27 Sep 2021

MIQ a bigger risk to businesses than Covid-19 - business leader

9:21 pm on 27 September 2021

Managed isolation is a bigger risk to business than Covid-19 according to a leading entrepreneur who has detailed an alternative isolation plan in a bid to get businesses travelling again.

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MIQ facility fence. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Animation Research chief executive Sir Ian Taylor believes companies can be trusted to manage their own strict home isolation, in turn freeing up spots in MIQ for other returning New Zealanders.

Taylor said companies have cut back on overseas travel but some is essential to keeping business ticking over and he has been contacted by a list of businesses desperate for certainty around getting workers home.

He has written a series of open letters to the government laying out a blow by blow pilot trip that he would be the guinea pig for but so far he said he has had no real response from the government.

He said the current handling of MIQ is leaving businesses' overseas workers out to dry.

"It's a disaster. I mean it was ill conceived from day one and and now it is just the biggest roadblock for businesses.

"In fact, for a lot of people, MIQ has become more dangerous than Covid itself, and the thing that really concerns me is that you know we saw last week that waiting room concept was always flawed."

Last week's debut of the government's new MIQ booking system demonstrated how problematic MIQ is becoming, Taylor said.

Taylor currently has three staff offshore and said he has no means of getting them back into the country.

"Those three have been absolutely essential to everyone keeping their job here. They all volunteered and they've all been overseas since Christmas and what we normally do because it's a tough job... they probably work for two months or so then we'd send somebody up to give them a break for a fortnight."

However, he said that simply is not possible now due to the lack of MIQ rooms available.

One of his staff has been overseas since December last year, he said.

"One of them who's in the UK called us up about two weeks ago and said he'd gone to his first dinner in a restaurant since Christmas, it's really, really tough and we aren't asking to take up MIQ beds... I'd hate to do that, there are people even worse off than that.

"What we are asking is for the government to listen to us and we can show them a way to ease the load on MIQ and bring our people home safely with certainty."

Taylor said his business has cut down to only the most essential travel but that is only increasing the burden on his employees overseas.

"We've reduced our overseas travel since March the 14th last year, we've reduced it by 80 percent, which is enormous but the 20 percent that we need to make is what keeps the 80 percent of our business running and we're not the only ones."

Although Zoom calls have been vital to business in the pandemic, the technology will never completely replace business travel, he said.

"We've got the Zoom [it] has helped us with all of this reduction in travel, and it will change business travel forever but it won't remove it.

"At the moment we actually can't do business because we just cannot afford to send somebody away and not know when they're coming back."

Taylor said in the past week he has heard from several companies with staff overseas who are now stuck and do not know when they're coming home.

Tayor happy to act as guinea pig for his proposed system

In his idea for a quarantine-free system for returning business workers, Taylor himself would act as the guinea pig and follow a range of Covid-19 restrictions prior to travelling to Sydney.

"It [Sydney] is quite a good one to choose because you know, we're relatively Covid-free and it's running rampant in Sydney so we take it to the extreme.

"Seven days before I got on the plane, I would go into level 3, I'd work from home, I'd be tested every day.

"On day one I'd have a PCR test, the normal one, and then I would also have this portable device that's had $18 million spent on it, and it's just up the road here in Dunedin and they can't talk to anyone about it, I'd have them giving me one of those so I could compare my PCR test, which takes 25 minutes."

Taylor said he would then have another PCR test three days before he flew to Auckland, while Auckland Airport have said they would meet him in Auckland to make sure he went directly to the Air New Zealand area cleanly and safely.

"I'd take another test before I got on the plane... a PCR test which takes 25 minutes. I'd get on the plane fly to Sydney, instantly I'd be met by a driver from a hotel chain that does MIQ, I'd be tested there, go to the hotel, tested.

"They've offered to put me in a floor away from everyone else, serve me only with people who are double vaccinated... so I'd get meals delivered to my door in the mornings and at night and during the day the same driver would take me down to Fox Studios where I have to be tested like all their staff even to get in the front door."

Taylor would have to spend two weeks isolated in a hotel when he is not attending working meetings due to border restrictions currently in place in Australia.

"Once that was over I would pretend that I've just flown in like normal business and I take my trip go to Fox, do my meetings everyday, being tested every day, PCR tested back in my hotel with my portable device and then I'd fly back to New Zealand.

"(I'd) come through the airport in Auckland, fly down to Dunedin, go into a self isolation premises that we have here and be there by myself for as long as the government wanted me to but we'd show the steps we would go through that said two weeks is overkill."

Taylor said the business world can help the government with trialling quarantine free travel as their teams that travel are small, often between one and five people.

He suggests this model could then be stepped up to sports teams the size of the All Blacks.

"While they're away before they came back, they could test as well, which means we don't have 40 or 50 All Blacks taking up really valuable MIQ spaces for people who simply don't have these resources.

Taylor said although the government has signalled it is looking into a quarantine-free travel pilot, he does not expect them to have the trial in place until December at the earliest.

Planned trip would be self-funded

Taylor is now calling on the government to support his trial so there can be greater transparency around whether the current MIQ rules are necessary.

"What the bench has done has come up with this idea with some big people backing us and we've done it in a week and all we're saying to the government is 'let's do this publicly so everybody can see what works, what doesn't work and and how the future could look like'.

"I guess this will be the real test because this isn't going to cost them any money at all, there are a number of significant organisations that have stepped up to help me, we will pay all our own costs, we've got all the safety protocols in place to be tested.

"So if they say no, then that really does raise the question of how serious are we about getting back to living with Covid?"

He said that if that system works, then it is clear that it can be used for businesses of one to five people.

To ensure they are held fully accountable participating business would have to be accredited, he said.

"Businesses are the place you will trust the most (to adhere to the rules) because it's absolutely essential to their accreditation that no one breaks the rules and everyone working for you is on contract."

Taylor said the entiriety of his proposed trip would be self-funded along with the businesses that have offered to assist with the trial, including the Dunedin-based organisation that has offered him the use of an $18m portable testing device.

He maintains that even if his proposal is not approved, he could conduct the same test in Auckland to showcase the options that are in existence which could be used when travel restrictions are eventually eased.

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