National is calling for an urgent investigation into the construction of a purpose-built Covid-19 quarantine facility on Auckland’s outskirts, to help safeguard against future lockdowns in our largest city.
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.
“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,” he said.
National 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 lead to a lockdown.
“This facility will likely be a village of single-storey pre-fabricated structures with separate ventilation systems for each room. Returnees share the facility but not the same roof,’ Bishop said in a statement.
“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.”
National say 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,
“A purpose-built facility may prove expensive, but its cost will be dwarfed by the economic hit of putting Auckland into more lockdowns.”
“Using hotels for managed isolation and quarantine has proven problematic, which is why experts have long suggested purpose-built facilities.”
Bishop referenced the recent itemisation from Professors Michael Baker and Nick Wilson, who said there had been at least 10 border control failures since July 2020 and at least five internal MIQ facility failures.
They also said that hotels have inherent problems with shared spaces and inadequate ventilation.
Bishop says it is “clear that New Zealand will need MIQ facilities for some time to come with mass vaccination unlikely until the end of the year” and the facility could be converted into much needed housing when it was no longer needed for quarantine.
“We have done well to keep Covid-19 from taking hold but this has come at great cost. Maintaining this effort will require innovative thinking, particularly as the virus mutates.”
“If done right, the new Auckland quarantine facility could be converted into much-needed housing once it has served its initial purpose. The demand for this facility will not expire.
“The Government should act now to get ahead of the problem before another Covid-19 outbreak forces yet another lockdown. We have had more than enough wake-up calls.”
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said a dedicated quarantine facility would have “a lot of things going for it”.
He said Covid-19 transmission is very intense through “enclosed indoor spaces where there are lots of people” and that New Zealand's current 32 facilities were never built for MIQ purposes.
“It is a challenge to maintain biosecurity in that environment,” he said.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Breakfast earlier this week that purpose-built quarantine facilities were unlikely to be built by the Government because of construction time and challenges staffing such facilities.
"It’s a bit like a prison. If you build a prison in the middle of nowhere, your biggest constraint isn’t the prisoners, it’s actually getting people to go work at the prison,” Hipkins said.
“At this point we’re not planning to have people in our managed isolation facilities beyond this year. We keep that possibility open.”
“The goal is obviously not to have those border restrictions in place indefinitely.