COVID-19: Officials have been pushing for purpose-built managed isolation MIQ facilities for a year

With the Government finally considering purpose-built managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, Newshub can reveal that as far back as July last year, officials have been urging it to do so. 

Documents released under the Official Information Act show how many private providers have approached the Government, some with promising and affordable plans to build facilities. 

There's a big bonus draw for building our own - Government advice shows they could be transitioned into social housing, helping solve the housing crisis.

And the Government needs all the help it can get. Newshub has learnt it also considered using motels as MIQ facilities but they're already under too much pressure as emergency housing.

The Garran Surge Centre, a purpose-built COVID-19 hospital facility in Australian capital Canberra, was built in just 36 days. The same company offered to help New Zealand way back in August last year.

The offer came cheap. Documents released under the Official Information Act show their purpose-built MIQ facility would have cost max $11.25 million. But the Government said thanks but no thanks, we'll stick with hotels. 

That's all changing now. 

"It's not a flip flop at all," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Tuesday. "I think if you go back to what I said at the time, I said I certainly wouldn't rule out doing it in the future."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when asked why the Government didn't do it ages ago, said it was "certainly the scale". 

The Government has turned down over a dozen proposals to convert or build MIQ facilities.

It's now recognising COVID-19 needs more than a quick fix.

"Yes, we planned for 18 months, it's now clear we're going to need to plan for longer," Hipkins said. 

He denies it was short-sighted. 

"No, because it's possible that we didn't necessarily need to have purpose-built facilities in the longer term, but I think it's likely we'll need to have some capacity."

National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says the Government could have done it much sooner. 

"I think they could have done it a lot sooner than they are. We've been saying for some months now that they should be looking at this model."

Officials have been too. They've been recommending to the Government as far back as a year ago that it build its own MIQ facilities, like the Australian Government has done - building quarantine facilities in Darwin's Howard Springs. 

"Purpose-built facilities is one of the options, but there are others," Hipkins says.

Other options include buying hotels, repurposing student accommodation, luxury accommodation, or serviced apartments.

Motels were also on the table but Cabinet documents show that's a no-go because they're "already under pressure for emergency housing". 

It's a crisis which could also be helped by building MIQ facilities because the advice says they could eventually be transitioned into social housing.

Hipkins acknowledged the Government could use the facilities for other things. 

"That's right."

But he didn't accept that the Government lacks the ability to get things built. 


Bishop doesn't appear to have much confidence in the Government being able to build a purpose-built MIQ facility. He laughed when Newshub suggested it to him. 

National leader Judith Collins gave a similar response. 

"Their ability to get anything built I have to say is not something we'd have much confidence in," she said with a grin. 

The Government could've proved them wrong if they'd listened to advice and got onto it a year ago.