Hipkins denies NZ’s MIQ standards slipping after covid cases, illicit rendevous

Grand Millennium Hotel
Grand Millennium Hotel in central Auckland ... an illicit rendezvous between an MIQ worker and a returnee. Image: Dan Cook/RNZ

By Katie Todd, RNZ News reporter

A wine delivery, a note penned on the back of a facemask and a 20-minute bedroom “encounter” have spelled the end of a managed isolation staffer’s job in New Zealand.

However, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins refutes there are slipping standards at the border facilities, where authorities are also investigating the transmission of the coronavirus between Pullman Hotel guests.

The illicit rendezvous with a returnee happened at the Grand Millennium in central Auckland on January 7, and came to light at today’s covid-19 briefing.

Hipkins said the MIQ worker entered a guest’s room to deliver a bottle of wine after exchanging notes, and stayed for 20 minutes.

“I didn’t enquire into specifically, the nature of the encounter, but there was a 20 minute encounter. That was enough for me to know it was unacceptable,” he said.

While the encounter isn’t thought to have put others at risk, it’s been chided as “irresponsible” and “incredibly disappointing” by the head of managed isolation and quarantine Brigadier Jim Bliss, who said the security measures at the hotel meant the incident was detected quickly.

A hotel manager realised the worker had not returned, and a hotel security manager located them in the room.

Formal police warning
Brigadier Bliss said they were immediately sent home and instructed to self-isolate and be tested, before being given a formal written warning by police.

Both the worker and the returnee had returned negative test results both before and after the incident.

“We’re not aware of any other reports of situations like this between staff and returnees,” Brigadier Bliss said.

“There is absolutely no room for complacency for those inside our managed isolation and quarantine facilities.”

Hipkins said the staffer had been sanctioned, and he also reassured it was a “one-off”.

“We’re dealing with human beings. We ask everybody to the standards that we put in place. I cannot control the actions of that individual but we absolutely make clear what the rules are and when people breach the rules there are consequences,” he said.

“Obviously I asked for that to be fully investigated and for appropriate action to be taken. I understand that appropriate action has been taken and that person is no longer working for managed isolation.”

No new community cases
There were no new community cases of covid-19 today, however, authorities have revealed there are two other people who they believe caught the virus in the Pullman Hotel – rather than overseas.

They were staying on the same floor and have the South African variant strain of the virus.

Hipkins admitted there was “something going on at the Pullman”.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said stricter measures were in place until more was known.

“No new arrivals are going in… a significant restriction on movement outside of rooms for everybody, and no movement outside of rooms once people have had that final test at day 12,” he said.

In other new rules, those leaving the Pullman Hotel must isolate at home and have a follow up test five days later, while testing of staff is being ramped up and the ventilation systems are being upgraded.

Pullman guests will only be able to exercise in limited numbers, with people who were on their flight.

Curbs have also been put on smoking sessions – which are now capped at 10 minutes and a maximum of two people at a time, who are from the same flight.

No wider restrictions
Outside isolation, with no new community cases, today’s 1pm briefing granted the green light to thousands of holidaymakers, and concert-goers with Auckland anniversary weekend plans.

After a frazzling week for organisers, Auckland International Buskers Festival, Chinese New Year Festival and Auckland Folk Festival will continue in the freedom of Alert Level 1.

Next week, the first of more than 200 Auckland Pride events will kick off across the city.

The recent cases of covid-19 in Auckland and Northland have been linked to Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ). There is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission, the Ministry of Health said.

  • Call Healthline 0800 358 5453 for advice on when and where to get tested, and remain isolated until you have a negative test result.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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