Man at high risk for COVID-19 says precautions at isolation facilities are 'abysmal'

A man returning to New Zealand to visit his cancer stricken brother says he is "petrified" to be in managed isolation due to the lack of precaution over the spread of COVID-19.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, told Newshub he has a serious lung condition and is considered high risk for COVID-19. Due to his illness he has been isolating in his rural New South Wales home since the beginning of the pandemic five months ago.

But when his brother took a turn for the worse he knew he had to take the risk and fly to New Zealand to see him "before anything else happens".

When he landed in Auckland the lack of precaution from staff and other passengers shocked him.

"We were screened for our temperatures but they were only wearing masks and gloves - no gowns, no face screens," he said.

"There was absolutely no physical distancing either - it was one of the first things I noticed."

He says other passengers walked right by him - especially frustrating considering he had paid extra to ensure the two seats next to him on the plane were empty.

After being assessed he was taken to the Pullman in Auckland.

"I just could not believe what I was seeing. [The staff] weren't two metres apart - some of them weren't even wearing masks!"

He says the guests are free to "wander" the halls, go out to smoke and exercise, and then come into contact with staff.

"I'm frightened to be here - I'm scared shitless because if I catch this I will die," he said.

"To come here and be put at risk like this - it beggars belief. I'm angry because it's my life that's at risk here."

He had applied for an exemption from managed isolation due to his medical condition but received an email once already in the hotel that his case had not yet been passed to a caseworker. 

"I didn't want to be in isolation with anyone that had [COVID-19]. I did everything I could to avoid it, and my case hasn't even been approved!" he said on Friday.

A spokesperson from Managed Isolation and Quarantine, which is run by the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation, told Newshub all facilities have "strict procedures in place to ensure they are operating safely and are carefully managed".

Those procedures include giving clear guidance to returnees on protecting their own and others' health and ensuring returnees wear masks, and, in some cases when it is deemed necessary, PPE whenever they're out of their rooms, the spokesperson said.

"Returnees are asked to physically distance from one another and staff actively monitor this and will reinforce the rules wherever needed, but ultimately it is guests' responsibility to keep a safe distance from one another and follow the clear guidelines in place."

The spokesperson also said staff in the facilities follow strict health and safety measures to stop the spread of the virus.

"They receive comprehensive information and guidance on keeping themselves and their families safe. This includes on PPE use such as masks and gloves, basic hygiene practices, infection prevention and control protocols, hotel and facility procedures, and daily health checks."

As of August 12, staff must wear masks at all times while conducting their duties, the spokesperson added.

They said each application for exemption was assessed on a case-by-case basis and medical conditions "assessed against the level of support that can be provided at the facility". 

The Minister in charge of managed isolation, Megan Woods, and the Ministry of Health have also been contacted. There has been no response at the time of publication.