A man with Covid-19 escaped managed isolation in Auckland for more than an hour and went to a supermarket in the central city, returning later of his own volition.
The 32-year-old man, New Zealand's latest Covid case, arrived in New Zealand from New Delhi, India, on July 3.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins has slammed the man's actions as "selfish" and says he will face charges.
But he wouldn't describe the episode as a failure of the government's processes, and even though those processes will now be reviewed, he said if anyone should apologise it was the man who broke the law.
The man left his managed isolation facility at the Stamford Plaza and went to Countdown on Victoria St West last night, using a self-service check-out.
He had been in a smoking area at the plaza where new 1.82m-high fences were being installed.
Hipkins said the man appeared to have made a spur of the moment decision and dashed through a gap where fencing was being replaced.
A security guard was observing the area but confused the man with contractors working on the fencing. The alarm was raised within minutes but security were unable to find the man.
Hipkins said the man may have spent 20 minutes in the supermarket, and he returned of his own volition 70 minutes after leaving.
His escape follows that of a 43-year-old woman at the weekend who climbed two fences - one of them 1.82m-high - to escape the Pullman Hotel. She was located and returned about 80 minutes later.
They will be charged and now each face up to a six-month jail sentence or a $4000 fine.
Supermarket being cleaned
CCTV footage from within the supermarket has confirmed there was no close contact between the man and any staff or customers during his time there, Air Commodore Darryn Webb said.
The man's movements in the Auckland CBD are also being investigated, but Hipkins said the risk level was low for the moment because the man was asymptomatic and didn't appear to have come into close or casual contact with anyone.
He had also been wearing a mask, but not for the whole time he was away from the plaza.
The man was tested as part of routine testing around day three of his stay, but he didn't know he had Covid-19 when he spent 70 minutes in the central city last night.
The man's positive test result only came back this morning.
"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," Webb said.
Countdown's general manager for health and safety, Kiri Hannifin, said the team was "incredibly disappointed that this has happened given the potential for an incident like this to put our team and customers at risk".
The store was closed for cleaning from this morning and at this stage will reopen at 7am tomorrow.
"We have asked all of our team that were working last night, including the nightfill team, to self-isolate as a precautionary measure," Hannifin said.
"They will get tested over the next few days and we are offering them any and all support they need."
A reporter outside the Victoria St West Countdown said there was now security outside. Dozens of people were being turned away, but others will still able to access the Warehouse Stationery store upstairs.
Webb said the systems at the quarantine or managed isolation facilities were being reviewed, including smoking policies.
The government's resources were "not inexhaustible", but having smoking areas observed all the time was one thing that could be considered.
"The actions of this man are completely unacceptable. Returnees are given clear instructions and information about what their responsibilities are," he said.
"Managed isolation is a critical part in our defence against Covid-19, and it is up to each and every person entering this country to play their part."
The fencing in place at all managed isolation facilities is being replaced with 1.82m-high fences.
Selfish act in the face of everyone's sacrifices
Hipkins said he understood this escape would cause anxiety, particular for people who were in central Auckland last night.
Anyone with health concerns should contact Healthline or their GP. He said people who needed to be tested will be tested.
Hipkins said everyone had made sacrifices, and complex arrangements had been put in place to allow Kiwis offshore to return home.
The managed isolation facilities were not "maximum security prisons".
"The only thing we are asking them in return is to follow the rules. This person did not follow the rules," Hipkins said.
"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."
Defence Force staff, private security staff, aviation security staff and hotel staff were all being used at the moment at the facilities, but only police are able to physically restrain someone.
Webb said the security guard in the smoking area was there observe and could have given chase.
But the guard had thought the man was a contractor working on the fence.
"It was at night time, and an individual was obviously mistaken about whether he saw a contractor."
Webb didn't know what the man so urgently needed from the supermarket.
The gap in the fencing had been immediately closed off, he said.
He wouldn't be drawn on whether it was an oversight to let someone into the smoking area while fencing was being replaced.
More police presence on the ground at the facilities would be looked at, he said.
There was no risk to residents staying at the Stamford Tower, he added, as mitigation measures are in place to keep them separated from Kiwis returning from overseas.
Asked if he intended to apologise for the man escaping the Stamford, Hipkins said it was the man who should be apologising.
Shoppers turned away
Hungry Aucklanders are being turned away from Countdown Victoria St West in the CBD today.
The store is closed for cleaning after the country's latest case of Covid-19 visited the store yesterday, with a security guard standing in the doorway turning people away.
Dozens of people have been turned away from the supermarket, which has its lights on but its roller doors are down. Most people seem unaware of the recent news the latest Covid-19 case visited the story yesterday.
There are 23 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and no community transmission. It has been 68 days since the last case of community transmission.
"We do want to lift our game," Hipkins said when asked about the low use of the NZ Covid Tracker app scanning QR codes.
"We want everybody to play their part, download the app and scan the codes."
He didn't rule out putting more funding into increasing take-up of the app.
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Two new cases of Covid today; Health Minister Chris Hipkins unhappy with testing numbers
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro tests positive after months of downplaying the virus
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Victoria's six-week lockdown restrictions start tonight
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Tracing 'no longer possible' in southern US
There were 2131 tests conducted yesterday.
There are meant to be at least 4000 tests a day, but that has only happened once since June 27.
A drop-off in testing throws doubt on the elimination status of Covid-19, even if all our cases remain in isolation and there are no positive tests in the community.
Yesterday there were two more cases who are women from the same family – one in her 20s and the other in her 30s.
The pair arrived back in New Zealand from Afghanistan on a repatriation flight on July 2 and tested positive on day three of their stay in a managed isolation facility.
Hipkins said yesterday he had asked for testing data to be categorised into testing in the community, testing in managed isolation facilities, and testing of workers at the border.
There were about 1600 tests conducted on Monday, but 500 of those were in managed isolation and quarantine facilities.