The Covid-infected man who fled from managed isolation not only went to Countdown to pick up shopping but made a 22-minute phone using free Wi-Fi outside a shop.

This morning the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine Megan Woods told RNZ the man at the centre of the health scare stood outside a store to tap into free Wi-Fi and made a 22-minute long phone call.

The revelations come as shoppers at an Auckland supermarket where the covid-positive man shopped say they were comfortable going to the store but were scathing about his actions.

Countdown in Victoria Street West reopened at 7am after the store underwent a thorough cleanse after the 32-year-old man, who arrived from India on July 3 with the virus, snuck out of managed isolation at the Stamford Plaza Hotel on Tuesday evening, and spent about 20 minutes at the inner city supermarket.


As a result security at mandatory quarantine and isolation hotels are being reviewed. Most of where he went for more than an hour remains a mystery.

The supermarket closed yesterday for a "deep clean" but reopened at 7am this morning, when about five customers waiting outside walked in to pick up supplies before work.

Several irate shoppers said they had no issue shopping at the store but had stern words about the absconding detainee.

"The person who breached isolation needs to go to jail and not a silly fine of $4000," said a salon owner who was uspet with the actions of the newly-returned man.

"What about how many staff he talked to while he was in the store? He must have spoken to some staff here. And the missing minutes. What did he do?" said another customer.

The absconder was away for 70 minutes, and no one knows where he went in the 50 minutes before and after he went to the supermarket.

Woods today said security at all facilities would be stepped up.

"Things have changed, even in the last week and a half, in terms of the range of incidents we are seeing, in terms of non-compliance," she told RNZ.

"In the beginning, we had a very compliant population who came in ... and we didn't have people who were attempting to climb fences or slip through gaps when they saw an opportunity."


In the wake of the escape, the smoking policy at managed isolation and quarantine facilities was also being reviewed.

Countdown's corporate affairs general manager Kiri Hannifin told RNZ that the man "did a lot of browsing in the health and beauty aisle" while inside the supermarket.

He even stopped and posed for selfies in the aisles, Hannifin said. "He had a phone with him, and he was taking photos with the phone.... Yes selfies, that's right."

Countdown said the man spent 14 minutes in the beauty aisle and six more minutes wandering around the supermarket.

He used a self-service checkout and purchased toothpaste, body wash and razors.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Health Minister Chris Hipkins slammed the man's actions as "selfish" and said he will face charges.


He said processes will now be reviewed, but wouldn't describe the episode as a failure of the Government's processes.

The escape follows that of a 43-year-old woman at the weekend who climbed two fences to escape from the Pullman Hotel. She was found and returned about 80 minutes later.

There are three new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today, all in managed isolation. People escaping managed isolation are committing a "reckless act" of selfishness, Minister Megan Woods said.

Both will be charged and each now face up to a six-month jail sentence or a $4000 fine.

Hipkins said he understood the escape would cause anxiety, particularly for people who were in the area that night.

The man had been in a smoking area outside the hotel where new 1.82m-high fences were being installed, and dashed through a gap in the fencing.

A security guard observing the area confused the man with contractors working on the fencing, and by the time alarm was raised a few minutes later, security were unable to find the man.

Countdown says customers who feel unwell in the next two weeks should call Healthline. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Countdown says customers who feel unwell in the next two weeks should call Healthline. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The man returned of his own volition 70 minutes after he left, and his movements in the Auckland CBD are being investigated.

The man was tested positive for Covid-19 at around day three of his stay, but did not know he had the virus at the time he was away from the hotel. His result only came back on Wednesday morning.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb said: "Inquiries have established the man went to Countdown on Victoria St West on foot and purchased items at a self-service checkout, before returning to the hotel around 8pm."

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The man had been wearing a mask, but not for the whole 70 minutes he was away.

Webb said the systems at quarantine or managed isolation facilities were being reviewed, including smoking policies.


The Countdown store has been closed for cleaning and will reopen at 7am today.

Hannifin, Countdown's General Manager Health & Safety, said police came into the store just before closing on Tuesday.

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"Once I was made aware of the incident this morning I made the decision to close the store. We were not advised to close the store, nor did we know until mid morning that the man was Covid-19 positive," Hannifin said.

"We did so because we thought it was the right thing to do. We have 18 team members now self isolating and they will continue to be paid in full for all of their shifts during."

Store manager Varun Chowdary said the wellbeing of customers, team and communities remained its highest priority.

Anyone who was in the store at the time and feels unwell in the next two weeks are asked to contact Healthline on 0800 3585453.


But Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the risk of people catching the virus was probably small, even for those who happened to be in the supermarket.

The Stamford Plaza where a 32-year-old man with Covid-19 escaped from managed isolation. Photo / Dean Purcell.
The Stamford Plaza where a 32-year-old man with Covid-19 escaped from managed isolation. Photo / Dean Purcell.

"I'd take it he was wearing a mask at that point, which would be pretty important because there is a lot of source protection, and the chances of infecting people around him would've been greatly reduced," Baker said.

"If he was wearing a mask, and the amount of contact with people was very short, the risk of him affecting people around him will have been very low."

Baker said such breaches should be kept in proportion, and used to improve processes, rather than as blaming exercises.

Another scientist also pointed out that Kiwis will have to accept an increased risk if New Zealand opts to open its borders to more people.

Professor Michael Plank, of the University of Canterbury, said based on current travel numbers we could expect around 12 cases per week arriving but was confident these can be caught with the 14-day managed isolation.


He said New Zealand should not rush to open its borders.