Covid 19 coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern and Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault have ‘frank and open’ talk about blaming families with Covid

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault says he has had a “frank” discussion with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about blaming Covid-infected families for spreading the virus.

Couillault, whose school has been at the centre of the latest Covid outbreak which has infected 15 people so far, took a call from Ardern on Tuesday.

“She thanked me for my leadership in this pandemic and acknowledged that as a school principal I didn’t sign up for the public scrutiny that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks,” he said.

Ardern and Couillault have taken contrasting positions publicly on whether some of the Papatoetoe families that have caught Covid-19 were to blame for spreading it to others.

Ardern said on Monday that “rule-breakers” faced “the full judgment of the entire nation”.

The mother in one of the infected families went walking with the mother in another family after being told to isolate. Later a 21-year-old tertiary student in the second family went to a gym after having a Covid test.

“No one in Cabinet … thinks that this is tolerable. What has happened here is a clear breach and everyone is frustrated by it,” Ardern said.

In contrast, Couillault has urged people not to rush to judgment.

“Until you have walked in the shoes of somebody, you don’t know what they’re experiencing,” he said.

“The people who have potentially not followed that advice and guidance are suffering, are hurting, and I don’t know any New Zealander that wants to deliberately hurt another one even more.”

He said he and Ardern had “a meaningful conversation about what we have both experienced and what we can potentially learn from this”, including whether the families involved should be blamed.

“We had a very frank and open discussion, the Prime Minister and I, and we have common views on a number of things,” he said.

“We had a really good conversation. It was charming. I was humbled.

“The Prime Minister rang to say thank you for your contribution to this work and to acknowledge the work that my team had done to support the containment effort, and then to offer the opportunity to provide feedback about how we can improve should this situation manifest itself again with someone else.

“I will be touching base with her office about how we can provide any feedback.”

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