COVID-19 managed isolation in New Zealand

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Distinction Christchurch in use as a managed isolation hotel COVID quarantine 464.jpg
Distinction Christchurch in use as a managed isolation hotel

Managed isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) is a quarantine system implemented by the New Zealand Government during the country's COVID-19 pandemic. Under the system, people entering New Zealand, COVID-19 positive cases and some of their close contacts are required to isolate at an MIQ facility for 14 days. Compulsory managed isolation and quarantine was announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the daily 1 pm (NZT) press conference on 9 April 2020, with the system coming into effect for people boarding flights to New Zealand from midnight that day. The government has contracted dozens of hotels in five cities that are exclusively used as managed isolation facilities. The task is organised by the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) unit, part of the COVID-19 All-of-Government Response Group.

Contents

Background

On 28 February 2020, New Zealand confirmed its first case of COVID-19. [1] [2] At the daily 1 pm press conference on 14 March, Ardern announced that people entering New Zealand must go into a fortnight's self-isolation beginning on 16 March; people coming from Pacific Island nations were initially exempt from these restrictions. [3] By mid-March, the government was urging New Zealanders to return home urgently. [4]

History

2020

At the daily 1 pm press conference on 9 April 2020, Ardern announced that those boarding flights after midnight that day would have to go into managed isolation provided by the government. She explained that government had been considering this measure for some time, but there simply was not the capacity to introduce these measures any earlier as almost 40,000 New Zealanders had returned since 20 March, a number larger than all the country's hotel rooms. Part of the announcement was that the government would use up to 18 hotels, [5] but this was soon increased to 26 by early July [6] and 32 by early August. [7]

Three representatives of the Defence Force, Corrections, and Police undertook a review of the managed isolation system at the end of June. They found that little pre-planning had been done, with a Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) unit created as part of the COVID-19 All-of-Government Response Group on 20 March, without a lead agency assigned to have ultimate responsibility. For example, agencies involved prescribed different policies for personal protective gear for their staff. There was little government oversight of arriving passengers when they transferred through the arrival halls, with a risk of travellers meeting their family or even absconding. Some travellers found out that there is mandatory quarantine in New Zealand after they had cleared customs. There was initially little coordination with airlines, with passenger manifests provided only hours before planes arrived in New Zealand; this sometimes put strains on logistics, with last-minute decisions which hotel passengers would be sent to. The compulsory second test did sometimes not arrive in a timely manner, which meant that rooms did not become available, hindering planning for accommodating new guests. [8]

In mid-June, Air Commodore Darryn Webb and Housing Minister Megan Woods were given joint responsibility for overseeing isolation and quarantine facilities. [9] [10] Woods and Webb announced a number of operational changes two days after the review was received. [11]

From 5 October, anyone entering New Zealand will need to book a place at a Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facility using the Government's online Managed Isolation Allocation System. On the day of its launch, Stuff reported that the Managed Isolation Allocation System's website had collapsed with numerous people reporting trouble making bookings. From 12 am on 5 November, anyone entering New Zealand will be legally required to show a voucher proving that they have secured a place in an MIQ facility before flying. [12]

On 12 November, it was reported that MIQ guests at the Grand Millennium hotel in Auckland Central had mingled with residents of Vincent Residences after a fire alarm at the hotel on earlier in the week. Following reports of a community transmission at Vincent Residences, Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said the alarm was not the likely cause of the community transmission because the case was already asymptomatic at the time. [13] In addition, Air Commodore Darryn Webb disputed reports that MIQ guests had mingled with Vincent Residences. [14]

2021

On 28 January 2021, the Pullman Hotel in Central Auckland was identified as the centre of an outbreak that had seen four people test positive for a South African strain. In response, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the managed isolation facility would not be accepting new returnees and that remaining residents would have their stays extended. The Minister also confirmed that health authorities were investigating the causes of this new outbreak. [15] On 29 January, a mother whose two daughters had stayed at the Pullman Hotel criticised lapses in protocols and safety including returnees mingling and playing contact sports, which she blamed for causing one of her daughters to contract COVID-19. [16]

On 2 March 2021, the Government confirmed that it would be raising managed isolation booking fees for temporary visa holders by more than NZ$2,000 from 25 March. This price hike was criticised by the Migrant Workers Association's spokesperson Anu Kaloti and migrants residing in New Zealand with relatives overseas. [17] [18]

