9 Oct 2020

Woman uses fire exit to escape Covid-19 isolation facility in central Auckland

5:55 pm on 9 October 2020

A woman who escaped from a managed isolation facility in central Auckland and walked around the inner city in the early hours of the morning was caught after a second attempt to use a fire exit.

The Grand Millennium Hotel, which is being used as a managed isolation facility, in Auckland CBD.

The Grand Millennium Hotel, which is being used as a managed isolation facility, in Auckland CBD. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The woman who absconded was swabbed this morning and tested negative. Her day three test is scheduled for tomorrow.

On site security intercepted the woman attempting to abscond from the managed isolation facility at the Grand Millennium Hotel, Auckland through a fire exit at about 1am today.

After enquiries it was established that the women had also absconded the previous night, on 8 October at 1.07am and returned at 3.09am.

CCTV footage shows the woman has walked in and around the inner city.

Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) chief Air Commodore Darryn Webb said it was a rare event but was being treated seriously.

"While I'm confident that we have strong security measures in place, these hotels are not prisons and this individual has wilfully absconded once, and then attempted to repeat this the following night when she was caught by security."

"A permanent security presence has been established outside her room to ensure she remains at the facility," Webb said.

The woman arrived from Dubai on 7 October. She was cleared to fly after returning a negative result to a test taken on 1 October.

Webb said in instances where fire exits could not be monitored by CCTV or an alarm, they were security guards stationed near them.

"Unfortunately, a local decision was taken which meant that those guards were elsewhere on that evening."

The woman is likely to be charged.

The escape

"Police investigations are still ongoing as are our own," Webb told Checkpoint.

"It's likely it's a low-risk scenario," he said, referring to the woman's movement on CCTV.

He explained that the woman had escaped through a fire exit, gone through fire exit corridors within the facility and departed out the back through a loading dock area.

Those doors were not alarmed, he said.

"We have a physical security presence on-site there. Those security personnel were in a roving patrol mode rather than observing that security door ... our establishment with the hotel, in particular, is that those security staff should have been at that door at that time.

"They were directed by the local team leader to be on a roving mode and we see that as an oversight. It's not good enough."

He said it was a private security team deployed at the hotel, and the instruction to leave the door unattended was taken by the team leader.

"The individual concerned has been stood down and we have ensured that everybody in that team is completely aware of the appropriate procedures to be carried out."

Webb said a phase-out approach of third party security guards was underway as Defence personnel take over.

At this stage, the plan was for third party private security to be phased out by the end of the year.

"We have contacted every other facility and confirmed that those practices are not taking place anywhere else." There are 32 MIQ facilities.

Webb said he would "potentially" be unaware of the woman's movement yesterday if she was not caught attempting to abscond again today.

"This is a human error, these mistakes can happen. I'm extremely proud of every single staff member in our facilities."

He said nearly 60,000 people have been through managed isolation and quarantine facilities and a very small number had done the wrong thing.

Since the system was set up, 14 people have been stopped after absconding from an MIQ facility.