The Prime Minister was exposed to Covid-19 when she personally thanked police officers during the Parliament protests in February, internal emails have revealed.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern publicly distanced herself from the operational matters of police activity throughout the Parliament protest, which came to a fiery end last month after a 23-day occupation.
Emails provided to the Herald under the Official Information Act state that a group of police officers were visited by the Prime Minister in their allocated "muster" room in Parliament, while she was "doing the rounds of Police contingents to thank them for their work."
The information was provided to public health officials because five of the police officers later tested positive for Covid-19, and had been infectious on February 16 when they were visited by the Prime Minister.
The exposure was later deemed to be a "casual contact".
A police spokesperson confirmed 92 police staff involved in work relating to the protest tested positive for Covid-19 during this period, although it is not possible to determine exactly where they contracted the virus.
An email on behalf of the Covid-IMT response manager on February 20 said Ardern was in the muster room with the infectious police officers for around 15 minutes, and "the extent of her interaction with the cases is being confirmed."
He also stressed the need for "keeping an air of calm about this event, especially re the nature of the contact with the PM".
The email read that positive test results were returned on February 19 for five police staff, with a sixth awaiting PCR results after a positive RAT.
The officers were part of a contingent that had flown from Auckland to Wellington to assist with the protest on February 14.
Inquiries had indicated three of the staff were infectious prior to departing Auckland and two others had likely been infected by their colleagues.
The email also stated "the group interacted with crowds at the protest during their infectious period."
A earlier email from Regional Public Health Response manager Scott Martin said there had been no specific QR code for the room that could identify officers exposed, and there had been "initial reports of intermittent mask use".
"Mask use has since been reinforced and QR codes will be created for each room (in addition to entry to Parliament buildings)," the email read.
But he said when the Prime Minister visited, "mask use was adhered to and no case had close contact with the officials present."
An email later that afternoon from Regional Public Health said interviews with the positive cases had determined them only to be "casual contacts" with the Prime Minister.
A police spokesperson said staff associated with the protests were tested at approximately 72-hour intervals, or before returning to their usual districts.
"While a sustainable supply of RATs for all Police staff was secured, the distribution of RATs was prioritised for staff delivering priority essential work functions, major event staff and close contacts for critical workers," they said.
Throughout the 23-day occupation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern disassociated herself from the police operation to manage protest activity.
On February 14, she said told Morning Report police "ultimately need to be able to make all of those operational decisions."
"It is absolutely for the police to determine how they manage any form of occupation or protests. And you can understand why that is a convention we will hold strongly to.
"I would hate to see in the future a situation where you have politicians seen to be instructing the police on how to manage any type of protest - and that extends to not passing judgement on operational decisions that are for them."
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told the Herald Ardern had thanked frontline police twice during the parliamentary occupation – once on February 16 and again on March 3, the day after the operation ended.
"On both occasions the purpose of the visit was to pass on her appreciation for their service and to check in with how police were holding up."
"Her comments were in line with that."
After the protest the Prime minister and Labour team bought blocks of Whittaker's chocolate as a thank you for police, but Ardern did not distribute this to them directly.
The spokesperson said thanking frontline officers for their service in no way impacts on the operational independence of Police.
"It is not uncommon for the Prime Minister, or other Members of Parliament, to thank and acknowledge frontline Police, for example she did so after the March 15 terrorist attack and post Whakaari/White Island as well."
Ardern was also deemed a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case and forced to self-isolate after an exposure event during a flight from Kerikeri to Auckland in January.