Coronavirus experts condemn 'encounter' in Auckland MIQ hotel, say we've 'dodged a bullet'

The Grand Millenium in Auckland's CBD is a COVID-19 managed isolation hotel. 

It's a high-risk venue, but not enough to stop what appears to have been a high-risk romantic rendezvous. 

"It's unacceptable. There are consequences. The person has already lost their job," COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

That person is a staff member at the hotel, with Hipkins describing it as an "encounter" and refusing to speculate on whether the visit was of a sexual nature.

"I didn't enquire specifically into the nature of the encounter," he said.

Eventually, reluctantly, he revealed more details. The staff member entered the guest's room with a bottle of wine on January 7 - and stayed for 20 minutes. 

In the lead-up, they'd exchanged messages, showing creative flare in an effort to avoid detection. 

"[They were] passing notes. I think one was written on the back of a face mask," Hipkins said.

Professor Des Gorman, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Auckland, said it's "hard to imagine a set of behaviours more likely to cause viral transmission across the border".

Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist with the University of Otago, agrees. He says the purpose of managed isolation is to isolate.

"This is obviously totally inappropriate for a managed infection and quarantine (MIQ) hotel," he said.

"I think they should realise that that behaviour in Australia killed 800 people, as a result of a huge outbreak."

There were further unwanted developments on Friday at the problem-plagued Pullman hotel.  

Two more guests have contracted the virus there, and they're not linked to the Northland case or the two north Auckland cases.

But it's likely the virus was transferred between the two, as they were on the same floor in the hotel. 

"ESR [the Institute of Environmental Science and Research] advised us that the whole genome sequence showed a link between those two cases," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

"By far the most likely explanation here is that people are mixing and mingling," Prof Gorman said.

Pullman Hotel staff will now be tested more frequently - twice a week - and those leaving must isolate at home and get a test on day five. 

But Prof Baker says all people leaving all facilities should be subjected to that rule. 

"We need to look at generalising this approach, potentially to everyone leaving MIQ."

Thankfully, the recent breaches have so far not resulted in community spread. 

"We remain at alert level 1," Dr Bloomfield said on Friday. "To date, we have no evidence of community transmission either in Northland or in the Auckland region."

But Prof Gorman says that just proves we've dodged a bullet.

"We can't keep dodging bullets. At some stage our dumb good luck is going to run out," he said.

It was a sentiment shared by some getting tests on Auckland's North Shore on Friday, who'd witnessed what had unraveled at the Pullman.  

"I don't think it's a good idea to put managed isolation in the middle of a city, our biggest city," one person said. "It's right in the middle by a train station!"

Will Wang has observed what they do in China. 

"What they do, is they do the isolation in Pudong - very far away from the city," he said.

In the latest breach, north of Auckland city remains the place of focus. Twenty places were visited by the Auckland father and daughter, prompting yet another round of 'test, test, test'.