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'Inappropriate Encounter' Highlights Weak Spot in NZ Quarantine

It started with notes between hotel worker and quarantined traveler
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 29, 2021 2:15 AM CST

(Newser) – The woman who took a flight back to New Zealand was supposed to avoid all physical contact with others for 14 days as she went into mandatory quarantine. The man working at the quarantine hotel was supposed to be the last line of defense. But the two started passing notes to each other, including one written on the back of a face mask. Then she ordered a bottle of wine, which he delivered to her room. When he didn't return 20 minutes later, a security manager sent to investigate found the pair together in what authorities are describing as an inappropriate encounter—one in which physical distancing wasn't maintained. The incident earlier this month, which came to light Friday, has highlighted a very human weak point in New Zealand's coronavirus elimination procedures, in a country which has stamped out community spread of the virus.

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It is similar to lapses in Australia that may have contributed to a major outbreak last year in Melbourne. Brigadier Jim Bliss, the head of managed isolation and quarantine, said the Grand Millennium Auckland hotel worker was immediately sent home and told to self-isolate. He was later fired. The returning traveler, meanwhile, was given a formal written warning by the police. Authorities breathed a sigh of relief after both returned negative coronavirus tests, the AP reports. "The actions of the two people involved in this incident are incredibly irresponsible and extremely disappointing," Bliss said. "There is absolutely no room for complacency." New Zealand's successful response has resulted in just 25 people dying from the virus in a nation of 5 million. (The country plans to keep its borders closed to most travelers for most of 2021.)

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