12 Apr 2021

MIQ employers asked to provide worker vaccine information - Ardern

5:20 pm on 12 April 2021

A year after MIQ was established, 86 percent of workers there have been vaccinated, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, while also signalling a state memorial service for Prince Philip.

Watch the briefing here:

Speaking after the weekly Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Ardern said employers of MIQ workers had until the end of the month to redeploy frontline workers who had refused a vaccine to another role.

With the marking of one year since the establishment of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities in New Zealand last Friday, Ardern thanked all those who worked there.

She said the strategy has been to ensure that all MIQ workers had a chance to be offered the vaccine before deploying them elsewhere if they did not.

On Tuesday last week as well as 31 March, she said, employers were asked to provide up to date information about the vaccination status of their workers. Workers on the front line are expected to be vaccinated by the end of April.

"The bar is very high, there is essentially no reason that we consider acceptable [to not be vaccinated and remain working in MIQ], because it is a facility where individuals are at risk, we feel an obligation to make sure they are looked after."

Guidance was issued on Wednesday last week for workers who remained unable or unwilling to be vaccinated.

"On March 23, efforts were stepped up requiring employers to have individual conversations with their workers, to record and identify their vaccination status, and provide support for those not yet vaccinated."

"By the end of April, those not yet vaccinated will not be permitted to work in high-risk workplaces and will be moved to other roles."

She said 3472 of the total 4010 MIQ workers had been vaccinated, leaving 538 unvaccinated.

"Our position has always been that from a certain date those who are not vaccinated will need to move from the frontline. That date was previously set as the 12 April through 30 April."

The vaccination campaign was the "biggest and most ambitious" in the country's history, she said. In tier one of the vaccination campaign, there are about 20,000 border workers and MIQ workers, plus their household contacts.

"In most cases it's upwards of 80 percent [vaccinated]," Ardern said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the figure for those included in tier one also may include contract workers or others involved in the border who did, for example, a couple of shifts at an MIQ facility or crewed an international flight but no longer did that work.

Covid-19 testing register to become mandatory for MIQ employers - Hipkins

Hipkins said employers would also soon be required to use a register supplying up-to-date information on employees' routine Covid-19 tests.

He said some employers had been using the register - with about 12,000 active border workers already on it - and others had been keeping their own records, but the order giving legal effect to making use of the register mandatory would come into effect soon.

"It is predominantly a data issue rather than an issue of people being tested," he said.

"We'll be able to have all of that information in a format that's easier to report... we've just gone through the process of getting the order in place. I haven't yet signed the order, I'm expecting that final order to come in the next 24 hours or so, then it will be signed and that notification will go out.

Ardern said there was also already a legal requirement on those employers to ensure their employees were tested.

Yesterday, a third worker at the Grand Millennium managed isolation facility in Auckland tested positive for Covid-19.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield this afternoon confirmed the worker had not been vaccinated, and said genomic testing showed a very clear and close link between all three cases.

The second Grand Millennium worker, a security guard, was also not vaccinated. Hipkins said he had no further information on why the security guard missed several appointments to be vaccinated.

"The second person [case of MIQ worker who was infected] my understanding is they had one appointment which they missed and that their second appointment which had been booked for them they were already isolating as a close contact."

At the 1pm media briefing, he said unvaccinated MIQ workers may still be working on the frontline for the next three weeks. He said unvaccinated workers had until the end of April to take up the offer of a vaccination or be redeployed.

Last week, Ardern announced conditions for quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand which will start from next Monday.

She also suspended travel from India for two weeks from 11 April to 28 April, the first time New Zealand has stopped citizens or residents from returning.

State memorial service for Prince Philip

Ardern this afternoon acknowledged the passing of Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip once again, and the variety of links he had to New Zealand.

She said a state memorial service for the Prince would take place in Wellington at 3pm on Wednesday, 21 April.

The date coincides with the Queen's actual birth date. Ardern said they had to consider not wanting to prolong the service for too long after the official funeral.

"We're also having to juggle investitures here in New Zealand, so there were some challenges but that was the closest proximity to the funeral that we were able to hold that event."

Tomorrow flags will fly at half-mast and the House will sit with party leaders expected to acknowledge the prince in speeches.

Prince Philip was known for making controversial, sometimes racially charged, statements that reflected a colonial attitude. However, Ardern said he spent his life in service.

"Through our history we will have challenging elements, the foundation of our history as a nation, but now also offers an opportunity for us to acknowledge the contribution of someone who ultimately - no matter anyone's opinion ... gave his entire life to the service of others."

She said politicians often came into public service knowing it would be for a period of time, but not the majority of their working life, "but for Prince Philip it was and he knew that and I think there's something very significant about that".

Misuse of Drugs Act overhaul

A host of health and social organisations - including the Medical Association, Public Health Association and Mental Health Foundation - have published an open letter, asking for drug use to be treated as a health issue, not a criminal one.

Ardern said she acknowledged the point being raised by the organisations, but police were now obliged to take a health-based approach unless it was not in the public interest.

She says as a result, there has been a real decline in those cases going to court with about 40 percent before for certain drugs, 20 percent for cannabis.

"What I'd like to do now is to dig into that into more detail. Is it achieving the goal we set, which was a health-based approach, or are we seeing a bit more of a subjective approach being taken, and that's a conversation I'd like to have with some of those organisations (which wrote the letter)."

She said it would be helpful if Parliament took a bipartisan approach to this issue.

"I really would challenge, for instance, the National Party to consider their position on this issue because they criticised us when we did that. I would like to see whether or not parliament can reach some consensus on these issues."

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