Health academic raised concerns about Novotel Ellerslie quarantine with Ministry of Health 13 days before new cases

A health academic who stayed at the same hotel as two of New Zealand's new COVID-19 cases raised concerns about how the facility was run almost two weeks prior to them testing positive, a letter provided to Newshub has revealed.

Dr Peg LeVine, an Associate Professor at Monash University in Melbourne, penned a letter to the Ministry of Health expressing her "disconcerting health risk observations" during her stay at Novotel Ellerslie.

In the letter, seen by Newshub, Dr LeVine accused the ministry of neglecting guests who had arrived from a low-risk country (Australia) by making them share the hotel with those from a high-risk country (the US), without any consultation.

"What does someone like me do when ... midway through my isolation, I am forced to endure arrivals being placed in my hotel who came from the very countries I was committed to avoid?" she wrote in the letter.

"On top of this, I attained the information by hearsay that I set out to research and confirm; at no time was I informed of this influx formally so that I could have the right to change my behaviours smartly and accordingly."

Dr LeVine later suggested the Ministry of Health establish a series of "'high-risk cohort' buildings for flight arrivals from virus epicentres", so those from low-risk countries would not be put at undue risk.

Her letter also raised concerns about the neglect of protecting hotel staff and guests from smoking exposure, a lack of consideration for the effects of isolation on guests, and the pathologising of Māori adults who have arrived for compassionate reasons.

Dr LeVine was placed in managed isolation at the Novotel on May 23, after arriving in Auckland from Melbourne. She received clearance to enter New Zealand due to the "critical purpose" of her work as a clinical trauma psychologist with a local refugee organisation.

But on June 3 - three days before her 14-day mandatory quarantine period was scheduled to finish - she wrote to the ministry to express her worries about how the facility was being managed.

The letter was passed on to people "high up" in the government agency, Dr LeVine told Newshub. A representative from the government agency acknowledged they had received her correspondence and said they would respond in due course.

Fifteen days on, she's yet to hear back.

Dr LeVine checked out of the Novotel Ellerslie June 6, a day before New Zealand's two new active cases are reported to have arrived there.

She had her temperature taken every day she was there, she told Newshub, but wasn't tested once for COVID-19 - and "to the best of my knowledge (unless they did random tests) no one in my cohort were tested".

Dr LeVine says had she known how poor the managed isolation protocols would be, she never would have come here.

Protocols at managed isolation facilities have come under increased scrutiny in recent days, after two sisters who returned to New Zealand from the UK were granted compassionate leave from the Novotel Ellerslie following the death of their mother.

The women, who later tested positive for coronavirus, were allowed to leave despite one exhibiting symptoms and neither being tested for the disease prior to their journey.

It has since been revealed that Health Minister Dr David Clark doesn't know how many other people may have left quarantine without being tested.

The Ministry of Health has not responded to Newshub's requests for comment on Dr LeVine's letter.