9 Jul 2020

Permanent police presence at Covid-19 isolation facilities from today

2:07 pm on 9 July 2020

The government says there will be a permanent police presence at every managed isolation and quarantine facility in New Zealand from today, following this week's breach in central Auckland.

The government has provided an update on its response to the Covid-19 epidemic and the management of isolation facilities for people returning to the country.

Watch the latest update here:

The news that police will be at the facilities 24/7 comes after a 32-year-old man who was later found to have Covid-19 yesterday left an isolation hotel in Auckland and was outside the facility for 70 minutes.

It is the second escape from isolation; on Saturday a woman at the Pullman Hotel got out by climbing over a fence and absconded for about two hours before being found nearby.

Air Commodore Digby Webb said police have agreed to station a uniformed officer at each isolation and quarantine hotel and there will also be a lead security professional at each facility to ensure protocols are followed.

Webb said there were contracted guards on site 24/7 and "while they don't have powers to detain, they work closely with site staff and police to monitor any activity and respond to events".

A lead security position will also be at each managed isolation facility. They will be on site in the next 24-48 hours.

He said there will be no smoking ban at the facilities, but all smoking areas will be monitored 24/7. He said if they can not be monitored, the smoking areas will be closed.

He said they have advise from health officials that forcing someone to quit smoking is likely to cause them stress and increase aggressive behaviour.

Webb said all facilities that required fencing have had 6-foot high fencing installed.

Webb also gave a break-down of the movements of the man who left isolation to visit a central Auckland supermarket on Tuesday.

The man was logged into smoking area at 6.51pm and escaped via the fence section being replaced. He walked to the Countdown, taking a relatively indirect route arriving at 7.02pm. He spent 20 minutes there and then took a phone call for 22 minutes, which ended at 7.42pm. He then took an indirect route back to the hotel, arriving at 7.58pm.

During this time he walked along Albert Street, Customs St East, Queen St and Victoria Street West.

Police turned up at the supermarket at 9.30pm, after the man had returned to the hotel. Police and supermarket staff then looked through CCTV footage and a decision was made then to wipe down the surfaces and clean the surfaces the individual had come into contact with.

The Distinction Christchurch Hotel is being used as a one of the isolation facilities.

All hotels being used for managed isolation will now have police officers on site 24/7 Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Isolation breachers 'don't deserve to join the team of five million'

Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, said they had been working hard to build a safer, stronger exemptions process.

She repeated what the Minister of Health said yesterday saying: "Anyone who chooses to break out of these facilities is committing a reckless act of selfishness and we will come down on them with the full weight of the law.

"They don't deserve to join the team of five million."

She said nearly 30,000 New Zealanders have been through these facilities and have complied with the rules.

She said people can apply for an exemption for exceptional circumstances such as medical exemptions, and exemptions for other reasons but those have been suspended since 16 June while assessment compliance was being worked on.

She said applicants would need to return a negative Covid-19 test before approval is granted.

A Covid-19 exemption compliance team within MB is being established and a strengthened assessment process is being put in place, Woods said.

She said that included a health assessment to determine the urgency of the request and any health risks the applicant may present.

"Those in quarantine facilities would be highly unlikely to be considered low-risk in the context of an exemption application."

She said legal work was also being worked on around this.

Webb said the country had now seen 27,723 New Zealanders return home and go through managed isolation and quarantine since 26 March.

There are currently 5648 people in managed isolation and quarantine.

Speaking about the man who escaped from managed isolation in Auckland on Tuesday, Webb said: "This individual breached rules and he will be charged as a result.

"Everyone who goes into managed isolation knows the rules and over 99.97 percent of them have followed those rules without any problems... this individual didn't and there are consequences to that.

"We'll never be able to entirely remove the risk of someone making a choice to break the law, this is true in managed isolation just as it is in general society."

However he said it was his job to make sure that the law was backed up by as many preventative measures as possible.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19