Saturday, 6 Mar 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: How much the Government is spending to upgrade quarantine hotels

The government is spending millions of dollars upgrading managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

These efforts have been further ramped up after a number of close calls, which have seen the virus move from quarantine facilities into the community.

Head of managed isolation and quarantine Brigadier Jim Bliss told the Herald indications were the final spend of this project will be close to $6.45 million.

Most of these costs will be covered by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, but the installation of air filtration systems in the lifts at the Pullman will be covered by the Ministry of Health.

“Work has been under way to progressively enhance technology security solutions at all 32 managed isolation and quarantine facilities, with additional systems including CCTV, alarms on doors and other initiatives,” said Bliss.

These upgrades became urgent following a string of recent cases who tested positive after completing managed isolation at the Pullman.

An extensive investigation of the processes and facilities at the Pullman led to a number of recommendations to ensure those lapses did not occur in the future.

The measures that have since been taken include an improvement of the Pullman ventilation system, an upgrade to CCTV systems and improvements to air filtration systems in elevators.

The exiting contracts between MIQ facilities and the Government provided a clause allowing for the installation of equipment or technology for the purposes of security monitoring, but the Government had to negotiate separately with the Pullman regarding the installation of additional ventilation.

A spokesman told the Herald the agreements would be revised in the next contracting round to account for any changes needed to ventilation.

“The Pullman has however been extremely cooperative in the review of ventilation and the associated upgrades,” an MIQ spokesperson told the Herald.

They’ve also introduced stricter protocols for guests staying at the hotel, such as set schedules on when they can and can’t leave their rooms and recommendations on how to ensure better control of the flow of air from rooms into common areas.

“All of these measures are on top of already robust infection prevention and control measures which include physical distancing, the use of masks, hand sanitising and enhanced cleaning protocols in shared and high movement areas,” said Bliss.

The lessons learnt from the Pullman mishap are now also being applied more broadly across the other quarantine facilities being used.

“MIQ has always been about continuous improvement,” said Bliss.

“We are a learning organisation and what we have learned at the Pullman has resulted in us refining processes across all 32 facilities – all with the aim of protecting returnees, staff and all New Zealanders.”

It was yesterday announced that the Pullman had reopened to returnees, with the hotel initially operating at 50 per cent capacity while air filtration is installed in the lifts.

The intention is to have the hotel functioning at full capacity after two weeks.

“Having the Pullman back online means the flow of Kiwis returning to New Zealand can continue without impediment,” Bliss said.

The expense of upgrading the hotels is over and above the ongoing cost of cleaning the hotels.

Deep cleaning has been set as a standard part of the contracts that the Government has signed with the establishments that agreed to function as quarantine and isolation facilities over the course of the pandemic.

The Government has not yet publicly released figures on professional cleaning services for the quarantine facilities.

These costs are contingent on necessity and will continue to grow for as long as quarantine facilities remain an integral part of the strategy to keep the community safe during the pandemic.

Cleaning staff working at these facilities face enormous risk, given recent studies showing that Covid-19 can remain viable for 24 to 72 hours depending on the surface.

Given the risks involved, the Government has made a commitment to ensure cleaners, nurses, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers are among the first to be vaccinated in the rollout of the roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The level of risk involved is not, however, reflected in the wages of cleaning staff.

E tū union organiser Mat Danaher told the Herald that while the government had made a commitment to ensure security staff are paid a living wage, the same had not yet been afforded to cleaning staff.

“We view the cleaning staff as health workers and the MIQ locations as health facilities,” Danaher said.

The Government has also made a broader commitment to extending living wage guarantees to contractors in the public sector, but Danaher said this still wasn’t the case for cleaners at MIQ facilities.

This means that many cleaners are still earning the minimum wage of $18 per hour, despite the high risk involved in the work (the minimum wage is set to increase to $20 in April).

New Zealand’s living wage currently sits at $22.10.

“We would like to see the living wage process sped up for MIQ workers,” Danaher said.

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