MBIE confirms more MIQ in works

5:25 pm on 13 August 2021

The government has confirmed it is investigating additional managed isolation facilities in a number of locations, including Rotorua.

The Sudima Hotel in Rotorua, a managed isolation facility.

The Sudima Hotel in Rotorua, a managed isolation facility. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

It comes as the Lakes District Health Board, which covers Rotorua, made an urgent plea to the 'powers that be' that it not take on additional facilities due to staffing pressures.

Lakes District Health Board (DHB) member Lyall Thurston said staffing was "nearly at breaking point" at a meeting of the board on Friday morning.

"I think this board needs to formally record that we as a community have certainly stepped up to the challenge [of managed isolation] and we hear rumours that they intend to review and expand facilities."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has confirmed it is investigating more managed isolation facilities, including in Rotorua, but "no decisions have been made yet".

Thurston wanted the board to formally give thanks to staff "for the way they have stepped up and have accommodated the Government's expectations around managed isolation facilities".

"We should also send a formal communication from the board to say … this community believes it's really pulling its weight at the moment and there's a limit to what we can do.

"Maybe they look elsewhere around the country first if they want to expand."

The board unanimously agreed with Thurston.

Board member Johann Morreau said he agreed that adding facilities would put too much strain on staff.

"We can't see staff under more pressure. We're diluting our operations."

Bay of Plenty regional councillor Lyall Thurston. Photo / File / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post [via ldr single use only]
RGP 01May21 - Rotorua Lakes councillor Fisher Wang. PHOTO / FILE

Bay of Plenty regional councillor Lyall Thurston. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

Board chairman Jim Mather said there had been a "stupendous effort" of staff and leadership to deliver managed isolation facilities in Rotorua.

"They have been run very effectively."

Thurston's comments were prompted by a report from the DHB's chief executive, Nick Saville-Wood, who said there were 54 Lakes DHB staff members employed in managed isolation facilities in Rotorua.

"That does have a big impact on the fact that we've got quite a lot of vacancies in the hospitals and other services."

He said another concern for the DHB was the recruitment of nurses, which was "tight across the whole system".

Saville-Wood said there had been "a significant drop-off" in the numbers requiring quarantine while the trans-Tasman bubble had been open.

"However as the Delta variant has progressed in Australia and we've started closing down those borders again, we can see that starting to climb quite significantly.

The DHB was also down five per cent on its target for Covid-19 vaccinations which Saville-Wood said was partly due to the comparatively young population in the Lakes DHB area.

Vaccination centres were at 77 per cent capacity which Saville-Wood described as "quite close".

"It's been like this since we moved onto the national booking system."

The Sudima Hotel in Rotorua, a managed isolation facility.

The Sudima Hotel in Rotorua, a managed isolation facility. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

BookMyVaccine, the national Covid-19 vaccine booking system, was launched officially on July 28.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) joint head of managed isolation and quarantine Megan Main said MBIE was investigating "bringing additional facilities online".

"We are in the very early stages of investigating potential options, including in Rotorua, but no decisions have been made."

The Ministry had identified potentially suitable hotels and was engaging with them and "key local stakeholders" but could not name them due to commercial sensitivity.

There are a lot of complex issues that need to be considered for operating MIQ facilities, including workforce supply to support our operations, suitability of the hotels and proximity to hospital facilities and appropriate transport hubs.

"Any expansion of MIQ's capacity needs to be carefully considered against our primary objective - which is to operate in a way that ensures we keep Covid-19 out of our community and keep our returnees and staff safe."

She said staff were the community's "last line of defence" against Covid-19 and recognised it was critical future decisions to increase MIQ capacity by creating new facilities considered the increased pressures on the existing workforce.

The Ministry was engaging with DHBs and the Ministry of Health to understand whether there was capacity to safely operate additional facilities "without leaving critical workforce shortages".

She confirmed Lakes DHB had received Government funding to provide health services and advice in MIQ facilities but did not specify how much.

"The potential impact additional facilities could have on housing, and economic activity - including tourism - will also be part of our discussions and considerations.

"We will be taking all of the feedback from stakeholders very seriously and will report our findings back to the Minister for Covid-19 Response [Chris Hipkins] in the next few weeks for consideration."

A final decision about potentially establishing any new facilities will be made by Cabinet Ministers, she said.

The Ministry of Health has been contacted for comment.

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