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Returnee fears 'relaxed' attitude among staff could be to blame for Grand Millennium Covid-19 case

The Grand Millennium Managed Isolation Hotel is under scrutiny once again as health authorities probe how a cleaner become infected with Covid-19.

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A family contact of an isolation hotel worker with Covid-19 has returned a weak positive and is being retested. Source: 1 NEWS

By Katie Todd of rnz.co.nz

One returnee fears "too relaxed" standards among staff could be to blame.

This afternoon officials revealed what they had learnt about the case since the asymptomatic woman tested positive in routine surveillance testing.

Of her four family members three tested negative and one returned a weak positive result. Two colleagues were sent to isolate, and there was one location of interest - Countdown Mt Roskill.

The new case did not particularly surprise Tauranga woman Cindy Stutts, who stayed at the Grand Millennium on her way home from Germany in January and said she twice spotted staff and returnees chatting without masks or distancing in the hallway.

On one occasion, she said a security guard and returnee looked at her "like it was no big thing they were standing well within a metre of each other," and in a second instance, she said the people appeared more worried about the noise they were making than the rules they were breaking.

Stutts rang the hotel reception both times to complain, and felt like she was shrugged off.

"It's costing a lot of people a lot of money to stay in managed isolation and it's a bit of a slap in the face, I feel, for good, law, rule abiding people - more or less penalised for leaving the country - when they've got people within their own walls not taking it seriously," she said.

Source: 1 NEWS

Health authorities keen to know exactly how the cleaner picked up Covid-19 have been studying the case's genomic sequencing to see if it is linked to eight other returnees who tested positive while staying at the hotel.

The first results are expected later today.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said authorities were looking at the movements of returnees and staff in the hotel using the CCTV cameras that were installed last month after virus transmission at the Pullman MIQ hotel.

"Most of them have been installed and are operating. So that will certainly help us. It gives us visibility of most of the common areas in that facility and that will help with the investigation."

E tū union, which represents workers at the Grand Millennium, called for a full review of the health and safety processes at the hotel.

Organiser Mat Danaher had not heard of rules being broken, but like Stutts he did want to know if lax processes could be to blame for the cleaner getting the virus.

Until the cause of transmission was known, staff should be protected with every extra precaution, he said.

"Hopefully testing of all the workforce will be expedited, and until then there'll be extreme caution around distancing and we'd expect non-essential tasks would be halted for that to happen," he said.

The cleaner who became infected is among at least 4658 New Zealanders who have had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which takes some time to fully protect against the virus.

Their family is also eligible for the jab but had not yet received it.

Hipkins said there was about 2200 people now trained to administer vaccines and "about three to four hundred" of them were already working through more than 2000 vials of the vaccine each day.

Just over a month since the first vaccinations in New Zealand, Hipkins said the vast majority of border workers had got the jab.

'We know that it's above 90 percent [of workers]. The feedback we've had from the hotel management at the Grand Millennium is that they're well above 90 percent," he said.

A notification is being sent out on the Covid Tracer app to people who were at Countdown Mt Roskill on Saturday afternoon from 3pm to 3.15pm, suggesting they monitor their health and get tested if they have any Covid symptoms.

It is the only location of interest identified so far in relation to the new case.

A Countdown spokesperson said the store closed for deep cleaning this afternoon.

The government maintains the new case is a "limited exposure" which presents a low risk to the community.

The Grand Millennium is the country's largest MIQ hotel.

In October a returnee managed to escape, and in January it was the site of an "unacceptable bedroom encounter" between a returnee and a staff member who was dismissed.