Ardern ramps up Defence management of borders as cases drop

New Zealand will deploy an extra 500 defence staff to its borders and quarantine facilities and reduce the use of private security guards, as the country recorded another six COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

Jacinda Ardern cited lessons learnt from abroad as she announced the total deployment of defence staff would rise to about 1200.

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern.Credit:Getty Images

The Prime Minister also declared the government’s rapid return to a stage-three lockdown in Auckland a week ago to contain a fresh coronavirus outbreak was working.

Of the new cases reported, five were linked to the growing Auckland cluster and one was a returned traveller.

The numbers mark a decrease on the 13 cases reported on Tuesday and suggests that widespread testing and lockdown may have helped contain the spread of the virus. The number of people receiving hospital care has decreased from six to five.

"Today’s results are encouraging, at this stage we are not seeing a surge in new cases," Ardern said, "the rollout of the resurgence plan is working as intended" and the virus did not appear to have spread beyond the Auckland region.

The decision to deploy defence personnel to the frontline and reduce reliance on private security – a similar move to that taken by Victoria after its second wave – had been planned for some time, Ardern said.

"This boost in staff will be progressively rolled out over the next six weeks and will see the number in each managed isolation facility of defence personnel increased to 19 per facility," she said, adding that an extra 80 personnel would be stationed at maritime borders.

"By scaling up our defence force staff we will be able to reduce our reliance on private security guards, especially in the highest risk facilities… such as entry and exist points in public areas, and replace them with defence force staff."

"While the current community cluster has not been sourced to a managed isolation and quarantine facility, strengthening security is always an important step."

Asked if the decision had been taken following a recent phone call with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Ardern said "that’s all been part of our constant systems' improvement to protect against some of the issues we have seen abroad, but it hasn’t come as a result of a specific conversation."

National Party leader Judith Collins.Credit:Getty Images

Some private security guards will be given extra training and then directly hired by the national government to keep working in the facilities.

National Party leader Judith Collins has lashed the government for a "massive failure" in not testing all border staff sooner.

The speed with which coronavirus testing was deployed to front-line border and quarantine staff has become an increasingly contentious issue in NZ politics, after it emerged the rollout was slower than expected.

The Prime Minister said there were no additional cases linked to a Rydges maintenance worker, who worked in a quarantine facility and who has tested positive to a strain of the virus that matches a case in a traveller who returned from the US.

That strain of the virus does not match the Auckland cluster, which has grown to 74 cases, and the source of the infection for the Rydges worker is still being investigated.

NZ Health and Education Minister Chris Hipkins.Credit:Tom Lee, Stuff

The man is not believed to have had direct contact with the infected returned traveller and may have contracted the disease from a third party, or from a surface that had not been cleaned properly.

Earlier on Wednesday, Health Minister Chris Hipkins suggested during an interview on breakfast radio that Auckland would not need to move to stage-four restrictions.

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