Coronavirus: Novotel Ellerslie absconder escaped MIQ facility because of incorrectly plugged audio cable

A COVID-positive man who absconded from an Auckland managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility was able to escape because of technical problems.

A review released on Thursday by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the agency that controls MIQ, shows the 23-year-old man was able to leave the Novotel and Ibis Ellerslie because CCTV door alarms linked to the stairwell he used didn't go off as "the audio cable was in the wrong computer port".

At the time of his escape, the hotel had only been a quarantine facility for one week. Previously, it was used as managed isolation for non-COVID-positive returnees from overseas.

The 23-year-old was admitted to the Novotel on September 1 and was quarantined with one other person from his bubble. 

The report says a review of CCTV footage found he'd left and returned to his room twice between 11:40pm and 12:40am. He eventually left his room a third time at 1:04am and escaped the facility by scaling perimeter fencing.

While the alarm wasn't tripped in the stairwell, he was seen on CCTV leaving his room which was when security staff should've escalated the response, the report says.

After leaving, the man then walked for three hours in the cold and rain to a house in Ōtāhuhu.

The bubble member he was quarantined with told facility staff between 10:30 and 11am that the man had returned home.

MBIE's report found the 23-year-old was reluctant to enter quarantine and even initially denied to health staff that he could have COVID-19, but confirmed he understood and would follow his responsibilities while in the facility. It was only later on he became "determined to leave".

"He deliberately tested how far he could venture from his room, and when outside, concealed himself from detection before scaling the perimeter fences," the report says.

Staff also hadn't conducted a first wellbeing check before he absconded seven hours later.

The Novotel Ellerslie.
The Novotel Ellerslie. Photo credit: Google Maps

Ultimately, there "was no one single point of failure" that resulted in him absconding. The report found not all relevant information about the 23-year-old was known to MIQ staff, and if it had been understood the management would've been able to prepare and respond accordingly. 

There was also an incident involving an "aggressive woman" entering the Novotel's reception and going into a staff-only area just before the man arrived, which the report says may have distracted MIQ staff attention.

The report gave several recommendations, including reviewing CCTV controls, ensuring security staff are inducted and trained at the start of their deployment, developing a wellbeing assessment questionnaire for community cases who are admitted to MIQ, and developing a 'MIQ Community Case Management framework'.

Some improvements have already been made, such as monitoring CCTV on a reduced rotation, alarming guests' fire doors and exits 24 hours a day, and increasing the number of security staff.