COVID-19: MIQ workers barred from communal facilities on Defence Force base, but no restrictions in the community

A security guard and soldier guard the entrance to one of Auckland's managed isolation facilities.
A security guard and soldier guard the entrance to one of Auckland's managed isolation facilities. Photo credit: Supplied via RNZ / NZDF

By Ben Strang of RNZ

Defence Force staff working in managed isolation are facing double standards on their expectations for life outside of quarantine facilities.

The Defence Force has barred workers from communal facilities like gyms, mess halls or bars while on a Defence Force base, but there are no restrictions for staff when they are out in the community.

Some staff are confused by the double standard, and why the community would be open to greater risk than military bases.

All staff who work in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities have to follow guidelines to prevent any potential spread of COVID-19 from the facilities into the community.

These include changes of clothing and showering between work and home, and ensuring no contact with other people between those times.

But outside of work staff are allowed to go about their lives, essentially as normal.

The Defence Force has added an extra layer of "risk controls" for its staff, during their time on duty at MIQ facilities and for the seven days following.

For a minimum of seven days following work in MIQ, staff use of communal facilities on camps and bases is restricted.

Access to gyms, bars, the mess hall, and other places is essentially out of bounds.

The extra layer of rules does not extend outside of military bases, meaning those same staff who are barred from using a Defence Force gym, bar or mess hall can go to any gym, bar or restaurant in the community, without restriction.

Workers RNZ has talked to say the double standard makes little sense, and increases the risk of COVID-19 getting into the community.

The Defence Force is comfortable with the situation, saying the reason for the stricter rules is because of the communal living and working arrangements on base.

A spokesperson said NZDF staff were more likely to "come in contact with many more people on a daily basis than other MIQF (managed isolation and quarantine facilities) workers might.

"While we have confidence in the MIQF infection prevention protocols we add an additional layer of caution to ensure that the unique environment of the NZDF is protected and therefore the New Zealand community is also optimally protected."

The Defence Force does not require its staff to do any more than the MIQ guidelines ask for staff when they are in the community.

A MIQ spokesperson said staff were asked to keep records of their movements and close contacts (just like all New Zealanders).

"They are also told to continue to maintain physical distancing where possible, practice good hand hygiene outside of work, ensure they wear a mask while on domestic flights, public transport, or in crowded public places where physical distancing cannot be maintained, self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 when not at work, and if feeling unwell arrange for a test as soon as possible and self-isolate while awaiting test results."

RNZ asked if any of these requests were mandatory, such as wearing a mask in public, or use of the COVID Tracer app.

The MIQ spokesperson did not answer that question, but said: "With all these precautions in place, the risks have been assessed as minimal, so they and their partners/spouses and children can follow their normal routines, including social interaction, depending on any current alert level restrictions."