Pullman Hotel Managed Isolation facility reopens

Published: 16 February 2021

The Pullman Hotel managed isolation facility reopened to returnees this morning, following an intensive deep cleaning process, a thorough investigation by health officials and changes to its operating model, says Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Brigadier Jim Bliss.

The carefully considered reopening follows a series of actions taken in response to recent cases who tested positive after completing managed isolation at the Pullman.

“The health and wellbeing of returnees and staff at this facility has been a top priority,” Brigadier Bliss said.

“That’s why the facility was completely emptied of returnees while health officials investigated the recent cases, and an intensive deep cleaning process was carried out.

“We have carefully considered the findings from the investigation, the actions taken since the cases were detected and have deemed it’s safe for returnees to return to what has been a very important facility for our response.

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

“Investigations into the cases are ongoing and it’s possible we may never identify the exact cause of transmission but it’s believed there were 3 separate events.

“Genome sequencing confirmed all three cases had the variant first identified in South Africa and current research suggests that this and other new variants are more transmissible than previous variants.

“There is increasing evidence people can get infected if very small droplets remain suspended in the air. The risk of this sort of airborne transmission becomes higher in closed spaces with poor ventilation.

“The reports indicate that multiple factors contributed to the cases around the Pullman. The Ministry of Health has provided advice to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - who are responsible for Managed Isolation and Quarantine - on how the Pullman and its 272 rooms can safely be reopened.

“Those recommendations focused primarily on ventilation, the hotel’s lifts and reducing the amount of movement around the facility. All the recommendations have been actioned and health advice is that the facility is safe to re-open.

Actions are:

  • changes have been made to the way the Pullman’s corridor ventilation system is used, following an assessment of the ventilation system
  • corridor ventilation will operate 24 hours a day, as opposed to the 2 hours a day at the time of these incidents. This will significantly reduce the risk of airborne transmission
  • returnees will be advised to close all windows and trickle vents in their rooms before they open their door. This will encourage air to move from the corridor into the room, rather than having the air going out into the shared corridor
  • returnees will be limited in the times they are permitted to leave their rooms to set schedules. The upgrade of the Pullman’s CCTV system, which is now complete, will help monitor compliance with these movement restrictions
  • lifts are considered one of the most high-risk common areas in the facility. Air filtration systems will be installed in the lifts over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, the use of these lifts will be reduced to significantly mitigate this risk

“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.

“While the Pullman has been unavailable, MIQ have been holding back cancelled vouchers that would normally have been returned to the system. From today these vouchers will start to be released again.

“The Pullman will operate at 50% capacity for the first 2 weeks, while air filtration is being installed in the lifts,” said Brigadier Bliss.

 “I would like to acknowledge the entire Pullman MIQ team for their efforts getting ready for the reopening today and say thanks to all of those New Zealanders trying to get home for their patience while this facility was off-line.

“The Pullman is a very important facility for our response. It has consistently performed highly in infection prevention and control audits and receives excellent feedback from returnees. It will be good to see it return to full capacity soon.

“MIQ has always been about continuous improvement. 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.”

Recommendations and actions taken at the Pullman

Lifts

  • Air filtration system in lifts being installed over next few weeks
  • Reduction in use of lifts through reduced movement overall
  • As an interim measure, reducing capacity at the Pullman to 50% for the first returnee cycle
  • Occupying the lower levels of the Pullman to reduce the duration of time returnees spend in the lifts
  • As an additional risk mitigation, hand sanitising stations will be place inside each lift at the Pullman
  • Staff will be advised to use the service lifts when they are not accompanying a returnee.

Restricting movement around the facility

  • Significantly reducing returnee movements throughout the facility through a booking system for exercise and smoking, and conducting health checks and COVID-19 testing from the doors of returnees’ rooms
  • This will allow for 20 – 30 minute time slots to be booked, which includes travel time to and from the exercise/smoking areas
  • Returnees will not be permitted to leave their room (except for in emergencies) outside of their scheduled exercise/smoking times
  • Stop smoking support, including Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) such as nicotine patches or gum, will be available to returnees who smoke.

Review of protocols around moving positive cases out of the Pullman and into Jet Park quarantine facility

  • A review of the movement of returnees with a positive test, who are moved to the Jet Park is being conducted to ensure maximum time/space distance from other returnees.

Post-departure testing and self-isolation

  • Health officials have reviewed post departure measures and recommended strengthening the current post departure Wellbeing Check conducted in the week following departure.

Day 12 ‘stay in room’ order

  • As a temporary measure, from 3 February 2021, people who have had their Day 12 test are required to stay in their rooms until their designated departure time. This is being reviewed but will stay in place for at least one month until we are confident that the other additional protocols have been implemented in order to achieve the required risk reduction.

PPE

  • Updating the personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance for MIQF staff to require the use of N95/P2 particulate respirators during any close interaction with a returnee (implemented – note that this has wider applications than the Pullman and applies to MIQF staff across the system.

Other actions taken

This year the Government has also introduced:

  • Pre-departure testing within 72 hours of departure for all countries (except Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands) from 25 January
  • Day 0/1 testing in all MIQ facilities from 18 January.