Covid-19 coronavirus: A runny nose and the confusion around Hamilton District Court lockdown

Within 20 minutes of opening the Hamilton District Court was swiftly put into lockdown today.

Sitting among the rest in the public gallery, was a woman also there for her scheduled appearance.

However that woman was a staffer in a Hamilton managed isolation facility – and had her mandatory Covid-19 test yesterday. She was still awaiting the results.

The contentious part of this story is what, if any, other detail she is alleged to have told someone at the court.

The Herald understands she told a staffer that she had a runny nose, but was otherwise fine.

That’s steadfastly denied by her employer, who spoke to the Herald on the woman’s behalf.

The Ministry of Justice wouldn’t go into detail or confirm whether there was mention of a runny nose, but in its response it said it was following Ministry of Health guidelines and its own protocol “to deal with anyone displaying symptoms of or confirmed cases of Covid-19 in any of our buildings.”

That protocol says to go into lockdown.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson later said the lockdown action was “precautionary” and “taken by local agencies after some initial reports that the person had symptoms consistent with Covid-19”.

“The Ministry of Health acknowledges our border workers’ willingness to undergo regular Covid-19 tests that are helping keep all New Zealanders safe from Covid-19.

“These people do not need to stay home – unless they develop symptoms.”

A Hamilton 82-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Jan, said her son was the last person in the courthouse as she watched the front doors close in front of her at 9.20am.

The last words she heard from her son, Wally Grimes, were “Mum, you can’t come in”.

“I looked at him and said ‘why?’ And then two security staff said the building was in lockdown.”

The incident saw everyone from police prosecutors to lawyers to accused to family members all left lingering out the front of the building until they caught wind of the lockdown.

Inside, everyone was given masks and all they could do was stare longingly out into the bright blue Hamilton sky.

It would be two hours later before Grimes, and the rest of those inside, were allowed out after being deemed “casual contacts” by the Ministry of Health.

Grimes said frustrations were beginning to build after a short time as they weren’t being told anything.

“They just said no one in, no one out, they gave us a mask.”

Hand sanitiser was also given out.

“There was a lot of people getting frustrated, getting angry, but the security did what they could … they were getting agitated at being locked up.”

There was a young mum at the court with her baby and she only had a small amount of feed left in the bottle she had on her.

“At least I don’t have to be locked up for 14 days,” he said.

However, they were given information about where to go and who to ring if they did end up with symptoms.

Another woman, who wanted to be known as Kate, said being in the lockdown “felt like being in jail”.

“We weren’t allowed to leave until we knew what was going on.”

She said they didn’t need to get a Covid-19 test as they were deemed a casual contact of a person who was still awaiting their test results, “someone with symptoms that works at an isolation facility”.

By midday, it had been confirmed the woman had tested negative.

But the upheaval was huge.

With more than 50 people scheduled to appear, many turned up only to be told to go home again.

However, those in custody eventually had their cases called.

Both she and her employer deny telling anyone that she had any symptoms.

“The person did not have Covid symptoms. She had her routine test done that all MIF workers must have every 14 days.

“There is no requirement for any of them to self isolate at all after having the test done.At no time did she state that she had Covid Symptoms.”

Despite denying she had symptoms, the woman’s employer did praise the efficiency of both the Ministry of Justice and Health response.

“I commend the Ministry on their swift action and that it should ease the public’s mind that there are procedures in place.”

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