COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirms plans for additional quarantine facility with 'several hundred rooms'

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed plans for an additional quarantine facility with "several hundred rooms", located in Auckland. 

"We are currently in the process of readying another facility to quarantine people in the event that we need that, and it is looking likely that we would need that, given the number of cases we're seeing," Hipkins said on Wednesday.  

"So we're preparing that facility now so that we will have those rooms available if case numbers continue to grow."

It came as the Ministry of Health announced an additional 62 community cases of COVID-19 in the community, bringing the total number of cases in the Delta outbreak to 210 - 198 in Auckland and 12 in Wellington. 

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are transported to the Jet Park quarantine facility in Auckland near the airport, but the Government is preparing additional space to accommodate new cases, should the outbreak balloon. 

"An additional facility with several hundred extra rooms is being prepared so that we can activate that within the next day or two, in the event that we need to," Hipkins said. 

"Just remember that there is not a direct correlation between cases and rooms. We are seeing multiple cases within the same family bubble and in many cases they share a room so that allows us to maximise our use there. 

"In the event that that filled up and we needed to repurpose another one of our MIQ facilities for quarantine, then of course we could look at that. We have to balance that up against the pressure of travellers coming in and our need to accommodate that safely."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty

Hipkins said there are currently about 70 rooms available in quarantine. 

"The quarantine part does require a more intensive level of staffing than the managed isolation part of our operation so one of the key transitions that has to happen when we turn an isolation facility into a quarantine facility, is to upstaff it," Hipkins said. 

"Theoretically we could continue to repurpose other MIQ facilities. We have to balance that up against the fact that we have the pressure of people coming in who have vouchers booked to come into the country."

He said part of the reason why the Government is not re-releasing vouchers from cancellations at the moment is "we just want to make sure that we're not overcommitting our MIQ facilities when there is this extra pressure coming on domestically". 

Hipkins said the Government is looking at what managed isolation and quarantine, known as MIQ, will look like in the future. Returnees are still required by law to spend 14 days in MIQ upon their return to New Zealand, and space is extremely tight. 

"In terms of scaling up the capacity of MIQ at the moment, using hotels is by far the best, fastest and cheapest way of doing that with short notice. It has served us very well," Hipkins said, adding that more than 160,000 people have gone through MIQ and over a thousand positive cases. 

But looking ahead, he said the Government is exploring three options: Government purpose-built facilities, purpose-built facilities run and operated by someone else, or purchased facilities with conversion work done on them.

"There's nothing quick that can be done in this space though."

Hipkins said it's not always a capacity issue when a positive case of COVID-19 isn't able to be immediately accommodated at the quarantine facility. 

The Jet Park hotel near Auckland Airport is used as a quarantine facility.
The Jet Park hotel near Auckland Airport is used as a quarantine facility. Photo credit: Getty

"It's not necessarily a constraint at the quarantine end. We do have rooms available as of now for people coming from the community."

Carolyn Tremain, chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) which oversees MIQ, said transportation can be an issue. 

NZ Army Brigadier Rose King, joint head of MIQ, said: "There's a number of procedures and control measures that we need to take both with the people who are doing both the transportation part and moving the people in, to make sure we're keeping not only the individual who is coming to our facility safe, but those who are transporting them and also the wider New Zealand public."

She said transport capability has been increased, but demand is high. 

As for those COVID-19 cases isolating at home, Hipkins said compliance is good. 

"The Healthline teams, the call centres and the contact tracer teams are making outbound calls to people to check on their welfare, to check on their isolation.

"Those outbound calls are finding that people are very compliant, so they are where they should be, they're not out there if they've been asked to stay home staying home, so we're seeing really good compliance with that.

"We do have quite good networks in our contact tracing system, it does reach out where it needs to, to ensure people get the support they need.

"In the welfare checks that are being done, if they identify that someone can't go out to the shops or has no one else to do their shopping, then we'd endeavour to facilitate someone who's able to support them in that."