Coronavirus: Defence Force explains why new arrivals are being bussed to Rotorua 'under the cover of darkness'

With Auckland's hotels full, some Kiwis coming home and heading into isolation or quarantine have found themselves unexpectedly bussed to hotels in other centres.

This weekend, Rotorua was their surprise destination - 232 new arrivals from Australia boarding seven buses at Auckland Airport.

"Everyone responded in disbelief, they thought it was some kind of joke," one person told NZME, without giving their name. "But it became clear once we really were out of the city limits that we were on our way to Rotorua."

Everyone coming into the country is required to spend 14 days in managed isolation if they're asymptomatic just in case they're carrying the disease, which has killed nearly 500,000 people worldwide. Studies suggest up to 45 percent of all transmission could be from people who don't know they're even infected.

Australia's efforts to contain COVID-19 once compared favourably to New Zealand's, but they're struggling to stamp it out - the state of Victoria extending its state of emergency on Sunday

National MPs say no one in Rotorua was informed in advance their city would be hosting potential COVID-19 cases.

"Local people are furious - we've had more than 200 people come off a plane in Auckland and they've been bussed in the middle of the night - under the cover of darkness - to Rotorua to be put in a hotel to be quarantined," said local MP Todd McClay, claiming staff weren't prepared at all. 

"There have been reports of security guards without facemasks on. This is really, really troubling... Local people are outraged the Government didn't tell them about this. Jacinda Ardern didn't do a press conference and warn the people of Rotorua." 

Nikki Kaye.
Nikki Kaye. Photo credit: Getty

Deputy leader Nikki Kaye told Newshub people living in serviced apartments at some of the new isolation sites weren't told either.

"I was contacted by residents in the last few days about a lack of consultation, about the potential for people in managed isolation to be in the building with them. They're very firm and expect to be consulted... They want absolute confidence that where they live, where their home is, that if there are going to be managed isolation in their building, that they're consulted on that and they're confident that it's safe."

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, now in charge of the isolation system, told Newshub they were bussed to Rotorua in the middle of the night because that's when their plane touched down, and they needed somewhere to stay - and their planned stay, the Stamford Hotel, wasn't ready. 

"The plan to use the Stamford Hotel is still on hold until I'm satisfied it is suitable as a managed isolation facility. These Rotorua facilities were stood up to assist with capacity in Auckland." 

Labour's Tamati Coffey - who holds Māori electorate of Waiariki, which includes Rotorua - said on Sunday locals had "nothing to fear".

"I've spoken today with a lot of our community leaders around Rotorua, and what we've said is we're happy to be able to play our part to serve our own - they're our people in [the hotels]... We've got the military in there as well. Bit of an overkill, but hey, we've got to keep those quarantine standards up. And actually I'm happy for it, because I know that our people here on the ground will know that this is an issue we're taking seriously."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show on Monday there were 4200 people currently in isolation facilities - two in Rotorua and the other 18 in Auckland and Christchurch - and 20,000 had already successfully passed through, without sparking any reported community transmission of the virus.

The past week saw the first new cases of COVID-19 in several weeks - all of them in new arrivals.

"The reason we're likely to keep seeing those cases we have in recent weeks is we've had a doubling of the number of people in the last month who are coming in at our border, into quarantine," said Ardern.

"The number of New Zealanders coming home is increasing, and they are coming from - in some cases - at-risk parts of the world."

The number of new cases being reported globally every day is now in excess of 150,000. After declining between mid-April and the start of June, the daily death toll has plateaued at around 5000 a day - with hints it may be about to start increasing again, as the virus takes hold in poorer countries like India and Mexico, and continues to ravage the US to a lesser extent, the UK.

The new cases in New Zealand were in arrivals from the UK, India and Pakistan. 

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz