A medical staff member tests at a pop-up community COVID-19 Testing Station in Christchurch, New Zealand. AP
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the military to oversee the country's border controls Wednesday after a bungle that allowed two people with the coronavirus to leave quarantine.
A 24-day run with no new cases was broken Tuesday when it emerged two women who recently arrived from Britain were allowed out of quarantine early without being tested for the virus, even though one had mild symptoms.
The pair were eventually swabbed and proved to be infected, but only after they made a 650-kilometre (400-mile) road trip from Auckland to Wellington to see a dying relative.
Ardern said it was "absolutely nonsensical" they were not tested earlier and border controls clearly needed to be tightened to prevent similar failures.
She said Assistant Chief of Defence Digby Webb had been appointed to oversee border quarantine operations and was being given access to military personnel and logistical expertise.
"My view is that we need the rigour, we need the confidence, we need the discipline that the military can provide," Ardern told reporters.
Health Minister David Clark acknowledged widespread anger at the blunder. Kiwis endured a stringent seven-week lockdown to eliminate the virus in the country which has recorded only 1,156 cases and 22 deaths in a population of five million.
"New Zealanders have made great sacrifices to make it to this point," he told Radio New Zealand.
"Our system has performed incredibly well as a whole in New Zealand. We have eliminated COVID-19 but I want this fixed straight away."Agence France-Presse
The country of 5 million people now has nine active cases after having none at all earlier this month. Health officials said Monday that all those cases involve people who have recently arrived and are in quarantine, and there’s no evidence of community transmission.
Victoria has recorded double-digit increases in new daily cases for more than a week -- mostly in the state capital Melbourne -- representing a sizeable spike in cases in a country that has otherwise successfully curbed COVID-19.
The government will drop social distancing restrictions form midnight on Monday as it moves to a level 1 national alert from Level 2, Ardern told a news conference. Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport could resume without social distancing norms still in place across much of the world.
The new infections are a set back to New Zealand, which lifted all social and economic restrictions except border controls last week, declaring it had no new or active cases of the coronavirus, one of the first countries in the world to return to pre-pandemic normality.
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