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Three Dunedin police officers have been forced into self-isolation after they arrested a man suspected to have Covid-19.
The 32-year-old was taken into custody yesterday morning, charged with aggravated robbery and could be the country’s first prisoner to have the virus.
On arrest he informed police he was potentially infected.
Defence counsel Alex Bligh told the Dunedin District Court yesterday her client had a dry cough and other symptoms but was not sure whether he had Covid-19.
The defendant was arrested for an alleged breach of bail on other charges before the aggravated-robbery count was laid.
The court was told seven officers were going into quarantine because of contact with the man but a police spokeswoman said it was three front-line staff who would be isolating as a result of the incident.
Police could be seen by video-link clothed in masks, glasses, gloves and hooded overalls, preparing for the man’s remote court appearance.
But before he could appear on screen Ms Bligh confirmed he could be remanded in custody by consent and would not be applying for bail.
In the circumstances, Judge Michael Crosbie said, that was the appropriate course.
“It just demonstrates to everybody the risks in coming into contact with people who may have [Covid],” he said.
The defendant had been swabbed but the results were not yet available, the court heard.
Judge Crosbie said the man would be picked up from the Dunedin Central police station by two Corrections officers in full personal protective equipment.
Corrections national commissioner Rachel Leota said as well as the 32-year-old, who would appear in court again on Tuesday, they were expecting another arrival who had associated with him.
Both men would be isolated immediately on arrival, Ms Leota said, and housed separately from other inmates for at least 14 days.
“All new receptions into custody are transported in a secure vehicle and both prisoners and staff are required to wear personal protective equipment,” Ms Leota said.
“Our prisoner escort vehicles have enhanced cleaning procedures in place to prevent any potential for virus transmission between each movement.”
Prison staff, she said, were taking a deliberately cautious approach, all wearing disposable gloves and masks, as well as gowns and eye protection if a prisoner presented with Covid-19 symptoms
A police spokeswoman said police worked with the Ministry of Health to minimise risk to officers.
“We have a range of measures in place to protect our people, given the front-line nature of police work there are risks,” she said.
All front-line officers had been issued with a “personal pandemic pack”, the spokeswoman said, which included splash goggles, surgical and respirator masks, sanitisers, gloves, wipes, and other cleaning agents.