Security guards fall asleep on the job at isolation hotels

Author
Amelia Wade, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 Aug 2020, 2:20PM
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Security guards fall asleep on the job at isolation hotels

Author
Amelia Wade, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 5 Aug 2020, 2:20PM

There have been seven instances of security guards falling asleep on the job, Housing Minister Megan Woods says.

All incidents have been investigated, she told media during an update on isolation hotels for Kiwis returning to New Zealand.

"It's a system were running and it's run by humans," said Air Commodore Darren Webb, who is also overseeing the facilities.

However, he said it was unacceptable.

"This is serious business and we want to make sure people are fully aware of the expectations," he said.

There was another attempted breach recently where someone tried to walk out the front door but was stopped by a security guard and NZDF and police were called.

The person was handcuffed and taken back to their room and it was made clear to them "in no uncertain terms" that they couldn't leave, said Webb.

Woods said the welcome pack each returnee received had information about mental health options for them because they recognised the stress some of these people were under.

Woods said there had been some individual cases where "intense wraparound" support was called in for some people.

Woods said they were seeing more and more instances of people requiring mental health support than at the beginning of the border facilities operations.

They were working with the health ministry on what support was needed and what warning signs they should be looking for, said Woods.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield was "acutely aware" of the mental health issues, she said.

Woods said the law to charge Kiwis returning to New Zealand has now passed all stages and the fees will come into force mid-August.

The charges will help manage the flow of people coming into the country and recoup some of the costs of the operation, she said.

It comes as New Zealand reported two new Covid-19 cases in managed isolation.

People will be able to apply for a waiver for financial hardships and fees being waived for compassionate grounds.

Unpaid debts for the border hotels will be recovered through the courts, said Woods.

More than 35,000 Kiwis return home

More than 35,000 people have now come through border isolation facilities, Webb said.

More security measures have been put in place after the escapes, including 28 licensed site security managers spread across each hotel.

There is also an induction programme for staff working at the hotels and more technology is being used including CCTV, door alarms and motion detection, said Webb.

Bids to be exempt from quarantine

There have been "a lot" of exemption requests come in but only a very few have been accepted with every application is looked over by Webb.

Webb said it was important returnees remember the 14 days isolation is a mainstay to the Covid-19 response and people should factor it into their plans.

Webb said it was "highly unlikely" people would be granted an exemption so urged returnees to factor in the 14 days into their plans. Between 10 and 15 per cent of compassionate exemptions are granted.

Webb said having waivers was important to the system being allowed under the Bill of Rights Act.

Woods said they didn't have plans to change the charging system at the moment.

"I can't give a cast-iron guarantee about what this will look like in 12 or 24 months."

Woods said they couldn't give certainty because "no one knows" how long the border measures will need to be in place for.

Webb said his job was to make sure people inside those facilities were kept as safe as possible.

"And we think we're doing a pretty good job."

Webb said "we've scoured the country" for facilities fit for managed isolation and there are "very few remaining".

The Government said it was looking at opportunities for isolation like more bespoke options for different groups, said Woods.

Queenstown, for example, had enough large hotels but didn't have enough mental health and health support as it has just a 10 person hospital.

Turning down tests

Woods said they were working to assess "how big a problem" it is about how many people were declining day three tests before they introduced more measures for those people.

Woods said "everything we're doing" at the border facilities was to mitigate the risk of a second wave of Covid-19.

Woods said she and Webb made a point to ask staff at the hotels if they felt safe.

Webb said "we fell we've struck that balance about right" between allowing people out of their rooms safely and keeping them in their rooms for 14 days straight.

The charges - who will pay what?

The newly-passed law will see anyone who leaves the country after the end of this week and any Kiwi coming into New Zealand for less than 90 days charged $3100 per room in managed isolation.

It would cost $950 for each extra adult and $475 per child.

The costs recoup just under half of the $5700 it costs taxpayers on average to put someone through a 14 day forced isolation. About $500 million has been set aside for the operation until the end of the year.

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill sets the framework for the charge and would allow the Government of the day to set the price returnees pay.

National supports the bill but wants to see a higher cost for returnees.