Covid 19 coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern won’t back down from calling security guard a ‘liar’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern isn’t back-pedaling from calling an infected security guard a “liar”, but accepts the Government is partly to blame for the lax vetting of the testing of MIQ workers.

Meanwhile, the testing register which the Government says will improve the checks and balances is being questioned; the guard’s employer, First Security, says the register didn’t raise a red flag about his tests until March 26, more than four months after his previous test.

Yesterday, Ardern said the Grand Millennium guard, known as Case B, had lied to First Security about being tested every fortnight when he hadn’t been tested for five months.

“The legal obligation to be tested existed … the employer had obligations as well,” she said during Question Time yesterday.

“It is obviously quite difficult when an individual, as we’ve been advised, has lied about being tested.”

Her comments went further than Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who said that Case B appeared to have misled his employer, but the matter was still being investigated.

It follows Ardern publicly blaming a KFC worker in February for failing to self-isolate, which the worker then pushed back on, saying she had never been told to do so.

Asked today if she regretted calling Case B a liar, Ardern deflected: “My language yesterday was blunt. I absolutely accept that.”

She said the Government wasn’t blame-free in the failure to check whether Case B was being tested every fortnight.

“We as a Government are that final check and balance. We absolutely recognise there are things we needed to improve to be that backstop measure, and we’re doing that.”

National Party leader Judith Collins has called it “unfathomable” to let the guard, who then infected another First Security guard at the Grand Millennium, slip under the testing radar.

Yesterday, MBIE officials told the Parliamentary health committee that they didn’t know how many other MIQ workers weren’t being regularly tested.

MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain had written to MIQ employers last month to remind them of their legal responsibilities, but she couldn’t say what other compliance checks she had done since the testing became a legal requirement at the end of August.

Hipkins later said that about 60 MIQ workers weren’t being tested within or close to the required timeframe.

He has signed a new public health order, which will make it mandatory from April 27 for all MIQ employers to use the government’s border worker testing register; currently the register only covers about 60 per cent of the 4500-strong MIQ workforce.

Questions still remain, however, over how well the register is working.

Last night First Security, in a statement to the Herald, said it had been using the register but “the system did not flag the guard as non-compliant until March 26, at which time the follow-up process began”.

This was more than four months after the guard’s last test on November 20.

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