6 Aug 2020

Covid-19: Business leaders push for privately-run managed isolation

8:31 am on 6 August 2020

Privately-run managed isolation could be a reality early next year if business leaders can drum up a suitable plan and convince the government.

The Rydges Hotel, which is being used as a managed isolation facility, in Auckland.

The Rydges Hotel in Auckland is being used as one of New Zealand's government-run managed isolation facilities. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

High level talks to set up private pay-as-you-go isolation hotels have begun, with a meeting of like minds at the Covid-19 recovery summit in Auckland yesterday.

Those behind the idea say borders could re-open to international students, highly-skilled foreign workers and wealthy tourists.

Entrepreneur Nicola Alpe is spearheading the idea and said it's time for the private sector to run managed isolation hotels and attract internationals to New Zealand who can help re-build the economy.

"Naturally you are going to have ultra high net worth individuals who are going to want to come in and escape hot spots like America and Europe at the moment and stay here for a time as a holidaymaker," she said.

"We've heard from a lot of people who are struggling to get experts in, so they're struggling to get engineers in to audit machinery and experts in to train their staff."

She and her husband Chris, who heads Jucy Rentals, returned from Los Angeles earlier in the year.

Together with business professor David Teece, they are gathering leaders together to come up with a detailed plan for privately-run managed isolation.

Alpe said it would be run as a business, with different price points for bells and whistles.

"It would be accessible to anyone really, anyone who's willing to pay," she said.

"As with any hotel models there's different room rates and package rates so that's what we'd be looking at providing."

She said the New Zealand public is understandably wary of opening borders but those entering private managed isolation would need to prove their worth.

"Even a fortress has to have a door, that's true you have to let some people in. We're not advocating to open the borders and for it to be a free for all like Britain's heading off to Benidorm for a two-week holiday, it's really going to be very managed."

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

More than 200 businesses and local body leaders gathered for a Covid-19 economic recovery summit in Auckland yesterday.

Many expressed concerns at the closed borders cutting off much-needed skills and investment.

Former prime minister Helen Clark, who has been chosen to review the World Health Organisation response to Covid-19, told the audience "major private sector partnerships" are needed to scale up the quarantine system.

"If post-election the thinking can go to how to try to remove this choke point which is existing quarantine capacity that would help a lot, even on the existing two week quarantine setting."

Business leader Rob Fyfe said the idea has traction given managed isolation could be here for years.

"You could think two, three, four, five years because there will be some countries in the world that could be struggling with this virus for a long time to come."

He said creating a plan for privately-run managed isolation will be complex.

"It's important that if we create private quarantine options that people are able to pay for that, we need to make it as universally available as possible. If it's just for top end ultra elite tourists and it comes with a lot of complexity and there's additional risks I don't think that will fly."

Fyfe said it could be possible to set up private managed isolation hotels by early next year, with the focus on attracting people with skills and wealth to contribute to the economy.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

About 20 business leaders discussed the idea at a forum during the Covid-19 recovery summit.

Among them was Pooj Prenna, who recently returned to New Zealand with his family, after 20 years overseas.

"New Zealand is viewed, at least in San Francisco where I came from, as a safe haven right now," he said.

"There are a lot of people who would love the opportunity to come into New Zealand and contribute to the economy in some way. They could bring capital or they might start companies or invest in companies that can then employ people and try to offset some of this reduction in [work] force that you're going to see over time."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told Morning Report the government would look at all the options, but the priority is keeping New Zealanders safe.

"What we need is safe isolation and quarantining and that's what we owe to New Zealanders - to make sure we lock in the gains we've made.

Robertson said the involvement of anything beyond government would have to ensure the same standards of the current isolation and quarantine facilities.

"We have a certain set of standards around what isolation looks like.

"New Zealanders want whatever happens at our border to be at the highest possible quality. We know, if we look across to Australia, some of the issues and problems that they've had."

He said the government is continuing to expand the number of people they can bring in to the country.

"It is our job to keep New Zealanders safe and to keep that border as safe and tight as possible whilst making sure we continue to bring the people in who both have a right to be here and are important to making our economy work.

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