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Health officials involved in birthday party for girl in managed isolation where travellers mingled against rules

1 NEWS has discovered that New Zealand's latest Covid-19 cases are far from the only people who've been let out of isolation before receiving a negative Covid-19 test result.

A birthday party for a young girl has also been arranged between those in isolation who should not be mingling.

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The Government had said people would have to return a negative test before being let out. Source: 1 NEWS

A week ago the Government said those in managed isolation would have to return a negative test result before being allowed to leave, but guests say that’s not happening.

On June 9 Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said people would be tested for Covid-19 on their third and 12th day in isolation, whether they were symptomatic or not.

"From today, everyone in managed isolation will be tested twice for Covid-19 and will require a negative result before they leave. Those in quarantine were already being tested, as they had shown prior symptoms,” he said.

Compassionate exemptions were cancelled yesterday after two women who travelled from Auckland to Wellington on a compassionate exemption tested positive for Covid-19.

Nicole Flazsa and her husband travelled the same route on a compassionate exemption visit from Auckland’s Grand Mercure Hotel yesterday. She says they weren’t tested at all before they left, and were told to get a test when they got to Wellington.

“We were there for 10 nights and we asked every single day since we got there if we could have a test," she says.

“We were told by the Ministry of Health worker in the foyer at the hotel that we couldn't have a test, they didn't have the facilities to give us a test, we couldn't pay for someone to come and give us a test.

“They said the Ministry of Health doesn’t do the testing, the DHB does, and we have no one from the DHB that can come and give you a test.”

She says she would have happily waited to have a test and receive a negative result before driving down to Wellington, but she wasn’t convinced she was ever going to get one.

“We begged for a test, so we would have done anything they wanted us to. We would have waited on the results from the test if we had been given an opportunity to get one.

“Today I had to drive 1km down the road to the testing station and stand outside and wait probably 15 minutes until they could give me a test.”

Ms Flasza says she and her husband came to New Zealand from Australia because of the sudden death of her father.

She had hoped to see family after the funeral, but settled for isolating in her father’s old unit, which is empty.

She says she and her husband completed the Auckland to Wellington drive without stopping, and she feels for those who are no longer allowed compassionate exemptions.

“If you're truly interested in eliminating Covid, you would test every person in a hotel rather than focus everything on exemption being the problem.

"It's not exemptions that are the problem, it's the fundamental fact that you're telling everyone in New Zealand that you're testing people and you're not testing people. You're lying basically.”

She’s not alone in her concerns, Mel Langsford and her family arrived from Australia in early June in order to spend time with a sick family member. She, her husband and two children completed their two week stay and left Auckland’s Waipuna Hotel yesterday, but none of them had a single Covid-19 test done during the two week stay.

Ms Langsford says she received a casual phone call to her room on her 12th day, asking if she would like a Covid-19 test, which she was told was optional.

“It was an optional test. We as a family chose to be tested pre-leaving Australia so we had the good conscience we were travelling without the virus.

“We informed the nurse at the facility of that and she said to us it was pointless us having the test done unless we were showing any symptoms.”

She says she feels frustrated, because she would have had the test if she had known it was supposed to be compulsory.

“At no point were we told we had to have the test before we could leave. I mean we were following instructions, we ticked the boxes, we followed what we were supposed to do.

"I would hate to think that we are possible carriers … you've got to ask the question how many other people out there have walked out just like us and into a community?”

She says the lack of testing wasn’t the only concern, and that people from different flights regularly socialised with each other and gathered in communal areas in the hotel, something that wasn’t just ignored by staff, but sometimes facilitated.

She says she was shocked when the hotel put on a birthday celebration for a young guest, with children from different flights in attendance.

“We sang happy birthday to this little girl, she then proceeded to blow out the candles, then a Ministry of Health worker who was assigned to the hotel came and cut the cake, using gloves, and then proceeded to hand the cake out to the children.”

She says the children were from Australian and US flights, which had arrived six days apart.

“This was one example where you have to question whether this is really moving New Zealand in the way that we need to go to keep people safe.”

Another woman who stayed at the same hotel as New Zealand’s two new cases says she was also told Covid-19 tests were optional. She was tested last Thursday but discharged from isolation at the Novotel Ellerslie before receiving a result.

Nearly a week since she was tested, she still hasn’t received that result.

“They told me it was voluntary. I didn't have to have the test if I didn't want to, but I chose to. I’m a health worker so needed to know if I was clear to go back to work.

She says she made multiple calls to Minstry of Health staff at the Novotel Ellerslie after days of no test results, and was told to get another one with her local GP.

By that point she’d taken a plane, a train and a taxi to get to her hometown.

“I think it's appalling, it really is, the management of a so-called pandemic leaves a lot to be desired. These measures are put in place to protect people and it's falling down big time,” she said.

The Ministry of Health didn’t respond to 1 NEWS’ requests about people leaving isolation before receiving test results. Dr Ashley Bloomfield also didn’t front today.

Health Minister David Clark said protocol had clearly not been followed.

“The risk to New Zealanders is not one that I want to tolerate and that’s why I’ve banned compassionate exemptions until this problem is fixed.”

Staff in the Chief Ombudsman's office experienced their own close contact at an isolation hotel.

“All these people arrived from overseas to be put into quarantine and we weren't told, so we were all mixed up with everyone else. I was livid,” Mr Boshier said.

The Chief Ombudsman’s office says it will be inspecting isolation hotels, starting next month.

Have you recently been released from an isolation hotel without a Covid-19 test? Do you have a story about managed isolation? Contact reporter Kristin Hall on kristin.hall@tvnz.co.nz