Government reluctant to punish Covid rule breakers, fearing people won't share contact tracing information

The Government is reluctant to punish those who breach Covid-19 rules out of a fear that it will make people hesitant to give contact tracers information.

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The Covid-19 Response Minister says the fear is that a punitive approach will make people reluctant to give contract tracers information. Source: 1 NEWS

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was asked this morning on Breakfast about the Opposition's calls for sanctions for those who breach Covid rules, with National MPs saying there is currently no deterrent for rule breaking.

“One of the risks around a punitive approach around Covid is it potentially slows down the contact tracing effort,” Hipkins said.

“The last thing we want in a situation where we are investigating a Covid-19 case or possible cases is for people to take a legal approach and exercise my right to silence.”

Hipkins said contact tracing efforts were completely reliant on people giving information freely.

“Because ultimately, if they don’t give us information, we are really disadvantaged by that and if we bring in a punitive approach, people think 'well by sharing information I’m opening myself up to punishment', they won’t share that information.”

“Ultimately, we’ve got to have good will in this process.”

Hipkins was also forced to defend the contact tracing team after information released yesterday.

The data covering the period from January 29 said there was a target of 80 per cent of contacts of an index case to be located and isolated within four days but contact tracers in the Northland case in January and the February Papatoetoe outbreak achieved just 52 per cent.

“It’s not necessarily a failure of the system, it’s a failure of the whole team, some of those things the contact tracing team can’t control,” Hipkins said.

Delays in picking up cases meant that it was often impossible for the contact tracing team to achieve targets, Hipkins said.

“For example, we had a case that was out there in the community with Covid-19 for a week before that case was picked up.”

“That means that the metrics for that person and for all of their contacts are automatically not going to hit the target because we simply didn’t know about them in time to meet the target.”

“There’s nothing the contact tracing team could have done differently.”