On 22 March, Radio New Zealand and The New Zealand Herald reported that the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system was receiving an average of 100 complaints a week due to lengthy wait-times; with people having to reserve rooms at least 16 weeks in advance. This has led MIQ to consider a wait-list for peak times to managed the demand for places in MIQ. [19]

On 23 March, the New Zealand Government announced that it had raised the time needed for New Zealand permanent residents and citizens to stay in New Zealand without incurring MIQ fees from 90 days to 180 days. In addition, the Government raised the accommodation fees for temporary visa holders (including partners, spouses, legal guardians and children of returning New Zealanders) and migrant health workers; with $950 for an additional adult in a room and $475 for a child aged 3–17 for those travelling together. If travelling separately, the temporary entry class visa holder will be charged the higher fees of $5520 for the first or only person in a room, $2990 for an additional adult, and $1610 for an additional child. [20]

On 1 April, the Government confirmed that it would loosen rules for securing emergency spots in managed isolation; with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) stating that 100 more places in MIQ will be available each fortnight. This policy shift affects New Zealand citizens and residents applying to enter the country to see relatives with terminal illnesses and less than six months to live; citizens and residents who had travelled overseas to visit terminally ill relatives; citizens and residents of Pacific Islands countries requiring time-critical medical treatment in New Zealand that they can't receive at home; and those facing risks to their health and safety overseas. [21] [22]

According to statistics released by the Health Ministry in early April 2021, there have been 117 imported cases from India in managed isolation since the start of February, compared with 17 from the United States and 11 from the United Kingdom. [23] In response to this and the rising number of cases in India, the New Zealand Government announced that it would close the border to travellers from India between 4pm on 11 April (Sunday) and 28 April. This temporary travel ban will also affect New Zealand citizens and residents travelling from India. [24]

On 13 April, it was reported that nearly all security guards at MIQ facilities were recruited from private security firms despite the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) deciding to employ its own security force following a privacy breach in August 2020. Following a recruit drive by MBIE, it was reported that nearly 400 people had applied for 156 security officer vacancies at MIQ facilities. MBIE had also recruited 31 of 32 operations and security managers. [25]

On 10 May, the Government announced that 500 spaces a fortnight will be allocated over the next ten months for skilled and critical workers. This will include 300 workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, with 2,400 expected to arrive by March 2022. Prior to that, ten percent of managed isolation places had been allocated to skilled and critical workers. Prime Minister Ardern confirmed that these spaces will include construction workers for the Auckland City Rail Link and Wellington's Transmission Gully Motorway. In addition, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the travel bubble with Australia would allow more places in managed isolation to be allocated to skilled and critical workers. [26]

The joint leadership roles of MIQ changed in June when New Zealand Army Brigadier Rose King replaced Brigadier Jim Bliss at the conclusion of his secondment to MBIE. She joined Megan Main as Joint Head of MIQ. [27]

Following the New Zealand Government's suspension of the travel bubble with Australia at 11:59 pm on 23 July, the Government also confirmed that New Zealanders returning home from Australia except New South Wales before 11:59 pm on 30 July will not have to go into managed isolation. Those returning from Australia after 30 July will have to go into managed isolation. [28] [29]

On 2 August, Prime Minister Ardern announced that seasonal workers from Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu will be allowed to enter the country without having to undergo managed isolation from September 2021 onwards. This is to address the labour shortage in the agricultural and horticultural sector. Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu have reported low transmissions of COVID-19. [30] [31]

On 22 August, the Government began voluntary home isolation of suspected and verified community cases with available quarantine capacity used primarily to house healthy and COVID-19 free returnees. [32]

On 25 August, Radio New Zealand reported that the number of MIQ rooms available to returning New Zealanders had declined due to a cohorting system that was introduced in April and May 2021 to minimise the risk of users spreading COVID-19 to later users. Between 350 and 500 MIQ rooms each fortnight are set aside for large groups such as sports teams, seasonal and construction workers, and refugees. Other factors affecting the availability of rooms including maintenance, an increase in the number of emergency allocation rooms from 250 to 350, and people not turning up for MIQ bookings. [33]

On 1 September, COVID-19 Response Minister Hipkins confirmed that the Government had extended a pause on MIQ bookings to accommodate community cases from the Auckland August 2021 Delta outbreak. Hipkins also advised New Zealand expatriates abroad to cancel their holiday plans to return to New Zealand due to pressure on the MIQ system. [34] On 2 September, the opposition National Party proposed five changes to the MIQ system including banning bots and third party providers, creating a new points system to allocate space, the introduction of a waiting list, transparency over room release dates, and the establishment of a Kiwi Expat Advisory Group. [35]

