A report into the fit-for-purpose state of the Government’s managed isolation and quarantine system has revealed a system under stress that needs more resource.
Housing Minister Megan Woods says a “range of improvements” are underway to address issues identified in the rapid review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) system.
The review, which was commissioned just over a week ago, was to identify and understand current and emerging risks to ensure the end-to-end Managed Isolation and Quarantine process is robust.
The review consisted of a team consisting of Tony Millar (NZDF), Andy Milne (Corrections), and Kathryn Gibson (Police) was assigned the task, which was carried out 19-20 June 2020, in Auckland.
Released today, the report found that the system, "whilst not broken, is under extreme stress and is not readily able to respond to the increasing demands being placed upon it".
It said the process for entering quarantine was “excellent” however described the process for returnees entering Managed Isolation Facilities as needing improvement.
It described that while the system was manageable under Level 4, since the move to Level 1 there had seen a growing increase in demand for MIQ services which were placing increasing pressure on the system.
It outlined that staff who had been involved over a “significant period of time” had had little or no respite.
“The morale of staff at the ‘frontline’ is also challenged by the behaviours of some travellers and the need to operationalise short notice policy changes,” the report said.
Other issues included flight manifests not being received by the system until the inbound aircraft departed its overseas origin.
“This impacts significantly on the ability to commence planning prior to physical entry into New Zealand.”
It highlighted the complication of overseas health screening being limited meaning every person entering New Zealand had to be considered as having Covid-19.
“Increased traveller numbers continue to challenge the provision of accommodation and staff are only able to respond to daily challenges,” the report said in its conclusion.
The system would be improved with enhancements to staffing, structure and strategic planning as well as the implementation of a robust assurance framework.
It would also benefit from greater management of the inbound traveller flow.
The report outlined that testing at day 3 and 12 of those in the facilities was mandated “without notice” at the commencement of the review, but it subsequently caused “significant bottleneck in the system and frustration”.
“Attempts to prioritise the day 12 samples were unsuccessful due to laboratory constraints,” the report said.
Ms Woods says efforts are underway to address the issues identified.
“The Ministry of Health will be increasing the number of clinical and non-clinical staff, such as nurses, at each facility to ensure health checks, testing and other health services are consistently delivered to the standards required.
“This will see the introduction of a dedicated model of care to service the wide-ranging public health, physical health and mental health needs of people returning to New Zealand in the facilities.
"Service standards will be incorporated into a proposed regulatory framework and will be subject to review."
Last week Air Commodore Darryn 'Digby' Webb announced the number of Defence Force staff on the ground would be doubled from 32, across 18 facilities.
There are now 168 NZDF personnel across 21 facilities providing 24/7 coverage, he said today.
“This increased resourcing has had an immediate impact on the ground in terms of making sure our people are well supported to carry out their roles and ensure the safe transfer of returnees into managed isolation,” he says.
Compassionate exemptions to enable people to visit dying friends and relatives were put on hold until the report came back.
But the Government is still not satisfied the system is ready to accept exemptions yet – it’s considering using escorts to get people to their destination safely.
It comes as 79 people in managed isolation and quarantine are refusing to be tested.
The Government is still looking at if it can legally charge people for staying at facilities as the New Zealand taxpayers are currently footing the $300 million dollar bill.