3 Jun 2021

Managed isolation escapee numbers drop to near zero after police get tougher

7:09 am on 3 June 2021

Security at Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities has tightened up considerably over recent months, as police changed their policy around prosecuting people who try to flee.

The Grand Millennium managed isolation facility in Auckland.

The Grand Millennium hotel managed isolation facility in central Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

Between 17 April 2020 and 21 April 2021, 62 people broke the rules at MIQ facilities during a total of 44 incidents, according to data obtained under the Official Information Act.

But in the four months from mid-December, just three people in three incidents were reported, as people became more compliant with quarantine rules.

Joint head of managed isolation Megan Main said that coincided with a change in approach from the police.

"From August 2020 there has been a conscious decision by the NZ Police to formally prosecute any absconders from a managed isolation facility," Main said.

"The last absconder was prosecuted in October 2020. There have been no absconders since this period."

That incident happened on 8 October at the Grand Millennium, when someone broke through two fire exit doors and descended down a fire escape before being stopped by a security guard, who called for police assistance.

A month prior to that was another widely reported escape, when a person tied three bed sheets into a type of rope and descended down about four stories to escape the Ramada hotel on 27 September.

An Auckland isolation hotel

A sign on the Ramada hotel managed isolation facility. Photo: Alexia Russell

They were convicted and sentenced.

Since then there have been just seven incidents, involving threats to abscond or people accidentally ending up out of bounds.

There was also a case, on 4 February, when a sheet was found on a security guard's balcony with a bungy tied to one end.

The report said it appeared to have fallen from above.

It said "a person came forward to (MIQ) staff and identified themselves as the person responsible", and that they "had friends on the road, not in isolation, who thought it would be fun to record the person 'pranking' an escape".

That person was "educated" after the incident.

Main said the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment took control of MIQ in July 2020 and was committed to the safety and security of returnees.

"We have increased the presence of CCTV in most of our facilities, and on arrival at MIQ facilities all returnees are well informed that staying in managed isolation is a legal requirement under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Isolation and Quarantine) Order 2020.

Returnees who express a desire to leave a facility are dealt with in a graduated fashion, from asking what is wrong and why they want to leave - to reiterating their legal obligations - to putting a security guard outside their door."

According to the data supplied to RNZ, four people have been convicted and sentenced, while three are still before the court. One person was discharged without conviction, and one was discharged through the youth court.