Reports into the in-facility transmission of COVID-19 at the Grand Millennium and Grand Mercure managed isolation facilities in Auckland earlier this year have been released today.
Joint head of managed isolation and quarantine, Brigadier Jim Bliss, says a number of recommendations have been made, which he welcomes, and action in response is well underway.
While it has not been possible to conclude with absolute certainty where and how transmission occurred, the reports conclude aerosol transmission is regarded as the most plausible pathway.
"MIQ has served New Zealand well, helping to bring more than 140,000 people here safely, while protecting freedoms that we all now enjoy," says Brigadier Bliss.
"The MIQ system is something that continually evolves and changes – which reflects the changing nature of the COVID-19 virus. As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, we review incidents to ensure we capture any learnings and make any necessary changes. We also work proactively with other external agencies, like the Ombudsman, who regularly review MIQ.
"We, along with the Ministry of Health, have taken a really close look at what went on with these cases in March and April, not least to see how we can strengthen the wider MIQ system. Each of the reports includes a number of recommendations for improvements, which are either complete or underway," he says.
"This includes emptying out both the Grand Mercure and Grand Millennium and completing full, on-site assessments of the ventilation at these sites. The two facilities will remain unoccupied until such time as the necessary work has been completed.
"A programme of extensive reviews and remediation of ventilation systems across all managed isolation facilities is underway. Remediation work at the Grand Mercure is almost complete. An extensive assessment of the Grand Millennium’s ventilation system has been done and a remediation plan is being developed," Brigadier Bliss says.
The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, says returnees to New Zealand and the wider community could feel confident in the MIQ system.
"I want to reassure the New Zealand public that the overall risks to returnees of contracting COVID-19 within one of our managed isolation or quarantine facilities and taking it into the community has been, and continues to be, assessed by public health experts as very low.
"It’s important to understand that we don’t rely on a single layer of protection to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have multiple layers of defence at our border and inside MIQ that work together to create barriers and safeguards that protect returnees, border workers and the wider community. That’s why so many people have been able to go through MIQ, with only a very small number of incidents such as these. Where ever they occur, we investigate and make any required changes. As part of this process, the Ministry of Health undertakes regular infection prevention and control audits of the MIQ facilities, and any recommendations are actioned.
"The reviewers themselves noted that, whilst the reviews focused on outlining necessary improvements as a result of the incidents, it is in fact the success of the wider MIQ system that has been integral to the nation’s success in keeping COVID-19 largely out of our communities," he says.
The report’s authors noted that it’s important to place the recommendations within the context of the hard work and sacrifice of New Zealand’s border workers.
"The Review Team said they observed teams of people who are committed to keeping COVID-19 out of our communities, and that it’s important that their resilience and dedication is recognised. I wholeheartedly agree with their comment," says Brigadier Bliss.
"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. 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."