On 27 September, Ardern announced that the Government would be launching a home isolation trial for 150 selected travellers. Expressions of interest would be open from 30 September to 8 December. Participants must be New Zealand residents. In addition, Ardern confirmed that the quarantine-free travel for Pacific Recognised Seasonal Employer workers from Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga would resume in early October to address the agricultural and horticultural sectors' demand for migrant workers over the summer period. [36]

In October 2021, the Delta variant began spreading widely in New Zealand with community cases quickly outpacing cases detected at the border. [37] By 22 October, the country had recorded a record of 129 new community cases. [38] On 4 October, the Government abandoned New Zealand's elimination strategy, citing its failure to contained the Delta variant outbreak that began in Auckland in August 2021. [39]

On 21 October, the Government confirmed that repatriation flights carrying New Zealand citizens who had been deported from Australian under Section 501(3A) of the Australian Migration Act 1958 would resume in November 2021 following a three month hiatus. The Government has contracted a designated MIQ facility to host these returnees. [40]

On 28 October, COVID-19 Response Minister Hipkins announced that international arrivals will only have to isolate for seven days from 14 November in an effort to free up about 1,500 rooms a month. From 8 November, fully vaccinated travellers from low risk Pacific Island countries such as the Cook Islands will be eligible for quarantine-free travel. [41] [42]

On 24 November, Hipkins announced that MIQ border restrictions would be eased in a three-stage process over 2022:

List of managed isolation hotels

New Zealand relief map.jpg
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Auckland
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Hamilton
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Rotorua
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Wellington
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Christchurch
Location of managed isolation hotels in New Zealand

The following hotels are in use, or have been used, as managed isolation facilities: [7] [46]

hotel nameimageLocationComments
Crowne Plaza Auckland Crowne Plaza Hotel In The Auckland CBD.jpg Auckland
Four Points by Sheraton Four Points By Sheraton Auckland.jpg Auckland
Grand Mercure Auckland 1-NZ-Street-of-Auckland.jpg Auckland
Grand MillenniumAuckland
Haka Hotel NewmarketAucklanduntil early July 2020 [47]
Ibis EllerslieAuckland
M SocialAuckland
Novotel EllerslieAuckland
Pullman HotelAuckland
Ramada Auckland Ramada Auckland, Federal Street.jpg Aucklanduntil 1 September 2020
Rydges Auckland Rydges Auckland 2020 - 2.jpg Auckland
Sebel ManukauAuckland
SO/ Auckland Sofitel So Auckland.jpg Auckland
Stamford PlazaAuckland
Waipuna Hotel and Conference CentreAuckland
Holiday Inn Auckland AirportAuckland Airport
Jet Park HotelAuckland Airport
Naumi Auckland AirportAuckland Airport
Novotel Auckland Airport New Hotel On Stilts At Auckland Airport.jpg Auckland Airport
Sudima Auckland AirportAuckland Airport
Chateau on the Park Chateau on the Park 757.jpg Christchurch
Crowne Plaza Christchurch Forsyth Barr Building, Christchurch, New Zealand 25.jpg Christchurchfrom 18 August 2020 [48]
Distinction Christchurch Hotel Christchurch, city centre, New Zealand (20).JPG Christchurch
Commodore HotelChristchurch Airport
Novotel Christchurch Airport Novotel Christchurch Airport 821.jpg Christchurch Airport
Sudima Christchurch AirportChristchurch Airport
Distinction Hotel Te RapaHamilton
Ibis TainuiHamilton
Jet Park HotelHamilton
Ibis RotoruaRotorua
Rydges Rotorua Rydges Hotel, Fenton St, Rotorua - panoramio (1).jpg Rotorua
Sudima Rotorua Sudima Pacific Tourways.jpg Rotorua
Grand Mercure Grand Mercure Wellington August 2020 01.jpg Wellington
Bay Plaza HotelWellington

Impact

Economic impact

By 29 September 2021 the MIQ system had hosted 175,422 guests [49] and had played an important role in securing New Zealand's borders from transitioning cases with COVID-19. MIQ has propped up the accommodation sector of the New Zealand economy, making extensive use of hotel facilities (which lost access to the formerly extensive international tourism market) and providing employment for New Zealanders. [50]

