A man in compulsory isolation has absconded from a quarantine hotel in New Zealand to make a late-night “spur-of-the-moment” dash to the supermarket before testing positive for Covid-19 the following day.
About 30,000 people have passed through quarantine hotels in Auckland since New Zealand closed its borders but in recent weeks a number of guests have made bids for freedom.
Over the weekend a woman leapt over from a hedge to escape her two-week quarantine. Later she got lost and asked a passing policeman for directions back to her hotel.
The latest case saw a 32-year-old man leave Auckland’s Stamford Plaza hotel, bypass security guards and walk to a local Countdown supermarket. The man had been smoking in a fenced area when he escaped and was apparently mistaken for a contractor by security staff, said Air Commodore Darryn Webb, who is in charge of managed isolation and quarantine.
“Security attempted to follow the man but were unsuccessful in locating him,” Webb said.
“Police were called immediately, and enquiries were underway to locate the man including reviewing CCTV footage and undertaking substantial area searches before he returned to the facility where he was then interviewed by police.”
Webb said the man would be charged with breaking newly introduced quarantine legislation, while the supermarket he visited had been closed.
Webb said the man’s actions were “completely unacceptable” and he was now in talks with police about having officers stationed at quarantine around the clock. He emphasised that the hotels were “not prisons”, but an “enhanced roving presence on-site” may be needed to ensure guests followed the rules.
In central Auckland on Wednesday, busy lunchtime crowds thronged the streets as usual, with few face masks visible (New Zealanders have not been encouraged to wear them).
At the supermarket the man visited during his escape from quarantine, a lone security guard turned confused shoppers away, telling them the store would reopen the following day. A small notice in the window warned that a customer had tested positive to Covid-19.
Outside the Stamford Plaza Hotel, quarantined travellers paced back and forth — all wearing masks — inside temporary fencing. A man leaving apartments attached to the hotel, where he has lived for more than 12 years, said the latest escape was “absolutely shocking.”
Health minister Chris Hipkins said the man had “let down the team of 5 million” and the government had zero tolerance for such behaviour. Taxpayers were picking up the tab for quarantine, and there was growing disquiet among some New Zealanders at the multiple breaches of the rules, and the mounting cost.
The man, who is a New Zealand citizen and arrived from New Delhi on 3 July, will appear in court at a later date, charged for breaching the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.