Covid 19 coronavirus: Ministry of Health stands by sick student/work information provided and released

The Ministry of Health is standing by its actions after the public was told a student with Covid-19 called in sick, but ended up working after talking to her manager.

The owners ofA-Z Collections on High St have strongly denied their employee ever told them she was sick, or sought to call in sick, and through lawyers released a statement from the student backing them.

The Herald put questions to the ministry today, including whether it accepts the version of events put forward by the shop owners.

“The ministry stands by the information it released publicly as being an accurate reflection of the information it was provided,” a spokesperson told the Herald.

“The ministry works quickly on the basis of information available at the time which public health services work to verify independently where that is possible.

“The latest information does not affect in any substantive way the public health actions being taken and the ministry will not be commenting further on it.”

Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) has been responsible for contact tracing interviews with the student.

On Thursday, director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay jointly fronted a press conference with Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins, and said after the AUT student was tested she called in sick to work, but she ended up working after talking to her manager.

A ministry media release repeated that information: “We now know that this case called in sick to work after receiving the advice to isolate, but after a conversation with their manager went to work and wore a mask.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff was one of many people to condemn the store’s management on social media, tweeting: “What is it that a shop manager who told his employee to come into work despite having Covid symptoms didn’t understand?”

However, A-Z Collections owners, husband and wife Bing Wang and Mei Chen, have since issued a statement via their lawyers, Focus Law, claiming the employee had never told them she was sick, sought to call in sick, or that she’d had a Covid test.

The Herald has been unable to speak to the student directly, and Focus Law says no interviews or further statements will be given at this time.

The release by the law firm yesterday included a statement by the student, saying on the evening of Monday, November 9, she had a sore throat, and contacted her GP the next day, and they recommended a Covid test.

On Wednesday, November 11, her sore throat had gone, the statement read, and she went to work, wearing a mask “just to be safe”.

“I did not tell my boss or manager of the above and did not request leave at any time. I did not think it was a big deal.”

According to the statement, language barrier issues meant ARPHS staff “made many errors in recording my previous whereabouts, actions and contacts”.

Today, the ministry spokesperson said ARPHS had confirmed “a Chinese-speaking nurse sat in on the interviews and offered to interpret, but that the case opted to speak in English”.

ARPHS’ processes required all cases to be offered an interpreter if English was a second language, the ministry spokesperson said.

“The ministry again asks the public and media to treat with respect and kindness those who are placed in the eye of the storm of public interest.”

A spokesperson for Hipkins referred the Herald to the ministry’s statement. Goff’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

Genomic testing has linked the AUT student’s infection to a Defence Force serviceman who caught the virus in the Jet Park quarantine facility near the airport.

The genomes from the serviceman (Case A) and the student (Case D) were identical, which is consistent with direct transmission. That doesn’t exclude the possibility of someone else being in the chain, but officials believe the timeframe means there isn’t a long chain of transmission.

The serviceman ate at a cafe just 82m from the A-Z Collections store.

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