People escaping managed isolation are committing a "reckless act" of selfishness, says the minister in charge of the facilities.

"We will come down on them with the full weight of the law. They are putting New Zealanders at risk. Frankly, they don't deserve to join the team of five million," Minister Megan Woods said.

Following a rapid review of systems, there will be a permanent police presence at every facility 24/7, Woods said.

Escapee's tour of central Auckland

On Tuesday, a 32-year-old man sneaked away from The Stamford Plaza in the evening, despite being seen by a security guard who thought he was a contract worker.

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He returned to the hotel 70 minutes later after buying grooming supplies from a nearby Countdown supermarket, which has re-opened after being cleaned.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb said the man left the Stamford Plaza at 6.51pm on Tuesday via the fence section at the smoking area, walked indirectly to Countdown where he arrived at 7.02pm, spent 20 minutes at the supermarket, and then took a phone call for 22 minutes.

The call ended at 7.42pm, and the man then took an indirect route back to hotel, arriving at 7.58pm.

He walked along Albert St, Customs St East, Queen St and Victoria St West.

Woods said Countdown had cleaned areas on Tuesday night in the supermarket where the man had been.

It opened on Wednesday morning, but then decided to close following advice, but not instruction, from health officials.

Woods said why Countdown had reopened on Wednesday morning was a question for Countdown, but health officials had been in touch at 7.22am on Wednesday morning.

She said her advice was that Countdown had closed between 9.30pm and 10pm on Tuesday night, and an email at 7.57am on Wednesday morning informed of the decision to keep the store closed. The man's positive Covid test didn't come back until two hours later.

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"Our understanding at that time was that the store was closed for a deep clean."

Asked why the Ministry of Health wasn't more involved in communication with Countdown about staying closed, Webb said the whole operation was complex because many agencies are involved.

Woods said dealing with absconders was new.

Asked why health advice wasn't provided to Countdown immediately, she said: "These are things we need to look at, and what the standard operating procedure needs to be.

"We are taking this very seriously. We need to protect New Zealanders."

Police guarding hotels

Webb said a uniformed police officer will now be on-site at each facility 24/7, which would help ensure compliance.

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There were 5648 people in quarantine and managed isolation facilities at the moment, he said.

He said 99.97 per cent of people who had been through quarantine and managed isolation facilities since lockdown had followed the rules.

"Our job is to make sure the law is backed up by as many preventative measures as practicable."

Contracted guards were on site and there were also dedicated police staff.

As well as the police presence, there will also be a lead security person at each facility.

"We expect to have these people on site in the next 24 to 48 hours."

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Woods said there would be an opportunity cost of the extra police staff at the quarantine and managed isolation facilities, just as there was for the nursing staff who worked at the facilities.

No smoking ban at isolation hotels

The man who escaped from his hotel in Auckland on Tuesday absconded through a smoking area.

Webb said forcing people to quit smoking would lead to stress and potentially aggressive behaviour.

"Banning smoking in these facilities would not be appropriate at this stage."

But the smoking areas will be monitored 24 hours a day, and if that couldn't occur, for example for a shift change, the areas will be closed.

Compassionate leave from isolation

Early releases in exceptional circumstances were still being looked at, she said.

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Woods said leave for people who cannot stay in managed isolation for medical reasons remained, but all other reasons for early leave remain suspended.

A new team at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was being put together to look specifically at early leave applications.

READ MORE:
Covid 19 coronavirus: Covid man's outing, including shopping trip, selfies and 20 minute phone call
Covid 19 coronavirus: Retracing infected man's missing 70 minutes
Covid 19 coronavirus: Man who witnessed escapee leaving Auckland's Stamford Plaza
Covid-19 coronavirus: Hotel escaper posed for selfies during 70-minute walkabout

The escapee says he's 'very stressed'

The man, a Kiwi who flew in from India on July 3, tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday, and this morning he told the Herald he felt "totally fine" but "very stressed" about his situation.

Police have confirmed he will be charged, and security at mandatory isolation hotels are being reviewed.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said yesterday that managed isolation facilities were not "maximum security prisons".

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"The only thing we are asking them in return is to follow the rules. This person did not follow the rules.

"It is completely unacceptable that we have now had two people let everybody else down by breaking the rules, leaving facilities and putting New Zealanders at risk.

"These are acts of selfishness that we intend to use the full weight of the law to stop."

The Herald contacted the man this morning, who said he questioned the version of events around his escape and diagnosis, which was released by the Health Minister and police.

The man refused - repeatedly - to say why he left the hotel, what he did during the time he was away and what he thought of his diagnosis and the criminal charge he would face.

The man said he had been given "no evidence" that his Covid-19 test was positive.

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He said his reasons for leaving managed isolation were "different from the reasons" given by officials but he refused to elaborate on that despite being asked multiple times.

"I don't know what's going on, I am pretty confused... the police know the facts, I have told them everything, I am complying with them."

The man refused to speak about whether he felt he had put the public at risk by leaving the hotel before he hung up on the Herald.

He is the second person to abscond from managed isolation facilities within a week.

A 43-year-old woman jumped two fences to escape the Pullman Hotel shortly before 6.20pm on Saturday and was located soon after a couple of blocks away at 8pm on Anzac Ave.

She is appearing in the Auckland District Court on Monday.

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