WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — United States Ambassador Scott Brown’s diplomatic status has allowed him and his wife to avoid going into quarantine at New Zealand’s border after the couple returned from a trip to their home country this week.
Just about everybody who arrives in New Zealand is required to spend 14 days isolated in a government-run hotel that is guarded by the military as the country spends billions of dollars on its efforts to eliminate the coronavirus.
But the Browns said Friday they’re isolating themselves at home.
New Zealand has stamped out most community transmission of the virus and is focusing much of its efforts on keeping the border safe.
The Ministry of Health says that since June 8, there have been 118 diplomats arrive in the country, including the Browns. Of those, 112 have agreed to go into the government-run hotels. But ultimately, officials have no power over diplomats.
Because New Zealand has signed the Vienna Convention, which gives diplomats special rights, “we are unable to require diplomatic personnel to enter quarantine or managed isolation,” the ministry said in an email.
Brown and his wife arrived back in New Zealand on Thursday after a trip on which Brown met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other dignitaries.
Brown said he and his wife tested negative for the virus before leaving the U.S. and had been very careful about wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines during transit.
“Just like everyone else, we will be medically monitored while in isolation and tested again around Day 3 and Day 12,” Brown said in a statement. “We will not leave isolation until those tests come back negative.”
The U.S. Embassy said the ambassador’s self-isolation would save New Zealand money and allow him to do his job remotely, which he couldn’t have done otherwise. The embassy said the household staff at the ambassador’s residence near Wellington will remain on leave until the couple complete their isolation.
“Even before I left New Zealand, our two governments started exploring how best to manage my return,” Brown said in his statement.
The Ministry of Health described that interaction a bit differently, saying New Zealand officials “were informed that Ambassador Brown would self-isolate.”
Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts, has close ties with President Donald Trump and was once considered a possible running mate. He plans to return to the U.S. permanently in January.
Trump this month criticized New Zealand after the country had a small outbreak of the virus in Auckland, marking its first cases of community transmission in more than three months.
“New Zealand, it’s over. It’s over for New Zealand, everything’s gone, they’re beautiful. They had a massive breakout yesterday,” Trump told one crowd in Pennsylvania.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded by saying Trump was wrong, and that anyone following “will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands.”