6 Aug 2020

Government rejects the idea of privately-run managed isolation facilities

6:35 pm on 6 August 2020

The government's giving the thumbs down to the idea of privately-run managed isolation facilities in the short-term.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Talks of private pay-as-you-go isolation hotels emerged from the Covid-19 recovery summit in Auckland yesterday.

Those behind the idea said borders could re-open to international students, highly skilled foreign workers and wealthy tourists, but despite enthusiasm by sector leaders yesterday, the reality has come crashing down today.

The public were not so sure.

"I think by and large it is working - I don't know why we would privatise - it would probably end up costing even more," a Wellington woman said.

A Northland man said he thought the current system was working. "Don't try and fix it if it is not broken."

Matt, on Lambton Quay in Wellington, said he felt like the responsibility should fall to the government.

"I know that they've still had their mistakes but I feel like that they should be accountable for what's coming in and out of the country... I would trust the government more than the private sector."

Infectious diseases specialist Siouxsie Wiles wasn't so sure either.

"We don't want to be like Victoria," she said.

Military-controlled facilities were the way to go, she added.

"They've shown us what it takes - it's about process, it's about adhering to those rules and I am concerned that we don't have any good evidence that the private sector alone could do that," she said.

The PSA union said it was deeply concerned about the plan.

National secretary Glenn Barclay said it would put New Zealand at risk of another outbreak.

"The experiment in private prison management was a failure - the rail privatisation was a failure - we had to re-nationalise Air New Zealand... privatisation's got a very chequered history," he said.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said managed isolation and quarantine hotels were run with strict rules and private organisations would have to follow them too.

"Extension into private arrangements would have to fulfil very stringent public health criteria," he said.

The minister in charge of isolation facilities, Megan Woods, said Victoria's Covid-19 struggles showed the benefit of having the military in charge.

The government was not considering the idea of going private, she said.

"At the moment we've got defence... police... security... as well as all the other staff at our facilities and that's absolutely critical to making sure our facilities are working well," she said.

Business leaders said it could be possible to set up privately-managed isolation hotels by early next year. They're now drumming up support to come up with a plan to convince the government.

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