The massive cost of isolating returned travellers has been revealed as guests in managed isolation continue to come forward with stories of mismanagement.
Housing Minister Megan Woods and Air Commodore Digby Webb are the new team in charge of managed isolation, and Minister Woods says the operation has cost $81 million.
With 20,151 travellers needing isolation since March, that’s more than $4,000 per traveller, and there’s a promise New Zealanders will get more bang for their buck.
“There have been issues with the rigour around approvals relating to testing as well as numerous allegations of those in managed isolation mixing together. This is unacceptable”, Minister Woods said.
1 NEWS has uncovered major issues with the managed isolation process, including guests mixing with those from different flights and with the public. In some case the mixing was facilitated by staff, like when a facility helped arrange a gathering of passengers for different flight for a child’s birthday.
“Absolutely we are resetting the expectations, that behaviour doesn’t meet requirements and we’ll be making those expectations crystal clear” Air Commodore Webb said.
This week, 1 NEWS spoke to travellers who’d left isolation without being tested. Returning a negative test for Covid-19 has been a requirement since June 9.
Mel Langsford and her family left isolation in Auckland three days ago without being tested, as she was told it was optional, and that the test would be ineffective if she didn’t have symptoms.
“We left the isolation facility three days ago, we were not tested before we left the managed facility, we still haven't been tested or followed up with” she says.
Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield says he doesn’t know how many people have left managed isolation without being tested since the requirement came in.
He also says those people won’t be being followed up with or tested.
“No, they wouldn’t need to be tested, they’ve completed their 14 days of mandatory isolation and we are following up everybody who may be a possible contact of the three cases that we have had in managed isolation.”
But one woman who was on the London to Doha flight with the two cases who came from Britain says 10 days into her isolation, she still hasn’t been identified as a contact, despite raising concerns with staff.
She was finally tested for Covid-19 today, seven days after she was supposed to have been tested according to Ministry of Health rules.
The woman says she initially wasn’t sure whether she was on the same flight as the other women or not, as the flight number wasn’t made public, but was brushed off when she asked hotel staff to check.
1 NEWS contacted the Ministry of Health, and found that she was on the same flight.
She says most on the flight wore masks, but those were taken off during meal times, and that the flight was packed, with no social distancing.
“To know that there were people on that flight who have Covid-19, it’s quite worrying. How was I supposed to know if the person next to me had the virus?”
“They [the Ministry of Health] should have done the contact tracing, they should have tested me on day three, they should know that I've been in contact with these people, I shouldn’t have to contact them myself.”
Dr Bloomfield said he was “surprised” the woman hadn’t been contacted.
“I am surprised to hear that, I will follow that up but of course if she’s in a managed isolation facility she will be being tested."
The woman says she spent three days in isolation in Australia before flying here, and she wants to see the same measures here.
“In Australia you're not allowed to leave your room at all, everything that you order comes straight to your room, there’s also guards outside the door” she says.
“Here we pretty much have free reign of the entire hotel, everyone goes outside their rooms all the time. I've been avoiding leaving my room but when I have left my room I know that the smoking area has a lot of people mingling there”.
Air Commodore Webb wasn’t keen on the tougher Australian measures.
“You need to understand 14 days is a long time to be inside a single room, the management of isolation needs to take into consideration the individual the risk factors of people staying inside a place for a long period.”
But Minister Woods wouldn’t rule out a user-pays policy, Queensland will stop funding isolation from next month.
“We do not have a blank chequ ... but there is a right of New Zealanders to return home” she said.
“It’s a complex area of policy that is part of longer term work we're doing”.
A report into managed isolation is due next week.
Were you on the isolation transfer flight to Christchurch? Do you have a story about managed isolation? Contact our reporter Kristin Hall on email@example.com