Update on Grand Millennium and Grand Mercure Managed Isolation facilities

Published: 19 April 2021

Following recent positive COVID-19 cases at 2 Auckland Managed Isolation facilities, the joint Ministry of Health and Managed Isolation and Quarantine Technical Advisory Group has been conducting reviews into potential sources of transmission. This will include an investigation of ventilation.

The Technical Advisory Group has now reported back. It’s recommendation is to pause the arrival of any further returnees into the Grand Mercure and Grand Millennium. This took effect last week (14 April) and will stay in place until the outcome of the ventilation reviews are known, which is expected to be the end of April. This will allow contractors full access to both facilities and for any remediation to occur.

The group has also recommended that all returnees currently at the Grand Mercure be tested at day 7 of their stay, in addition to other testing.

As the Ministry of Health advised the Health Select Committee last week, we have learned over recent months that, with the new variants of the virus, aerosol transmission is playing a greater role than was observed initially. As the virus changes and adapts, so does MIQ, so a lot of work has been going into investigating the role ventilation may play in airborne transmissions. New Zealand is actually playing a role in contributing to the science around this, as our managed isolation and quarantine facilities are such controlled environments.

The risk presented by ventilation systems has always been assessed by health experts as very low and the overall risks to returnees and staff of contracting COVID-19 within MIQ facilities has been and remains extremely low. Nevertheless, we have made investments in our facilities to address the risk that the ventilation systems may be presenting with regards to transmission of COVID-19.

Risks are reduced through identifying positive cases early – this is why we introduced day 0/1 testing in January. Attention to infection, prevention and control procedures and protocols regarding returnee movements, vaccination of MIQ staff and regular testing provide additional safeguards to reduce transmission should there be a case identified within an MIQ facility.

New Zealand has a model of acting cautiously, a model which has worked well for us as a country and has enabled us to enjoy unprecedented freedoms in the midst of this global pandemic. It has also seen over 132,000 returnees safely transit through managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Returnees currently in the facilities will continue with their isolation and leave after their 14 day stay provided they meet low risk indicators. There are currently 83 returnees at the Grand Millennium - all will have exited on 21 April. The 141 returnees currently in the Grand Mercure will be required to have a day seven test and will all have exited on 27 April.

This will result in a reduction in capacity of 652 rooms (which equates to approximately 900 returnees). The introduction of quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is expected to free up between 1,000-1,300 rooms in MIQ facilities each fortnight. Government is considering a range of options for the use of these rooms but, between this and our contingency, we’re confident we can manage these 2 facilities going offline for a period.

The health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, returnees and all New Zealanders is at the centre of every decision that is being made.

With COVID-19 raging around the world, and some countries seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases a day, our MIQ system is central to keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand. It’s a system that has served our country well. It can always be better though and we are committed to continually improving it.

Joint Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Brigadier Jim Bliss