Coronavirus: Govt might buy hotels, convert them into full-time MIQ facilities

The Government is considering buying "one or two" of the hotels currently being used as managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities for the long-term.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says it's likely we'll need MIQ facilities "over the medium to longer-term", with experts saying COVID-19 is probably here to stay

"It might not be at the scale that we have now, but I think we are likely to still need to have that ability to do that," he told Newshub Nation on Saturday.

New Zealand currently has about 30 MIQ facilities, mostly hotels that would otherwise be empty thanks to the border restrictions. 

Epidemiologists have suggested building dedicated MIQ facilities, as has the National Party. COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says hotels are typically located in large population centres, so any leaks from the facilities raise the risk of needing to go into lockdown.

"A purpose-built facility may prove expensive but its cost will be dwarfed by the economic hit of putting Auckland into more lockdowns," he said in February. "Using hotels for managed isolation and quarantine has proven problematic, which is why experts have long suggested purpose-built facilities."

There has been transmission of the virus between guests in MIQ, even when they've had no contact. A famous case initially blamed on a rubbish bin lid in Christchurch's Crowne Plaza Hotel turned out to be caused by the way air moved around a hallway

Epidemiologist Michael Baker of the University of Otago said hotels aren't designed to restrict the spread of viruses, backing the idea of purpose-built MIQ facilities.

"We'll be canvassing all of the options," Hipkins told Newshub Nation. 

"It might be that we buy one or two of our existing facilities and do more work to convert them so that they are more fit-for-purpose. We're looking at all of those options at the moment."

As for when vaccinated people will be able to cross the border without a stay in MIQ, Hipkins said it's unlikely to happen before Christmas.

"I think we're still likely to have the vast majority of people coming through the border coming into managed isolation for a period of two weeks this year. Early next year, there may be some further changes there, but I don't think that's going to happen any time in the next six months or so." 

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