Coronavirus: Returning Kiwi 'terrified' he'll catch COVID-19 while in isolation

A returning Kiwi halfway through his stay in managed isolation says he felt safer back home in Australia.

Tim Barnard, 65, is home to see his brother, who has cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy. He's on day seven at the Pullman in Auckland, and wants out. 

"When I arrived there were groups of people standing around, not physical distancing," he told The AM SHow on Thursday. 

"Some had PPE gear on - only masks and gloves though, no full face shields or gowns. I asked if the room had been sanitised - I came into the room and there's fingerprints on the glass tables, handprints and fingerprints on the windows."

Having spent five-and-a-half months isolating across the ditch, Barnard says he arrived well-prepared - but didn't expect to have to use his supplies until after the 14-day hotel stay. 

"I have sanitisers and wipes and masks and gloves that I brought with me. I've used a whole bottle of my own sanitiser in this room just to make the surfaces that I'm touching safe for me. Yeah, it's not a good way of you know, trying to avoid this virus."

Officials didn't provide him any PPE until day six, he claims, and he still hasn't heard whether his test for COVID-19 taken a few days ago came back positive or negative.

"I've tried all the helpline numbers. You ring one number... and they say ring another number. You ring that number, they tell you to ring the first number you dialled... Got given another number to call and phoned that, and it's unavailable - not connected. I've tried five different helpline numbers... round and round in circles...

"I'm terrified of being in here... It's just terrifying being in a place like this. All I hear is just drivel, basically - 'we have processes and protocols in place'. Well, you know - they're not working."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) managed isolation and quarantine service told Newshub it was unable to comment on Barnard's specific case without knowing the exact dates and times of the alleged breaches.

The spokesperson said facilities are "thoroughly and regularly cleaned", and staff and guests are asked to follow measures such as physical distancing and practising good hygiene, as well as given guidance on how to do this.

"Having people from different cohorts together in the same building is managed by very strict procedures and is not a risk if people follow the strict protocols in place to separate returnees from other bubbles regardless of the stage of their entry...

"When a clear breach occurs in any facility, Health officials will be notified and will determine what action to take, based on the risk presented. It may be that a returnee or returnees who breach accepted protocols within a facility will be required to have an extra test or to stay longer in the facility."

MBIE said more than 39,000 people have been through isolation and quarantine since its introduction, "and safely returned to their families and communities".

An Official Information Act request submitted to the Ministry of Health in early July asking for "any enquiries and complaints you received with regards to health and safety of using the above-named hotels... and your responses" was transferred to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which said it might take until October to gather the necessary information.

Barnard plans to apply for a compassionate waiver from the new isolation fees, claiming he didn't know about them when he got here. 

Australia has had a recent surge in cases, undoing much of the good work achieved early in the pandemic. There are promising signs new restrictions in the state of Victoria, where the latest outbreak is centred, are bringing it under control - but there are still hundreds of new cases being detected every day. 

'A wonderful job'

After Barnard appeared on The AM Show, another Kiwi in isolation emailed Newshub with a very different story.

Tara Chaproniere, a clinical nutritionist also returning from Australia, has been at the Rydges in Rotorua. She left Australia on August 6 and is on her final day of isolation. 

"I have been provided and made to wear PPE gear (mask and gloves) every day," she said.

"They are situated at the lifts so you can put them on before you touch the button. You have masks provided in your room and you must put it on before you open your door when the health checks come around every morning. We have our temperature checked everyday and asked if we have any symptoms.

"The only problem I see is the smokers. They all stand together in a small area with their masks around their necks, they do stand apart but not far enough apart.

"All and all I think they are doing a wonderful job here."