MIQ in Rotorua 'imposed' and 'unfair' - Raukawa-Tait

By Contributor

By Felix Desmarais, Local Democracy Reporter

In its last meeting before dissolution, a Lakes District Health Board (DHB) member has taken a final swing at the government over managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), saying it was "imposed" on the city.

The government has previously said the primary objective of MIQ was to keep Covid-19 out of the community and keep returnees and staff safe, and it took local matters into consideration.

Lakes DHB - along with all DHBs - will be disestablished on 1 July when it merges into the national Health NZ and Māori Health Authority. The board's meeting on 17 June was its last.

Board member Merepeka Raukawa-Tait made the comments after chief executive Nick Saville-Wood's report to the board, which contained a list of achievements since Lakes DHB's creation.

In that report, Saville-Wood said the board had undergone the "unenviable task of managing a global pandemic".

"Rotorua was selected to have managed isolation facilities which has also diverted significant DHB resources into staffing the three sites.

"[It was] also the largest concentration by head of population of MIQs in the country.

"These were set up and ran effectively at very short notice, which is a testament to the staff who were asked to run them."

In the meeting, Raukawa-Tait said she did not think the impact three managed isolation and quarantine facilities had on the organisation's "resources and management time" could be underestimated.

"That was imposed on us, that wasn't what we wanted, we didn't know we were going to be asked to accept the establishment of three MIQ [facilities] in Rotorua."

She said the government's request was "basically an edict".

"It comes down on us. [The government] fail to realise that we still have to try and do everything else in the community, which is to ... get our community vaccinated, to do the planning for that.

"Thank god we didn't take our eye off the ball, but in a time of stress, the government needs to recognise they just added more stress to our organisation and to our staff.

"I actually think it was unfair, I think we did the best that we did, thank goodness we did so."

She said the DHB had to divert staff from the hospital to MIQ "at a time when we needed everyone on board".

Covid-19 Response Minister Ayesha Verrall, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Ministry of Health were approached for comment.

A Ministry of Health spokesman previously said the organisation was aware of the various demands made of the health workforce in its contribution to MIQ and it was a consideration in establishing MIQ facilities.

Previous MBIE joint head of managed isolation and quarantine Megan Main had said the Ministry engaged with local stakeholders over managed isolation facilities and considerations included a lot of complex issues, such as operations support, suitability of hotels and proximity to hospital facilities and appropriate transport hubs.

At the time, she said "the primary objective" was to operate MIQ in a way that ensured Covid-19 stayed out of the community and kept returnees and staff safe.

She said MBIE also considered potential impacts on housing and economic activity, including tourism.

One managed isolation hotel remains in Rotorua - the Sudima, which will return to regular operations after 30 June.

The Ibis and Rydges hotels were also managed isolation facilities before winding up earlier this year. The three hotels had 535 spots for returnees.

In August Local Democracy Reporting revealed the government was investigating additional managed isolation facilities in a number of locations, including Rotorua.

At a meeting that month, the board unanimously agreed to advise MBIE - which runs managed isolation facilities - to not establish a fourth facility in the city.

Local MPs Todd McClay, Rawiri Waititi and Rotorua-based Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey showed an allegiance on the issue, speaking out against it with the DHB.

In September, the government decided it would establish a new facility in Christchurch, specifically ruling out Rotorua, saying that was due to "health and MIQ workforce constraints".

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air