Covid 19 Delta outbreak: MIQ staff worried for safety as half of community cases flagged ‘high risk’ in police checks

Half of all Covid-infected community cases from the Delta outbreak were flagged as “high risk” in police safety checks and MIQ staff were worried about working in the facilities, according to newly released documents.

A briefing to Chris Hipkins, the Minister for Covid-19 response, on 24 September reveals officials told him that the management of a “number of high risk community individuals continues to be challenging” following the transmission of the virus which kept Auckland in lockdown.

By this time, new cases of Covid were spreading through members of some gangs in Auckland and their families, individuals living in transitional housing, and other marginalised communities.

“Approximately 5 per cent of people coming across the border usually warrant a high risk flag but approximately 50 per cent of the community cases currently are,” according to a weekly report to Hipkins from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“The health, wellbeing and safety of our staff remains front-of-mind, and we know that staff are worried about working in these new environments. New Zealand Police have provided some training for our staff on dealing with these sorts of cohorts (de-escalation techniques, etc).”

There were 222 community cases in 107 MIQ rooms at the time of the briefing, according to an MBIE spokeswoman, with another 24 border cases in 15 rooms.

The spokeswoman said the “high risk” flag came from “safety check” police assessments on everyone coming into MIQ facilities.

Government ministers and officials have been tight-lipped about Covid cases within gang communities, but the briefing to Hipkins about MIQ safety concerns was released this week under the Official Information Act.

Hipkins declined to release two other reports as the subject was a Cabinet paper on which final decisions have yet to be made.

“The reference to gang members and associates in these items is of a general nature relating to the role of Police in Managed Isolation and Quarantine, not any specific incident.”

Two weeks after the briefing raising the safety concerns of MIQ staff, the associate Health Minister Peeni Henare confirmed there had been issues at the Jet Park facility involving gangs where rooms had been trashed.

“I can confirm there has been a challenge there and troubles there. There has been a bit of vandalism, the extent of that I’m not completely sure,” Henare told the AM Show.

“This is obviously a disruption in our quarantine facility space and I know that the police have been engaged so that we can continue to keep the community safe while also stopping this kind of behaviour. It’s just not acceptable.”

Following Henare’s comments, Brigadier Rose King, the joint head of MIQ,confirmed five rooms at Jet Park had been damaged since the Delta outbreak.

“Of the five rooms, one room had significant damage including a double glazed window broken, hole punched in the door, curtain rail pulled down, broken chair, broken TV remote, phone and alarm clock.”

In her written statement, King said staff worked hard to make sure people staying at MIQ facilities were safe.

“Any poor behaviour by people in our facilities is taken very seriously. Staff are encouraged to raise any concerns directly with us.”

However, King did acknowledge the extra stress placed on people whose lives were interrupted by the unexpected need to enter quarantine facilities.

“Border returnees have time to mentally and physically prepare for their stay in MIQ. For community cases their time in MIQ is unplanned, at short notice and, understandably, can be incredibly stressful as they have to rearrange their lives at short notice.”

Extra police staff were rostered on to MIQ facilities, although one officer was allegedly kicked in the face by a gang associate who jumped the fence and escaped.

The 23-year-old was later arrested and charged.

Following these incidents, more exemptions were granted for positive Covid cases to be put in isolation at home instead of managed facilities. Security guards were posted at these addresses to stop them from leaving, although not always successfully.

Such decisions have infuriated the thousands of New Zealanders living overseas who want to come home but have been unable to secure a room in MIQ through the lottery system.

However, with the government shifting from an elimination strategy to suppression, Hipkins this week announced the 14-day stay in MIQ would end next month.

From 14 November, the managed isolation period for international arrivals into New Zealand will be reduced to seven days, followed by isolation at home until the result of a Covid test on the ninth day comes back negative.

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