped until the Government "has confidence" in the system.
All guests and staff will be tested within 24 hours and anyone due to check out yesterday or today will now have their stay extended.
The border blunder has caused widespread outrage.
Ardern said in a Facebook Live post on Tuesday evening that standards had not been met.
"This case is clear - our expectations have not been met in this instance," she said.
Clark said there would be consequences if it was found people had failed their duties.
"I am quite certain that people who have made this mistake will not be making it again."
This morning, Police Minister Stuart Nash told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that someone needed to be held to account and called the blunder "unacceptable".
"To get this sort of ineptitude, man, it is unforgivable. As David [Clark] said, he's cancelled compassionate dispensation and there's a review of the system. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again."