Hipkins says unvaccinated border workers to be removed from high-risk roles after latest Covid-19 case

Source: 1News

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the Government is in the "closing stages" of working through why a managed isolation worker, who was confirmed with Covid-19 yesterday, was not yet vaccinated for the illness.

The 24-year-old, a security guard at the Grand Millenium MIQ facility, tested positive following routine testing on Tuesday. 

It comes almost two months after New Zealand's first vaccines started rolling out to those working on the frontline of our Covid-19 response in February.

On Breakfast today, Otago Univeristy epidemiologist Michael Baker called the case a "glitch" in the system.

"It defeats the point of vaccinating border workers if they're not all vaccinated. I think we all know that and, I mean, this looks like a glitch," he said.

"This has been the group that's been highly prioritised. It's a key defence for New Zealand — you can't really have any border workers, or in fact any air crew who are not vaccinated now.

"I think people who are not vaccinated obviously need to be redeployed to other jobs that don't involve contact with infected people returning into New Zealand."

Last month, Hipkins said unvaccinated border workers would be barred from working on the frontline — yet this latest case still emerged.

Speaking later with Breakfast this morning, Hipkins reiterated that once authorities have established who is and who isn't vaccinated, anyone working at a managed isolation facility who is in the latter category would be removed from at-risk roles.

"You don't get to work in a frontline, at-risk role at the border," he said today.

"Now obviously we're working with a variety of different employers here, some of whom will be able to redeploy those people to other roles where they're not at risk and others who would struggle to do that."

Hipkins said there are high rates of vaccinating in public sector workers, including Defence Force (100 per cent), police (around 94 per cent) and Aviation Security Service (96 per cent).

However, he added: "We see the lower rates in the hotel workforces and in the contracted security guard workforces and in some cases it's because they're using quite a large workforce and rostering people in and out.

"Some of those people who might be showing up in our numbers may not actually be working in those frontline roles at this point, so we're just working though that process at the moment.

"There's a degree of complexity with it, but obviously we want to be able to get that certainty as quickly as we can."

Hipkins said he wanted the work around figuring out who, working where, has and has not been vaccinated to be completed as soon as possible, but added there were "employment and contractual issues" with it.

"We haven't quite completed that yet, as you can see, but we are aiming to finish that in the next week or two because ultimately we are far enough through this programme now that we can have those discussions."