A nursing student working in a major hospital was mistakenly allowed out of self-isolation early after coming into contact with a Covid-19 infected patron at the pub he works part-time at, because of a communication blunder between health agencies.
To make matters worse, the man only found out about the cluster on social media during his lunch break at an Auckland hospital, despite being a close contact of the infected person and having already worked with patients for three days.
The Ministry of Health has admitted the mistake and said it will be investigating the incident to improve its contact tracing process, but has stopped short of apologising.
The man, who does not want to be named, was a duty manager at the Greenhithe pub in Auckland on Friday, October 16 when the establishment was visited by a marine engineer who would later test positive for the virus.
The next day the duty manager briefly hung out with his flatmates before returning to work at The Malt on Sunday.
On the Wednesday, the second-year nursing student was on clinical placement at the hospital when he discovered news of the latest community outbreak on Facebook.
"On my lunch break I was just on my phone and that's how I found out my workplace had shut down and all the staff had to go into isolation."
He had been at the hospital working with patients since Monday.
The man, in his 20s, confirmed the post with his boss, rang the university he studies at, and alerted clinical colleagues at the hospital. He said their responses were faultless.
He rang Healthline, which recommended a Covid-19 test and to isolate for 48 hours unless he showed symptoms.
The next day the man says he was told by Auckland Regional Public Health Service that because he had three flatmates who also worked in clinical fields, he needed to leave the flat and go into managed isolation for 14 days at Jet Park Hotel.
He stayed at the quarantine facility for one night, 25 hours in total.
On Friday he discovered he was now considered a close contact of the infected person. And that his flatmates also had to self-isolate for 14 days.
Because they were all isolating for the same time frame the Auckland Regional Public Health Service [ARPHS] allowed the man to return home that evening to continue isolating with them.
But on Saturday afternoon he was called by the Ministry of Health and told that because his test was negative, he no longer needed to self-isolate.
The man says he was confused by the contradictory advice and asked whether he needed another test or to wait until he had been cleared by a 12-day test, but was told as long as he was symptom-free it was safe.
So he left his flat and stayed the night with his partner. The next morning it was a different story.
"Sunday morning I get a call from [Auckland regional] public health, because they call you every morning to check up on you.
"They asked me about my symptoms and if I left my home. I was like 'Well yeah, I've been cleared by the Ministry of Health'. And they said 'No you haven't'."
The nursing student said initially the ARPHS caller was adamant the phone call releasing him from self-isolation was a prank and not from the ministry.
"They called me back a bit later and said 'Ok this is what happened - there's been no communication between the two teams'."
He was ordered back into self-isolation and returned to his flat.
"I was so furious with the situation."
The mixed messages continued when the man was given a code enabling his second Covid-19 test to be fast-tracked.
A negative test would help his partner, who was forced into self-isolation because of the blunder, return to work faster.
"I went for my test Tuesday morning [this week] and the nurse at the testing station was adamant that they only use the code for people that are symptomatic."
Eventually the test was fast-tracked. It was negative again. The man finished self-isolation on Friday.
He said the lack of communication was unacceptable.
"I just think it's reckless how the information's been handled. If I happened to be positive this could have been an absolute disaster but I've just been following the advice of officials who I thought knew what they're doing.
"I think it needs to be highlighted there's no communication in this Covid response. We're what, seven months into this pandemic and this is still happening? I'm thinking, how many other people has this happened to?"
The man said he felt he was sent to a managed isolation facility under incorrect information.
"Not only does that put me at risk because there are other individuals who are [Covid] positive in those areas, but it's also a massive cost.
"To me it's an unnecessary cost to people because I could be isolating at home and that room could be for somebody coming from overseas."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said it and the ARPHS, as with other district health board public health units, routinely worked closely together to investigate and manage all close and casual contacts of Covid-19 cases.
He said the ministry was aware the person initially spent some time at Auckland's quarantine facility before moving home to self-isolate with other household members.
He said it appeared this was a situation where the man had contacted both Healthline - and was referred to National Investigation and Tracing Centre [NITC] - and was also contacted by ARPHS.
The ARPHS's usual process for the management and follow-up of close contacts included welfare checks and symptom checks, along with advice on the timing and number of tests the close contact would be asked to carry out, including a repeat test at around day 12.
On both occasions the man's details were entered into the National Contact Tracing Solution [NCTS] which meant there was a duplication of his details.
"Systems are in place to ensure that in the vast majority of instances when more than one contact is made and the individual entered into NCTS, the duplicated entry is picked up, removed and the individual is managed appropriately," the spokesman said.
"Robust processes are in place to check for duplicate entries, however a look at the particulars of this instance will inform any work to make improvements to the NCTS."
He said the ministry would be following up and in the interim the ministry and public health units would continue to work together to minimise the impact of the issue.
"We acknowledge there has been inconsistency for this individual and want to thank this individual for his patience and for remaining vigilant and helping to break the chain of transmission."