Robyn Malcolm in MIQ 'naughty corner' after candle confiscation

From Checkpoint, 5:26 pm on 9 June 2021

Actor Robyn Malcolm says she feels like she is in the team of five million's naughty corner after being bailed up by MIQ officials for lighting a candle in her room and displaying one too many bottles of wine.

Malcolm, who is on day three of her managed isolation stay at a Wellington hotel, had the candle confiscated after an Instagram post showed it lit alongside two bottles of wine, which she had not opened.

She told Checkpoint she was being treated like a child and would be writing to officials with suggestions for improvement, but for now she was seeing out her time.

"I've just learned how to go on Snapchat. I've got six books about black history in America. I've got a teapot, my yoga mat. I might save my puzzle for day eight. And I've been on the phone a lot."

One of those phone calls was not so welcome. It was a call from MIQ officials after someone dobbed Malcolm in after she made a social media post.

She recalled the message from officials: "'We have been informed by our PR department that you have put photographs up on Instagram and in the photograph there is a scented candle. You're not allowed to light candles, so we'll need to take those from you.'"

Malcolm said the caller also mentioned they had noticed two bottles of wine in the image, while the MIQ policy is one bottle allowed per day. They let her keep the bottles.

Malcolm's friend had dropped off half a bottle of unwanted red wine and the other bottle had not been opened. As for the candle, Malcolm told Checkpoint she had good reason for lighting it.

She described her room as "very smelly and musty".

"I could smell cigarette smoke coming from somewhere. Having the scented candle was actually part of wanting to make me feel like I was in a reasonably okay place."

She is staying at Wellington's Bay Plaza Hotel. It is her second stay in managed isolation, and she is fully vaccinated for Covid-19.

Malcolm said rather than asking her not to light the candle, MIQ staff confiscated it. 

"I am not incarcerated. I am a law-abiding, tax-paying, community-minded citizen and I am sacrificing my personal liberty, which is completely priceless, willingly, to contribute to keeping Covid-19 out.

"To be treated like that, like some naughty kid, is in my view so beyond the pale."

Malcolm said she left the country after earning nothing in New Zealand last year. She had to go where the work was.

"I went to America to do a job. I have to come back and quarantine. That's the deal, I get that. But it's not by choice. I do it… because I want to stay in New Zealand where my children are."

Her hotel room on this occasion was tiny, she said, and while she respected the need to protect the borders, she worried about the impact on mental health for people at some facilities who could not leave their rooms.

"We're not allowed to walk out that door, and the impact of that is huge."

She wrote a letter to MIQ officials about ways of improving and streamlining managed isolation stays.

"One of the major issues is the lack of consistency across facilities. People say: 'Oh well, you know we didn't have long to put it together' … you've had a year and a half. 

"Consistency around exercise for instance. That's wildly different from place to place. Some people get to go outside and walk all day. Other people get half an hour every three days, depending on the facility you're in.

"Food ... is a huge one. The food I'm given here is predominantly white or pale yellow in colour."

She said she may have to enter managed isolation again, and she wanted to contribute willingly and happily.

"It's one thing to lock the borders down, and in America so many people would say to me 'oh my God, your country did it better than anybody…' So far we did. We did a beautiful job of keeping Covid-19 out.

"But to be able to continue to do that until we can finally vaccinate everybody, you need the team of five million on side."

She said she was still a member of the team of five million.

"Yeah, but I'm in the naughty corner."