Two Vodafone technicians were put in supervised quarantine yesterday after they were “misled” into a home being used by returnees carrying out their 14-day quarantine.
They were released last night after testing negative for Covid-19, using in-country testing capability.
The incident occurred on Monday morning when an elderly couple, who returned to Rarotonga on September 5, invited the technicians into their property at Nikao to attend to an “undisclosed issue”.
Phillip Henderson, the chief executive officer of Vodafone Cook Islands, said: “Our Vodafone staff were misled by this person who said nothing until after the job was resolved.”
Henderson said the yellow flag indicating quarantine site was not noticeable to the technicians, and the driveway off from the main road is used by more than one residence. “… there was not a clear flag identifying this particular property that was noticed by our staff,” he said.
Upon leaving the residence, the two had contact with one of their relatives, but Te Marae Ora spokesperson Jaewynn McKay last night said the contact was deemed safe.
The technicians then contacted their Vodafone manager, who engaged health officials while advising them to refrain from any further contact with other members of the public.
They were then taken into a supervised quarantine residence and released last night after tested negative for Covid-19.
In response to the breach, Phillip Henderson slammed the government’s Covid-19 quarantine programme and demanded action be taken.
Since the resumption of flights from New Zealand earlier this month, Henderson said Vodafone has received five service requests from individuals in supervised quarantine.
In those previous cases, the individuals who made the requests eventually disclosed they were under quarantine, and no service work was carried out, he said.
“Te Marae Ora need to improve their policing of this measure to secure our borders,” he said. “Consequences must be applied.”
Secretary of Health Dr Aumea Herman said the couple were assessed as “low risk”, and had not been assigned round the clock surveillance. This has since been rectified.
The couple have been asymptomatic and tested negative twice in the past two weeks, the most recent test was on Thursday, Dr Herman confirmed.
Yesterday’s incident is the third confirmed breach, prompting Te Marae Ora to investigate the incidents with police and Crown Law.
“Two breaches in a matter of days puts this process in jeopardy,” added Dr Herman. “The supervised quarantine rules are in place to protect everyone from Covid-19 and is for everyone’s benefits.”
Opposition Health spokesperson Sel Napa has called for a change in quarantine plan.
“This is not the time to be saying to Te Marae Ora, we told you so, but it is time for Te Marae Ora to concede that this quarantine plan is not working and to change it immediately for the sake of our people,” Napa said.
“Quarantine at one commercial accommodation, supervised with tight 24/7 security using police and private security services. Incoming passengers to pay for quarantine if they are not returning health referrals, or incoming health professionals.
“Finally, fine those that breach quarantine. Stop pretending at being serious. This is not a game; this is our lives.”
Earlier yesterday, the results of 69 swabs sent to New Zealand last Friday for Covid-19 tests returned negative, said the ministry.