Coronavirus: Nurses consider pulling out of MIQ facilities over 'unacceptable' health and safety risks

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is considering action to remove workers from managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities due to health and safety concerns.

In a statement on Friday, the organisation said they were particularly concerned nurses were being given surgical masks, not N-95 masks, a more robust mask with better seals, to wear.

This comes after a nurse with 20 years experience spoke out on Wednesday, telling Newshub that not having the N-95 masks was unacceptable and putting communities at risk.

NZNO's industrial services manager Glenda Alexander said the organisation was greatly concerned at the lack of action by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to protect its members working in Government MIQ facilities.

"We've known the virus is airborne since very early in the year, so it's alarming that our members working in MIQ still do not have consistent access to N-95 masks, or the fit tests that make them effective in preventing airborne transmission," Alexander said.

"The two nurses and Defence Force staff member who recently tested positive did not have access to N-95 masks. This is a clear breach of the HSWA (Health and Safety and Work Act) and puts our members and the community at an unacceptable risk. 

"We are now considering using procedures under the HSWA to call a halt to the work all our members are doing if it is not deemed safe."

Alexander said unless urgent action is taken, nurses will be forced to walk off the job.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly changing situation and we all need to learn as we respond. This is not happening and we are going to see increased risks to the lives of our people and the wellbeing of our communities as a result. We cannot let this continue."

During Friday's COVID-19 press conference, Minister for COVID-19 Chris Hipkins and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said advice around the N-95 masks is "in preparation".

"I have asked for further advice on the use of N-95 masks," Hipkins said.

"The public health guidance up until this point has been that regular surgical masks have been the most appropriate for use in those facilities. I have no yet received the advice on N-95 masks."

When asked about the issues with nurses not feeling safe, he said it is "something we are looking at" and will talk more about it once he receives the advice.