Covid 19 Omicron: Covid 19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins to speak

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins today said he would be willing to have a conversation with New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis “if she got in touch with him”.

He stated that he had never indicated that Bellis had turned down an MIQ space.

He said he would not say whether or not he had requested the information.

In a press conference this afternoon, Hipkins also spoke about the future of MIQ, saying that, despite the winding down of managed isolation, “there remained capacity in case of any future issues that arose”.

It comes after news today around plans for winding down MIQ and revelations about Hipkins releasing personal information about New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis.

Bellis was unable to secure an emergency MIQ spot despite being pregnant and stuck in Afghanistan. Soon after her case made headlines she was offered an emergency MIQ place.

A lawyer representing New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis says the actions of Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins were “disgraceful” after it emerged he publicly disclosed private information about her despite officials telling him it was “not for public comment”.

As criticism mounted against Hipkins over his handling of the situation, he released her personal information about when he believed she had arrived in Afghanistan and that she had been offered consular assistance without her consent.

This information turned out not to be true, as Bellis was not in Afghanistan at the time the assistance was allegedly provided.

The information was also used against Bellis; people misinterpreted Hipkins’ comments and posted online that Bellis had turned down MIQ spots, which was untrue.

National’s Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop today revealed that responses to written parliamentary questions, which show Hipkins received the information from Mfat officials but was told all personal information was “not for public comment”.

The information, which included a briefing and media lines, was originally provided to Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta under a “no surprises” convention, given she was likely to receive media queries.

This was then passed on to Hipkins.

“The media lines provided followed established practice in noting that ‘for privacy reasons, we do not disclose details regarding individual cases’,” Mahuta’s response said.

Hipkins has so far refused to answer questions about his actions, citing Bellis’ privacy.

Bishop said Hipkins needed to apologise to Bellis for disclosing that private information and show accountability.

Meanwhile, Hipkins this morning announced only four out of 32 MIQ facilities would stay in the network.

The end of managed isolation hotels means more than 600 Defence Force personnel involved will be able to return to their units.

Rydges in downtown Auckland will be the first hotel to leave the network, on April 30.

“MIQ meant that not everyone could come home when they wanted to. But it also meant that Covid-19 could not come in when it wanted to, either,” said Hipkins.

Hipkins said it had served us “incredibly well” and he acknowledged all those who had worked in managed isolation and quarantine facilities around the country.

Yesterday it was announced that the isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts would be slashed from 10 to seven days from midnight on Friday.

Hipkins said as case numbers increased, larger numbers of people needed to isolate and the reduced isolation time was because of high case numbers and wider impacts.

“There needs to be a balance between effectively controlling the outbreak and the flow-on effect for business and essential goods and services such as transport and food supply.”

Earlier 21,015 cases were reported today in the community, and of the 845 people in hospital today, 16 people were in ICU.

The Government has faced scrutiny over its figures, after this morning director general of health Ashley Bloomfield was unable to say how many of those in hospital were there because of Covid-19, or with Covid-19.

Act Party leader David Seymour said this was not good enough, as the traffic light alert system was based around hospitalisation numbers due to Covid-19.

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