Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has poured cold water on National’s proposal to build special quarantine facilities outside of Auckland to help safeguard against future Covid-19 outbreaks from the border in New Zealand’s largest city.
“My question would be, looking back at the incidents that we’ve had, really calling into question what a purpose-built facility would necessarily add in terms of safety,” Ardern told Breakfast this morning.
Ardern said in incidents where there had been Covid-19 incursions through managed isolation and quarantine facilities, authorities have been able to isolate the incidents.
Consideration also needed to be given to staff working at the facilities, who tended to live in the city, she said.
“So even if you built it really far away in an isolated place, you still need to bring your workforce in.”
Ardern said that is what led her to believe vaccinating frontline workers would make the most difference.
It comes after National called for an urgent investigation into the proposal. National’s spokesperson for Covid-19 response Chris Bishop said the recent Pullman Hotel cases showed how much risk there was of another community outbreak in Auckland.
Bishop said the Government could model the facility on the Victorian government’s plans to have a cabin-style hub outside Melbourne’s CBD to replace its MIQ hotels following a recent outbreak that led to a lockdown.
“This facility will likely be a village of single-storey prefabricated structures with separate ventilation systems for each room. Returnees share the facility but not the same roof,’ Bishop said.
“Having ample fresh air reduces the risk of airborne transmission among returnees, while the isolated location makes it harder for the virus to find its way into heavily-populated urban areas where it can spread faster.
“Separate on-site facilities for staff also lessens the chance of them bringing Covid-19 into the community.”
He said vacant land near Auckland Airport could be used for the facility with costs covered by contributions from the Government, private sector, and payments by returning New Zealanders.
“New Zealand can’t afford to keep yo-yoing in and out of lockdown and Auckland’s economy can’t afford to keep bleeding more than $30 million per day,” Bishop said.
“A purpose-built facility may prove expensive, but its cost will be dwarfed by the economic hit of putting Auckland into more lockdowns.”
The Ministry of Health reported five returnees and five staff have been infected with Covid-19 in various managed isolation and quarantine facilities since August.
More than 100,000 people have stayed at New Zealand's MIQ facilities.