Thursday, December 9

Timeline: How Covid-19 Left Auckland With A Man On Bail

A pocket of the Waikato has been plunged into a “bespoke level 4” lockdown after Covid-19 slipped through the strict Auckland border.

The virus traveled with a recently released prisoner who had been released on bail to an address in the Firth of Thames.

But why was he able to cross the Auckland border and how did he get infected? Political reporter Katie Scotcher follows in her footsteps.

A police checkpoint in Mercer, near the Auckland-Waikato border.

Police at a border checkpoint south of Auckland.
Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

The man had been detained at Mount Eden Prison since April 2021 and was released on bail on Wednesday, September 8.

He received his first dose of the vaccine before leaving the facility that day.

According to Corrections, his bail conditions required a family member to pick him up and drive him to his bail address without unnecessary stops.

It was picked up by three people, one of whom was infected with Covid-19, and taken to a house in Whakatīwai.

Health officials believe the prisoner contracted the virus from the infected person in the car. They are trying to establish exactly how long they were in each other’s company.

The group made several stops along the way, but officials know the exact locations because the inmate was wearing a GPS tracker.

They include two private addresses at Mount Albert and Māngere and a Pōkeno supermarket.

The trip, which would normally last about an hour, took the group 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Health officials believe he developed symptoms on September 11, three days after first arriving at the bail address.

However, his infection only contracted almost a week later.

On September 16, the inmate left his home and went to a police checkpoint on the Auckland border.

He was no longer able to stay at the house in Whakatīwai, so the court revoked his bond and an arrest warrant was issued for his arrest, Corrections said.

The man was in a police cell overnight and appeared in Manukau District Court before being taken to Mount Eden Prison on Friday night.

Corrections has told RNZ that the man denied having symptoms when he was detained, but was independently examined upon arrival (standard procedure at alert levels 3 and 4).

That night he was in double bunks and tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday morning.

Both prisoners have now been transferred to a dedicated quarantine area.

Positive cases and close contacts

As of Monday night, three of the nine people living at the man’s bail address had tested positive for the virus.

The three positive cases, and an accompanying adult caregiver, have been transferred to a quarantine center.

His other six household contacts have been evaluated; five have yielded negative results. The final result is pending.

Five Mount Eden prison inmates who came into contact with the infected inmate tested negative on the third day.

Corrections said two of the prisoners initially refused to be examined, but at least one changed his mind.

Six of the seven prison staff who were also identified as contacts have tested negative and are isolating themselves at home.

Police and judicial personnel who were also identified as close contacts have tested negative.

Whakatīwai residents were also tested on Monday, 340 of them.

A steady stream of people has been passing through a testing facility near Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames following the discovery of three Covid-19 cases in the area, outside the level 4 boundary.

A steady stream of people has been passing a testing facility near Kaiaua on the Firth of Thames following the discovery of three cases of Covid-19 in the area, outside the alert level 4 boundary.
Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Crossing the Auckland boundary

Some have expressed frustration that the prisoner was transferred on bail to an address outside the Auckland limits.

But the chief judge of the District Court, Heemi Taumaunu, said it was within the law. Specifically, the Covid-19 Public Health Response Order.

The order allowed a judge to release a person through an alert level cap, Taumaunu said.

“The judge will consider a number of factors set forth in the Bail Act 2000, including the severity of the charges and the time he has already spent in custody. In this case, the judge found that the posting of the electronically supervised bail and the direction of the proposed bond were appropriate, “he said.

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government was asking Corrections why several people detained him.

“There was a specific person who was meant to take them back to their bail address, so we are just looking at whether or not the bail conditions mean it should be an exclusive deal, or not.”

Lock ‘to measure’

A map of the northern Hauraki area covered by the

A map of the northern Hauraki area covered by the “bespoke” lock, to the left of the main Auckland boundary and outlined in blue.
Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Part of northern Waikato has been subjected to a “tailored” blockade as officials try to determine if the virus has spread beyond the man’s bail address.

Health Director General Ashley Bloomfield has issued a section 70 notice covering an area north of State Highway 2 around Mangatangi.

Anyone who lives, works, or has visited the area since September 8 should now stay home and watch for symptoms.

Bloomfield has imposed the restrictions for five days.

“It could be shorter. It’s for five days or until a health doctor says people can be released. We think that will give us a good amount of time and we can adjust it too, that’s the good thing about a section 70 notice, we can adjust it as we go along if new information emerges, “said Bloomfield.

Individuals can be fined up to $ 4,000 or face six months in jail for violating the section 70 notice.

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