Up to 60 MIQ workers might be floating around their communities without being regularly tested, but Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the risk is “very low”.
The surveillance testing of MIQ workers has come under intense scrutiny today after revelations that a Grand Millennium security guard – Case B – wasn’t tested for six months, even though he was meant to be tested fortnightly.
His employer, First Security, had told the Government that the proper testing was being done because that’s what the guard had told them – which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promptly called “lying”.
It has raised questions about the level of confidence in the Government’s testing data, but Hipkins said it wasn’t based on employers’ reports, which were open to false information from their employees.
The 90 per cent compliance rate for testing of MIQ workers was sound, Hipkins said, because it measured the number of actual swabs – MIQ workers’ tests were specifically coded – against the number of MIQ workers.
Currently there are 4497 in the MIQ workforce, meaning about 450 MIQ workers aren’t being tested within the required weekly or fortnightly timeframe.
Of those, Hipkins said 87 per cent – or about 390 workers – were tested just outside the required timeframe “because they may have been home for the weekend and not working, for example”.
That leaves about 60 MIQ workers who are not being tested, but Hipkins said the risk of Covid-19 leaking out from MIQ into the community was “very low”.
“Within that there may be someone who worked one casual shift, for example, and it might be three weeks ago and they might have had one test but not a follow-up test.
“That actually leaves us with a handful, less than 50 probably, who may not have been [tested].”
But National Party Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop said Hipkins was missing the point.
“As we’ve seen and as the evidence shows, all it takes is one person to slip through and you can have an outbreak on your hands – and a lockdown costing hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bishop said.
“The border system is our first and best defence from allowing Covid-19 into the community. Our testing regime needs to be absolutely optimal.
“There is not enough oversight and checking of who is being tested and when. It is not good enough.”
Since August, MIQ workers are legally required to be tested regularly, and their employers are required to keep records of the tests.
MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain wrote to employers last month to remind them of their legal obligations, but she couldn’t say what other checks had been done.
Hipkins has now signed an order to make it mandatory – from April 27 – for MIQ employers to sign up to the Government’s border testing register, which currently only includes about 60 per cent of the workforce.
MIQ workers will also be tested weekly.
First Security was already signed up to the register, but Hipkins said the company was not checking its own records against the register’s.
“Had they been doing so, they would have known their internal records – showing the person had been tested – weren’t tallying up with the actual swabs in the register.”
He added that no system was watertight.
“There’s never going to be a 100 per cent foolproof way of capturing everyone. You have to in those circumstances, particularly with the casualised workforce, rely on people doing the right thing.”
Ardern said it was up to First Security whether to take action against Case B, and it was up to the police to decide whether to take action on his failure to get tested – which can be punished by an infringement fee of $300 or a court-imposed fine of $1000.
First Security has been contacted for comment.
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