Coronavirus: Government rolls out wave of improvements to managed isolation system

A review of the managed isolation and quarantine system for new arrivals has identified a number of risks, says Housing Minister Megan Woods, with a range of solutions already underway. 

The review, released on Sunday, was commissioned just over a week ago to identify current and emerging risks in the managed isolation and quarantine process for returning New Zealanders. 

The Government's mandatory managed isolation process has proved controversial in recent weeks, following a surge in new COVID-19 cases and one border botch-up.

It was revealed earlier this month that two women, who returned to the country from Britain, had been granted an exemption from managed isolation on compassionate grounds to attend a funeral in Wellington. However, neither were tested for the virus before being permitted to leave the facility. The women were later tested in the capital, after reportedly making contact with a number of people.

"There is no playbook for this kind of pandemic. We're one of only a handful of countries in the world to require managed isolation at the border with compulsory testing, making our existing system one of the strictest globally," Woods said in a statement on Sunday.

"This report shows how we can strengthen the managed isolation system, reduce the room for error and continue to keep COVID-19 at the border and out of our communities.

"The review found that the system is not broken but does need additional resourcing to respond to the increasing demands placed upon it as growing numbers of New Zealanders come home from global COVID-19 hotspots."

Woods said that actions are being taken swiftly to address the issues identified in the review to ensure the system remains "robust" and efficient. 

The Ministry of Health will be increasing the number of staff, clinical and non-clinical, at each managed isolation facility to ensure health checks, routine testing and other health services are delivered "to the standards required".

"This will see the introduction of a dedicated model of care to service the wide-ranging public health, physical health and mental health needs of people returning to New Zealand in the facilities. Service standards will be incorporated into a proposed regulatory framework and will be subject to review," Woods said.

Significant changes have already been introduced and work is underway to address the issues identified in the review, according to Air Commodore Darryn Webb. 

Last week, Webb announced a doubling of the 32 on-the-ground Defence Force (NZDF) staff stationed across 18 facilities. 

As of Sunday, New Zealand has 168 NZDF personnel across 21 facilities, providing 24/7 coverage. There are also more Government and defence staff across the end-to-end system, according to the statement.

The increased resourcing will ensure staff are supported to carry out their roles while ensuring the safe transfer of returnees into managed isolation, Webb said, ensuring the system is "robust and fit-for-purpose".

"We have also increased oversight of the transfer of returnees from aircraft through to managed isolation and quarantine facilities so they are escorted by Government staff," he added.

Other improvements being rolled out include:

  • increased security for transferring returnees to managed isolation facilities
  • the standardisation of procedures across all facilities
  • the introduction of better information for returnees - from flight boarding through to entry into New Zealand and their exit from managed isolation
  • better information to communities where those facilities are located
  • strengthening of demand forecasting, reporting functions and coordination between agencies.

Health responses include increased staff at managed isolation and quarantine facilities; an improved model of care, taking into account mental health and addiction issues; increased clinical oversight to ensure a consistent quality of service across facilities; and monitoring to ensure consistency across facilities.

"All staff supporting this process are performing to a very high standard, and have been doing so over a long period of sustained and increasing pressure. I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their ongoing work and dedication to the job," Webb said.

"I am committed to ensuring they have the support and structures that they need to deliver well- functioning managed isolation and quarantine for all New Zealanders."

Woods and Webb will provide an update on the review at 2pm on Sunday.