New research shows New Zealand has twice the risk of leaks out of MIQ compared to Australia and says our reliance on hotels instead of purpose-built facilities could be a factor.
The study from eight public health researchers, including Professor Michael Baker and Dr Nick Wilson, has found in New Zealand there were 10.5 failures per 1000 COVID-positive travellers in quarantine while in Australia there were 5.2.
The study's authors pointed towards 'lower quality quarantine measures' as one potential reason for the discrepancy.
"The big problem with using hotels, from an infection-control perspective is they have shared corridors, shared lifts and the ventilation is far from ideal,'' Dr. Wilson told Newshub Nation.
While COVID’s escaped MIQ in Auckland, across the ditch at Darwin’s Howard Springs facility there have been no leaks. The facility’s a converted miner’s camp. People stay in cabins, not high-rises, and there are no shared hallways or air conditioning units.
Speaking from Howard Springs, Murray Pearce, a teacher mid-quarantine, told Newshub Nation “I think you would find that [for] the people here, their wellbeing and mental health is a lot more positive here than I think it would be stuck in a high rise building with no opportunity for fresh air.”
It's so successful that Australia's building more of them and Dr. Wilson thinks we should follow the Ozzie example.
"That's the type of model we need to get to - where there's separate cabins, natural ventilation and no problems with shared spaces."
The scientists recommend shifting quarantine facilities to rural military bases or camps where units are spaced out.
"We really have to move these facilities outside a big city. The problem with a big city is if there's an outbreak, the social and economic cost is dramatically magnified," said Dr. Wilson.
The current alert level settings - Auckland in lockdown and the rest of the country at level 2 - is costing the economy an estimated billion dollars a week. So the pressure is on to move MIQs out of hotels in Auckland's CBD so any COVID leaks wouldn’t shut down the country’s biggest city.
"Auckland is the country's engine room. It isn't the country's sick bay," Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett told Newshub Nation.
"What we need to do is remove the ever-present threat of punishing Auckland's economy with a lockdown."
And it's not just business, local Government officials are also concerned about relying too heavily on MIQs in crowded city centers.
"In south Auckland we know we are most susceptible because we are at the border," Auckland Councillor Efeso Collins told Newshub Nation.
"A lot of our people are exposed to that very early on, so if we can invite a better spread of where people are going; where people can isolate, then that's going to be really important."
Pressure is building from inside Parliament too, from both National and the Green Party.
"It's really important that we look at purpose built facilities outside our major cities. I realise that there will be a challenge with staff, but surely that can be overcome," Green Party COVID-19 Response Spokesperson Julie-Ann Genter said.
But while National also wants purpose-built cabins, it thinks land by Auckland airport is the right place for them.
"It's a nice pipe dream to go out in the middle of nowhere and plop down a purpose-built facility but you do have to have staff there - security, nurses, doctors - all of the things that make MIQ work,'' National COVID-19 Response Spokesperson Chris Bishop said.
The middle of nowhere is exactly where Dr. Wilson wants to see Kiwis quarantine - somewhere like Ohakea military base, which has its own airfield and land ripe for cabins or campervans.
"It would mean in a future pandemic - which could be even more severe than this current pandemic - you would be ready to go and you could deal with that in a much more rapid and appropriate way," he said.
The Government's considering it, but despite a Delta outbreak, it's still thinking about buying current MIQ hotels.
"It might be that we buy one or two of our existing facilities and do more work to convert them so that they're more fit for purpose. We're looking at all of those options at the moment," COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub Nation. Dr. Wilson is baffled by their position.
"I am very surprised that the Government is still looking at buying up hotels, because it is such a fundamentally flawed model."
At the beginning of the pandemic, people evacuated from Wuhan were quarantined at the military base at Whangaparaoa. Later, the Government hired campervans.
Now if the Government listens to these experts, their COVID response would go full circle.,
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