Chris Hipkins denies MIQ standards slipping after Covid-19 cases and illicit rendevous

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A wine delivery, a note penned on the back of a facemask and a 20-minute bedroom “encounter” have spelled the end of a managed isolation staffer’s job.

The Grand Millennium Hotel, which is being used as a managed isolation facility, in Auckland CBD.

The illicit rendezvous with a returnee happened at the Grand Millennium (pictured) in central Auckland.
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

However, minister for the Covid-19 response Chris Hipkins refutes there are slipping standards at the border facilities, where authorities are also investigating the transmission of Covid-19 between Pullman Hotel guests.

The illicit rendezvous with a returnee happened at the Grand Millennium in central Auckland on 7 January, and came to light at today’s 1pm Covid-19 briefing.

Hipkins said the worker entered a guest’s room to deliver a bottle of wine after exchanging notes, and stayed for 20 minutes.

“I didn’t enquire into specifically, the nature of the encounter, but there was a 20 minute encounter. That was enough for me to know it was unacceptable,” he said.

While the encounter isn’t thought to have put others at risk, it’s been chided as “irresponsible” and “incredibly disappointing” by the head of managed isolation and quarantine Brigadier Jim Bliss, who said the security measures at the hotel meant the incident was detected quickly.

A hotel manager realised the worker had not returned, and a hotel security manager located them in the room.

Bliss said they were immediately sent home and instructed to self-isolate and be tested, before being given a formal written warning by police.

Both the worker and the returnee had returned negative test results both before and after the incident.

“We’re not aware of any other reports of situations like this between staff and returnees,” Bliss said.

“There is absolutely no room for complacency for those inside our managed isolation and quarantine facilities.”

Hipkins said the staffer had been sanctioned, and he also reassured it was a “one-off”.

Chris Hipkins

Chris Hipkins.
Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

“We’re dealing with human beings. We ask everybody to the standards that we put in place. I cannot control the actions of that individual but we absolutely make clear what the rules are and when people breach the rules there are consequences,” he said.

“Obviously I asked for that to be fully investigated and for appropriate action to be taken. I understand that appropriate action has been taken and that person is no longer working for managed isolation.”

There are no new community cases of Covid-19 today, however, authorities have revealed there are two other people who they believe caught the virus in the Pullman Hotel – rather than overseas.

They were staying on the same floor and have the South African variant strain of the virus.

Hipkins admitted there was “something going on at the Pullman”.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said stricter measures were in place until more was known.

“No new arrivals are going in… a significant restriction on movement outside of rooms for everybody, and no movement outside of rooms once people have had that final test at day 12,” he said.

In other new rules, those leaving the Pullman Hotel must isolate at home and have a follow up test five days later, while testing of staff is being ramped up and the ventilation systems are being upgraded.

Pullman guests will only be able to exercise in limited numbers, with people who were on their flight.

Curbs have also been put on smoking sessions – which are now capped at 10 minutes and a maximum of two people at a time, who are from the same flight.

No wider restrictions

Outside isolation, with no new community cases, today’s 1pm briefing granted the green light to thousands of holidaymakers, and concert-goers with Auckland anniversary weekend plans.

After a frazzling week for organisers, Auckland International Buskers Festival, Chinese New Year Festival and Auckland Folk Festival will continue in the freedom of Alert Level 1.

Next week, the first of more than 200 Auckland Pride events will kick off across the city.

Relieved festival director Max Tweedie said organisers were aware just how quickly the situation can change.

“Worst case scenario is we have one of the 1pm or 4pm updates in the middle of the festival and events that evening have to change the style of the events, or the way they run, with any new Alert Level settings. So we’re prepared.”

Dr Bloomfield is urging people to keep using the Covid Tracer App and stay home if they’re sick.

Advice from the Ministry of Health in regards to recent cases in community:

  • The recent cases of Covid-19 in Auckland and Northland have been linked to Managed Isolation and Quarantine. There is no evidence so far that suggests community transmission.
  • The locations visited by the recent cases can be found on the Ministry of Health website
  • To help stamp out Covid-19, it’s important the right people isolate and get tested.
  • If you were at the locations of interest at the times stated, you need to; isolate away from others, call Healthline 0800 358 5453 for advice on when and where to get tested, and remain isolated until you have a negative test result.
  • If you were not at a location of interest at the stated times and you have no symptoms you do not need to be tested.
  • If you were not at any of the locations of interest at the stated times, but you have symptoms, call Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453
  • If you are going to get tested, remember you may have to queue. Please take food and water and continue to be kind to each other and our public health team.
  • Everyone should continue to scan QR codes using the COVID Tracer app and turn Bluetooth on to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

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