3 Jul 2020

Queenstown mayor cautious about isolation site proposal

7:08 pm on 3 July 2020

Plans for isolating people in Queenstown will need to be bulletproof before the mayor will back them, he says.

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

The government yesterday announced it was looking to the resort town and Dunedin as potential destinations for managed isolation facilities.

Some residents want more details before rolling out the welcome mat, while others say the risk is too great for the hard-hit district.

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult said he had already started receiving emails from people saying they would avoid visiting the resort town if it became an isolation destination.

"I think locally the mood of the district is one of caution. Given the failures relating to isolation cases of recent times, we really need to be assured that the system was bulletproof before I'd feel comfortable with this happening," Boult said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the possibility last week during her visit with Megan Woods, the minister in charge of quarantine and isolation facilities, following up with a phone call to him this week.

"We understand that it needs to be spread around the country. Our concern, however, lies in the lack of adequate medical facilities in the district to deal with any outbreak of Covid that may come from this," he said.

Queenstown accommodation providers met this morning to speak about their rooms potentially being used for isolation.

Villa del Lago hotel owner Nik Kiddle was at the meeting, and said they all needed more information first.

"Clearly there are accommodation services here that are crying out for revenue and this would be a great opportunity to help balance the books. But at the same time, we hear from travellers within New Zealand that they're wary of coming to places that have been used as quarantine stations," Kiddle said.

Generic stills of Queenstown and surrounding area

Travellers have said they would avoid visiting Queenstown if hotels there were used for managed isolation, according to the mayor. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

The government needed to balance its expectations with what the district was capable of delivering at a public health level, he said.

Businesses wanted crystal clear guidelines on what it would all mean for the district, what support would be available, how breaches would be prevented, and how they could keep their staff safe before they could make informed decisions, Kiddle said.

Sunrise Balloons chief pilot Carrick McLellan said the district could not afford any quarantine slip ups, especially if they could impact people's decisions to visit the resort town.

The town was trying to get back on its feet, McLellan said.

"The wider picture for the whole community, it could be quite detrimental really. There's already a tonne of people here without jobs who are just being reemployed again now because the tourists have started arriving. We don't really want to undo the good work."

Long-term Queenstown resident and community advocate Kirsty Sharpe said she was not opposed to having managed isolation in the resort town if it was carefully managed and residents were kept safe.

"As long as there are testing teams around - and to date, hospital facilities haven't been used greatly in New Zealand for Covid-19 so going on past experience, I think we probably could act as a good quarantine centre," Sharpe said.

"We've certainly got plenty of empty hotels here and I'm sure some of them would be suitable for that purpose."

Mayor Boult said the district might have to play the hand they were dealt.

"At the end of the day, it is the government's decision. If they decide to do it, so be it and we will be cooperative. But I just don't think it's the right thing for our district given the lack of medical facilities here."

Minister Megan Woods is expected to visit Queenstown next week to consider hotel options.

Southern DHB responds

The Southern District Health Board sent a statement, saying they had started planning with the government.

"It is possible that facilities may need to be stood up soon after a decision is made, so we appreciated gaining this advance notice that this is being considered," it said.

"We are now working with the All of Government team to develop the necessary plans and clarify our respective responsibilities. However essentially, we would manage the health response, which would include swabbing of guests, checking for the emergence of Covid-19 symptoms, and supporting any health needs they may have, whether related to Covid-19 or otherwise."

The DHB acknowledged Dunedin had stronger health infrastructure than Queenstown, and said that would factor into any decision, but it had adequate PPE for its staff and could get more if needed.

"However, we will need to find a way to support the decisions that are made, and this will factor into our planning."

A planning team has been set up to work through the process.

"We have a dedicated workforce and good experience to draw upon as a result of our work in recent months, in particular through running the Community Based Assessment Centres, and screening and managing symptomatic patients through the health system, so are ready to support this next important aspect of our fight against Covid-19 if we are asked to do so."