The Prime Minister's fiancé Clarke Gayford has today apologised for "any confusion" he caused after speaking to a pharmacist about rapid antigen testing on behalf of a musician mate.
The pharmacist alleges Gayford gave inaccurate advice about testing guidance on behalf of his friend who was trying to get a rapid antigen test after being identified as a potential close contact.
The incident occurred as the first community Omicron case was detected in the community, UK-based DJ Dimension.
National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop labelled the incident "deeply inappropriate" and claims the Prime Minister's fiancé was effectively trying to subvert ministry of health rules for his mates.
The pharmacist alleged Gayford told him there had been a change to testing guidance from the Ministry of Health, which would allow Gayford's friend to get a rapid test instead of a slower, more invasive PCR test.
In fact, the guidance had not changed and a PCR test was still recommended.
After being approached for comment, Gayford issued a statement through his manager saying "Mr Gayford was rung by a friend about Rapid Antigen Testing and was put on speakerphone while the person was in a pharmacy.
"He apologises for any issues or confusion this may have caused the pharmacy staff."
He did not respond when asked directly whether it was appropriate to be giving pharmacists health advice which later turned out to be incorrect.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister had no comment and referred to the statement issued on behalf of Gayford.
On December 29, Michael Taylor, a pharmacist in Bayfair, Tauranga, was asked by potential Covid-19 close contacts whether they could get a Rapid Antigen Test.
The incident was in the wake of DJ Dimension testing positive for the Omicron variant.
Taylor posted an account of the events to a private Facebook group for pharmacists, saying Gayford appeared "very unimpressed," when challenged on the advice.
"Just had a group of vaccinated musicians arrive having potentially been exposed want a RAT - explained to them that they needed to have a PCR test done." Taylor wrote.
"As they didn't like this they got Clarke Gayford on the phone who proceeded to tell me that there had been a change in the guidance and these people should be given RAT tests.
"[W]hen I explained that we had not received any direction from the MoH he was very unimpressed," the post said.
Taylor said he was posting the message to the group as he wanted to ask fellow pharmacists whether they were aware of any changes to the health guidance.
Taylor yesterday confirmed he had made the Facebook post, but would not comment further, referring questions to his chief executive.
Alison Van Wyk, the chief executive of Green Cross Health, which owns the pharmacy, defended Taylor's advice.
"The Community Pharmacist complied with the MoH guidelines for the provision of supervised rapid antigen testing and, after having a clinical discussion with the customers, correctly referred the individuals for a PCR test," she said.
Van Wyk added that "a member of the public called to ask a question around the guidelines".
"The pharmacist confirmed that the MoH guidelines had not changed".
She said that supervised, funded Rapid Antigen Tests became available through Community Pharmacies on the December 15 last year, but Health guidelines stipulate that PCR tests were appropriate for this particular case.
The Ministry's website notes that if someone is "a close or casual contact for Covid-19 rapid antigen screening should not be used, and the person should be directed immediately for a laboratory-based PCR test".
Van Wyk said the pharmacist had taken additional steps to confirm "via a number of appropriate channels, if the guidelines had changed" - one such channel was the closed New Zealand Community Pharmacy group on Facebook.
National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said the incident was "deeply inappropriate.
"What we have here is the Prime Minister's fiancé attempting to subvert ministry of health rules for his mates, putting pressure on a pharmacist just trying to do his job," he said.
DJ Dimension was the country's first Omicron community scare when he broke self-isolation rules - leaving self-isolation on Waiheke Island before receiving the result of his day 9 test, which later returned a positive result for the highly transmissible variant.
The electronic music artist – real name Robert Etheridge - was due to perform at Rhythm & Alps near Wānaka before he abruptly pulled out not long before he was due to take the stage.
Before heading south he spent several hours in the community on Boxing Day - visiting a number of Auckland's hot spots including a nightclub and bar, restaurants, and a jewellery store.