One year ago today managed isolation became mandatory for travellers arriving into New Zealand.
The joint heads of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ), Megan Main and Brigadier Jim Bliss, have paid tribute to the efforts of those who’ve contributed to the past year of MIQ.
Ms Main said the need for large-scale accommodation quickly became apparent in late March 2020 when the border was closed and Kiwis flooded home.
“Fifteen hotels were quickly contracted in Auckland and by 9 April 2020, when the Prime Minister announced managed isolation was compulsory, we had 18 hotels to house returning Kiwis. We now have 32 facilities, across 5 regions, with an operational capacity of 4,500 rooms, supporting up to 6,200 returnees over a 14 day period,” she said.
“Over the last 12 months we’ve seen major changes to the MIQ workforce. Our hotel staff have demonstrated extraordinary ingenuity and adaptability has been pivotal to our success. Defence Force, Police, Aviation Security, private security, health and wellbeing support staff round out a high performing, agile and responsive workforce of around 4,000 people on any given day.”
She said that for many agencies, their role in MIQ was over and above an already very demanding workload.
“The health workforce for example is already flat out delivering our health system plus rolling out the vaccination programme,” she said.
“Back in the beginning, MIQ was managed by the Ministry of Health. In July 2020 we became an entire business unit within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The work we do today goes hand in hand with the work done by the All-of-Government Response Group, the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards, as well as our iwi and local government partners.
“MIQ workers have been at the absolute frontline of keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand, and they have made considerable personal sacrifices to make sure the wider community is safe. Thanks to their efforts we’ve now seen over 130,000 people through MIQ. They do a fantastic job and I want to personally thank every worker who’s contributed to what has undeniably been a world-leading effort.
“The past year has been one of continuous learning, evolving and improving as the global situation developed and more was learned about the virus. There was no playbook for this – we’ve been building this plane while we’ve been flying it – often responding to very volatile and unpredictable circumstances.
“Of course, things haven’t always gone smoothly. ‘Absconders’ became a new, and unfortunately, more familiar term in our national lexicon. Between 5 and 11 July 2020 four returnees escaped – a very small number when compared with the total number of returnees. But, as has been the case throughout, our team has learned fast, identified and then plugged the gaps,” she said.
Brigadier Bliss, who has been in his MIQ role for nearly four months, also paid tribute to those who have been seconded at some time to work in MIQ over the past year, including his predecessor Air Commodore Darryn (Digby) Webb.
“I’d also like to acknowledge the resilience of returning Kiwis who have arrived from all corners of the globe, sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances. They have had considerable restrictions on their movement and contact with the outside world, but they have stoically completed their 14 days of managed isolation and where necessary, quarantine,” he said.
“They have all played a really important part.
“MIQ is a cornerstone of New Zealand’s elimination strategy. Looking back on where we were on this day one year ago to where we are now defies belief.
“Over the past 12 months we’ve developed consistent, documented procedures and training, improved security systems like the CCTV upgrade, ongoing enhancement of our infection, prevention and control protocols as well as designing a bespoke voucher booking system and developing exemption and emergency allocation processes.
“We have also established complex logistics and ground transport arrangements. These systems include surface movement via buses from Auckland to Rotorua and Hamilton, an air charter service via Air New Zealand down to Wellington and Christchurch along with the movement of maritime arrivals to and from the main ports, to the small craft arrivals into Opua down to our facilities in Auckland.
“MIQ has grown into a massive logistical exercise which runs incredibly smoothly and has served our country very well,” he said.
MIQ is now entering its next phase with Quarantine Free Travel with Australia opening and vaccines increasingly available in New Zealand and overseas.