Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the government is looking into longer-term options for managed isolation and quarantine.
Hipkins told Morning Report the government was considering options of buying or leasing some of the existing facilities used for MIQ, or setting up new ones.
“We’ve been looking at a range of options and it may be that we look to continue with some of our facilities in the longer term, whether that’s buying them, whether it’s leasing them, whether it’s doing something different,” he said.
“We may look at standing up some different looking facilities. Again, those are longer-term options, bearing in mind that to build a facility takes quite some time, but I think we are likely to need this capability and capacity for some time. Although it might look a bit different, we might not do as much of it I think we’re still likely to need some of it.”
Hipkins said any new facilities may look similar to hotel-based MIQ services but would be heavily adapted to provide longer term quarantine capabilities.
The minister would not comment on whether any property had been identified for long term use, but outlined some of the factors that could affect the location.
“I think we would avoid the central city, but we wouldn’t want to be too far out of a major population area. The reason for that is you still have to staff the facilities, you still have to have people working in them and if you put them in the middle of nowhere that becomes very, very challenging and very difficult,” he said.
“The facilities we have out by the airport in Auckland, for example, have served us very well. They’ve often got quite big outdoor spaces that mean you don’t have to bus people to get their daily fresh air exercise. So, the CBD ones in Auckland, they’ve been more challenging for that reason.”
Hipkins said customisation of MIQ facilities had so far been limited to customising air conditioning systems and changing the way people moved through the buildings.
However, if the facilities were going to be used for a longer period than expected, further customisation would be needed.
Government Covid-19 business adviser Rob Fyfe believes it is time to look at purpose-built isolation facilities.
Fyfe said he was among many, including fully vaccinated people, who could not travel offshore as MIQ spots were booked up, meaning he would not be able to get back into New Zealand.
He had been hearing from the business community that the scarcity of places in MIQ was having an impact on their ability to send staff overseas and that and companies were unable to recruit foreign workers, particularly for critical roles.
A long-term solution was needed, he told Checkpoint.
“I think we need something more than requisitioned hotel rooms and we’re seeing a number of countries now around the world now starting to invest in dedicated MIQ facilities. I think that’s absolutely something we need to be exploring as a country.”