Chris Hipkins admits testing blunder with border worker case 'not good enough' but confident system will improve

The Minister for Covid-19 Response has conceded the fact a border worker who tested positive for Covid-19 went months without being tested isn't good enough but he still believes honesty and responsibility must be part of New Zealand's defence.

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The Minister for Covid-19 Response said it's not as easy as waving a magic wand to fix though. Source: Q+A

Speaking on Q+A this morning, Chris Hipkins addressed concerns around whether there are border worker tests slipping through the cracks after it was revealed a security guard at the Grand Millennium MIQ facility who tested positive for the virus last week hadn’t been swabbed since last November.

Hipkins said there are approximately 5,500 tests taken from the managed isolation workforce of around 4,500 people every fortnight.

"Those people are being tested frequently," Hipkins said.

"Now, have there been some gaps? Could people have fallen through the cracks?

"This most recent case highlights that there are some weaknesses at the margins and we do need to close those - this is not good enough, this person shouldn't have been able to get away with saying they'd been tested when they hadn't but it's not as easy as waving a magic wand and making that problem disappear."

Hipkins said the Government is trying to standardise record-keeping systems to make tracking of testing easier and more efficient but at the end of the day, there's still some onus on frontline workers to get tested.

"We still will, regardless of how much we can standardise our systems, be reliant to some individuals and employers making sure that they're doing the right thing.

"We can build more checks and balances into that system - and we will and we should - but people still need to do the right thing.

"To give you an analogy, if somebody drives their car too fast and causes an accident that injures or even kills somebody, to say that it's the Government's fault because we didn't have a speed camera on every street would be somewhat of a high threshold to set."

Hipkins was challenged by Q+A host Jack Tame that his analogy wasn't entirely appropriate though, given New Zealand can identify that our border is clearly our biggest vulnerability for the pandemic, yet the Government is relying on a system that needs an individual's honesty to succeed.

Hipkins responded the system "to an extent, is going to have to".

Hipkins and Tame also discussed why it took the Government six months to sign off on the use of saliva testing as an alternative to the nasal test despite a report late last year to "urgently" introduce it.

The Minister said it was a matter of ensuring the tests were reliable.

"I'm very mindful that most of the questions I've fielded so far have been about how someone fell through the cracks," Hipkins said to Tame.

"I don't want saliva testing to be another potential avenue for people to fall through the cracks. I'm reliant on the medical professionals giving me advice that it's ready and they've been reluctant to do that up until this point so I've been reluctant until people have told me it's reliable."