By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) - New Zealand said on Wednesday that a 32-year-old man who tested positive for COVID-19 will be charged after briefly absconding from an isolation facility in Auckland, the latest slip up as the country tries to keep coronavirus cases at its border.
The man, who was in quarantine after arriving from New Delhi on July 3, tested positive for COVID-19 the next morning, government said in a statement.
"We take any breach of the Covid-19 rules very seriously. Wilfully leaving our facilities will not be tolerated, and the appropriate action will be taken," said Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the head of managed isolation and quarantine.
New Zealand's borders are still shut to foreigners, and citizens and permanent residents have to undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine.
The man escaped through a fenced area at the hotel where he was in quarantine, when he was out smoking, and also stopped by a supermarket before returning.
An investigation and contact tracing efforts are underway.
The man will be summonsed to appear in court at a later date and will face charges leading to 6 month imprisonment or a NZ$4,000 ($2,619.20) fine, the government said.
New Zealand currently has 23 active cases of the coronavirus, all from returning New Zealanders who have to undergo 14 days of mandatory isolation at quarantine facilities. There is no known community transmission yet.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared in early June that New Zealand had eliminated coronavirus but soon after, two women were allowed to leave quarantine early on compassionate grounds and later tested positive for the virus.
Ardern quickly called in the military to manage the border facilities. Under pressure for the border blunders, the health minister resigned last week. ($1 = 1.5272 New Zealand dollars) (Reporting by Praveen Menon)
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