On 17 November, the Government disclosed that it had failed to collect invoices worth at least NZ$36 million for MIQ stays. The New Zealand Herald also reported that an Ōpōtiki woman had been pursued by debt collectors over a NZ$4,000 bill for an MIQ stay that she never had due to mistaken identity. [51]

Mental health

According to a Radio New Zealand report published on 1 October 2021, psychologists reported emerging evidence of long-term and in some cases "severe" effects on individuals who had spent time in managed isolation and quarantine, caused by a lack of autonomy, social contact and control over their environment. [52]

Issues

Capacity issues

The Managed Isolation and Quarantine system, faced with high demand for numbers of accommodation spots at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, has rationed access. On 20 September 2021, Stuff reported that 26,000 people were competing for 3,000 MIQ spaces listed on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website's "virtual lobby" allowing entry to New Zealand in November and December 2021. [53] In mid-September 2021, Julie South of the veterinary recruitment agency VetStaff launched a petition calling for the Government to set aside two MIQ spaces each week for overseas-based veterinarians in order to address the shortage of veterinarians in New Zealand. [54]

Difficulties for border-crossers in securing in MIQ facilities have attracted significant[ quantify ] media and public attention. [55] In early October, The Southland Times reported that Southland Hospital's maternity unit may be downgraded since its director, Dr Jim Faherty, who had been granted compasionate leave to visit his ill parents in the United States, was unable to secure a place in MIQ. [56] On 6 October, a pregnant Auckland woman named Sami filed a legal challenge against MBIE's decision to deny her stranded husband an MIQ voucher so that he could care for her and their child. According to Stuff, the MIQ system has received 229 applications involving a pregnant person since 30 October 2020. However, there is no specific emergency allocation criteria for pregnant women or their partners who are stuck overseas. Sami has sought to change that policy. [57]

On 20 October 2021, the Chief Onbudsman Peter Boshier launched an independent investigation into the MIQ system after receiving 200 complaints about the system. According to Boshier, the complaints fit into four broad categories: "that the allocation system is unlawful, unfit for purpose, unfair, and poorly managed." [58] [59]

Quality issues

On 3 September 2021 a mother who tested positive for COVID-19 drew media attention after verbally abusing staff members and military personnel at the Novotel & Ibis Ellerslie MIQ facility. The woman had experienced stress and anxiety since entering into managed isolation earlier in the week with her two children. She was also frustrated by delays in the time that staff took to provide food and medicine to her and her children. The woman had posted several Facebook Live videos about her ordeal. In response, Brigadier Rose King apologised for the poor quality of the service but criticised the woman for verbally abusing staff and potentially exposing them to COVID-19. As a result, two staff members have entered into self-isolation while other staff have not returned to work due to fears about their own safety. The family was subsequently transferred by MIQ staff to a different MIQ facility. [60] [61]

On 4 September, the management of the Sudima Hotel Auckland Airport facility apologised to the Quellin family after specks of urine and hair were found on the toilet seat within the family's room, but insisted they had followed normal sanitisation protocols. Mrs Quellin and her infant child had recently returned from a trip to Germany to visit her terminally-ill mother. [62]

On 7 October 2021, a Jewish MIQ guest at a Christchurch facility complained that frozen kosher meals were unfit for human consumption. In response, an MIQ facility said the team at the facility in Christchurch has solicited advice on how to best meet the requirements of a kosher diet. [63]

Breaches and incidents

2020

On 5 July 2020, it was reported that a woman who had escaped managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland had been apprehended and charged with breaching the 14-day isolation period under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020. The woman had arrived from Australia on 27 June. [64] [65]

On 8 July, a 32-year-old man, who had arrived from India, was charged with violating Section 26 (1) of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 after he escaped managed isolation at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in central Auckland. He visited the Countdown supermarket in Victoria Street before being located by security guards after 70 minutes. After the man tested positive for COVID-19, the supermarket closed temporarily, with its staff entering into self-isolation. [66]

On 10 July a man was arrested for violating the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 after he had cut through a fence at a managed-isolation facility at Distinction Hotel in Hamilton and visited a liquor store the previous night. [67] The man had tested negative for COVID-19 and was later identified as a 52-year-old Queenstown resident, [68] who had returned from Sydney on 1 July. [67] On 27 August the Hamilton District Court sentenced him to 40 hours' community service and ordered him to pay NZ$1,000 in reparations for damaging a flat-screen television set in his room. [69]

