Martin McVicar, 52, travelled from Sydney last Wednesday and broke out of the managed isolation facility in Hamilton on the North Island eight days later.
New Zealand’s head of managed isolation and quarantine, Air Commodore Darryn Webb, said the man appeared to have cut through fence ties at a 1.8-metre fence in order to abscond from the Distinction Hotel.
He is believed to have been off the premises for around half an hour, visiting a nearby liquor store, which was cleaned and shut overnight, but has been allowed to reopen.
Mr McVicar, who tested negative for Covid-19 on his third day in the isolation, has been taken to prison after a magistrate denied him bail on Friday.
The Queenstown resident has been charged with intentionally damaging a 52-inch television and failing to comply with coronavirus legislation.
Community magistrate Robyn Paterson said the victims of McVicar’s alleged offending were his fellow New Zealanders.
“New Zealand has gone through a very, very tough time and is still going through a tough time and made many sacrifices physically, mentally and financially,” The New Zealand Herald reported Ms Paterson as saying.
“The rules have been made very clear and the expectations extremely high that compliance with isolation be taken with absolute seriousness.”
The country has identified just over 1,500 confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 and 22 deaths. There are currently just 23 active cases, according to government data, all of whom have recently returned from abroad.
Nearly 28,000 people have gone through managed isolation since 26 March, and the scheme’s head Mr Webb commended the “vast majority of returnees [who] take their responsibilities seriously”.
However, Mr McVicar’s escape is the third in a week. On Wednesday, a man in his 30s who later tested positive for coronavirus snuck through a gap in a fence at a hotel in Auckland to visit a supermarket.
The previous Saturday, a 42-year-old woman jumped over a hedge and climbed two fences to escape another Auckland hotel. Upon getting lost, she reportedly asked a police officer for directions back to the hotel.
According to The Herald, the man who served Mr McVicar at Te Rapa Brews in Hamilton said he spent just two minutes in the shop and knew exactly what he was after.
“He walked in and bought a four-pack of Leffe Blonde and a pinot noir,” the anonymous employee told the paper.”I asked him how he was and he just said ‘fine’.”
He said that Mr McVicar had paid by cash, which meant that every single note and coin in the register had to be cleaned.
“It is important to note that the Covid-19 health risk has been assessed as very low,” said Mr Webb in a statement, adding that investigations indicate there were no close contacts within or outwith the facility.
Mr McVicar was tested again for coronavirus on Friday and is awaiting the results. Authorities now plan to introduce a 24-hour police presence at all quarantine hotels.