On 11 July a man in his 60s escaped a managed-isolation facility at Waipuna Hotel in Auckland and knocked on the doors of three residents outside the facility. He was subsequently picked up by police and placed under armed guard at Waipuna Hotel. [70] [71]

On 25 July it was reported that authorities had detained a family of five (comprising a mother and four children aged 12, 16, 17, and 18) for breaching managed isolation at the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton. The family had arrived from Brisbane in Australia on 21 July in order to attend a relative's funeral in Auckland. While the family's application for an exemption was being processed by the Health Ministry, they had escaped by breaking a window and scaling a fence. Police apprehended four members of the family in a nearby park, while the 17-year old had travelled to Auckland where he was detained by police there. Government minister Woods criticised the family breaking the rules, stating that "while we can understand their grief we can not let one tragedy to turn into a tragedy of hundreds". Four members of the family were charged[ by whom? ] with breaching a Health Act notice. [72] On 28 August, the mother and her 18-year-old daughter were sentenced to 14 days imprisonment by Judge Noel Sainsbury of the Auckland District Court. [73] The mother and her daughter's harsher sentence in comparison to a 52-year-old man in Hamilton who was sentenced to no jail time raised questions about alleged "systematic racism" in the New Zealand justice system against Māori. [74] New Zealand Public Party leader Billy Te Kahika has advocated on behalf of the woman and her family, also claiming credit for getting her sentence reduced by seven days. [75]

On 30 July a 32-year-old man who had travelled from Brisbane was apprehended following a failed attempt to breach managed isolation at the Crowne Plaza in central Auckland. The man was charged under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act. [76]

On 14 October a 22-year-old woman was charged with allegedly trying to escape from Auckland's Grand Millennium Hotel during three incidents in October 2020. [77]

On 11 November the West Indies cricket team were denied further training privileges after members breached managed-isolation rules by mingling and sharing food while in managed isolation at the "Chateau in the Park" hotel in Christchurch. [78]

2021

On 29 January 2021 a staff member at Auckland's Grand Millennium Hotel was dismissed after a 20-minute "encounter" with a returnee in managed isolation. [79]

On 7 February the final 60 returnees at the Pullman Managed Isolation Facility completed their health checks and were released. The facility planned a deep clean per infection prevention and its systems will be reviewed[ by whom? ]. [80]

On 23 February an Australian traveller named Lucinda Baulch was released after spending 28 days in managed isolation in Wellington while refusing to take a COVID-19 test. The woman had attended an anti-lockdown protest[ where? ] in November 2020. National Party leader Judith Collins called for the deportation of the woman back to Australia. [81]

In early June 2021 New Zealand authorities placed three Melbourne residents in managed isolation after they entered New Zealand without informing authorities that they had circumvented a two-week lockdown in Melbourne by driving to Sydney and then flying to Auckland. The three individuals had intended to attend a funeral in New Zealand. [82] [83]

On 17 June 2021 Radio New Zealand reported that 12 travellers from Samoa at the Crowne Park managed-isolation facility in Auckland had breached managed isolation by socialising on three occasions despite receiving warnings. All 12 remained with the threat of an extended MIQ stay if anyone in the group were to test positive for COVID-19; four received a police warning. [84]

On 2 September a COVID-19 "community" case absconded from the Novotel & Ibis Ellerslie MIQ facility in Auckland and returned to his home. Police detained the man following a 12-hour manhunt. He later appeared in court via phone and was charged with breaching a COVID-19 public-health order. He was bailed back to the Novotel facility. [85] The National Party's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop sought an investigation by the Government into delays by MIQ staff and police in reporting and responding to the individual's escape. [86] The man's mother, known as "Mele", confirmed that she had alerted the authorities to her son's escape and apologised for his actions. [87]

On 4 September, a man made two attempts to access the Stamford Plaza quarantine facility in Auckland, but was discovered by staff. Police issued the man with two warnings for unlawfully accessing the property and breaching COVID-19 lockdown rules. [88]

On 20 October, joint head of MIQ Brigadier Rose King confirmed that three COVID-19 positive community cases staying at the Holiday Inn hotel near Auckland Airport had allegedly absconded the previous night. Two of the men were apprehended while one remained at large. [89]

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