Travellers mingling with passengers from other flights, members of the public during Covid-19 isolation

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

Some returned Kiwis say New Zealand won't stay Covid-free for long if lax attitudes at managed isolation facilities continue.

Guests from different flights have been mingling at Auckland's Crowne Plaza hotel, have come into close-proximity with the public during daily walks, and guests say some have been receiving visitors.

The hotel is being used as a managed isolation facility by the Government.

Photos and video captured during daily walks shows members of the public sharing a narrow walkway with isolating hotel guests. In one video, a member of the public walks through a group of guests.

Another video shows guests from three different flights in close quarters in the hotel smoking room. One guest has eight days of isolation left, the other was leaving the next day, and said he was enjoying mingling with those who had just arrived.

Ben Carter, who’s returned from the Philippines, says the smoking room is about 2 x 4 square metres, and he couldn’t believe he was allowed to share it with two other people from different flights.

“I feel like I've been more exposed in this hotel than I have the whole time I spent in the Philippines,” Mr Carter says.

Another guest, Tim Viljoen, has returned from working on a Carnival cruise ship as a sanitation officer and says he was shocked by the lack of social distancing on walks and between people from different flights inside the hotel.

“Workers and general public are literally walking shoulder to shoulder past us and some of them are joining the group.

“If we are considered high risk or a potential threat to our fellow Kiwis, why are we mingling with them, why are we mixing people that come from different flights?”

Jarrah Tuoro, a nurse coming back from Australia, says she refuses to go for the daily walks because of the lack of social distancing, and she’s also concerned about what she’s seen inside the hotel, including people who appeared to be outside visitors.

“The other night we were coming through the lobby and there were two visitors who had obviously visited their family… The two security officers didn't even know they were inside.

“They came down with their two family members. The security asked if they were from the hotel, if they were part of the hotel isolation. They said, 'No, we're not. We were just visiting.' It was a bit alarming and I was quite angry about it, actually.”

The Ministry of Health told 1 NEWS from today managed exercise will be happening on the hotel grounds.

“We know that it is important to provide guests with the opportunity to get out of their hotel rooms for some fresh air and gentle exercise.

"With the move to Alert Level 1, the way outdoor exercise is facilitated is changing,” the ministry said.

The ministry also said guests are “provided with a booklet on arrival at managed isolation hotels which details the physical distancing requirements during their stay”.

“Signage at each facility reinforces this. Guests are reminded when necessary of the need to physically distance from those not in their bubble.”

Public health expert and epidemiologist Michael Baker says guests from different flights shouldn’t be mingling with each other or the public.

“Someone who's arrived might be incubating the disease. We know you can get transmission in a pre-symptomatic state so they could get infected from one of those newly arriving people and then they are walking out into the New Zealand community potentially incubating the disease at that point.

“We know that with this disease, silent transmission is an issue because some people get no symptoms or mild symptoms and then they can meet another person who also has mild symptoms and so it goes on, and then you have an outbreak.”

Dr Baker says Ministry of Health protocols won’t allow mingling, so they need to be properly applied. He also says one solution to the problem would be to normalise mask-wearing, especially when New Zealand starts opening up its borders.

“I think if you looked around the world at quarantine facilities that are managing people with a respiratory pathogen, they would all be wearing face masks.

“This is a basic requirement. The World Health Organisation has changed its policies recently to say face masks work. They source-control so you're less likely to put out respiratory droplets that can infect people.

“I would just expect that part of our protocol from managing our people arriving from overseas where the virus is still circulating will be wearing masks throughout that journey and on the aircraft, in the airport, and the transport and in the quarantine facilities when they were out and about.”

He says New Zealanders would be foolish to get complacent about Covid-19 just because there are currently no cases here.

“I think that if you look at the extent of infection and the very low level of immunity across the globe, we're only getting started on this pandemic. I'm amazed that people think a country like the US, with its current number of cases, that they've gone over the peak and they think they're coming down the other side. I think that's very far from true.”

Other concerns held by Crowne Plaza guests ranged from lack of temperature checks, to sanitation and the provided food.

The guests 1 NEWS spoke to all say they were told they would be receiving temperature checks every three days, but none have received a single one during their stays.

“We’ve been told we were going to get temperature-checked and we haven't been since we got off the plane,” Ms Tuoro says.

“It is alarming because infection control is a big part of my job. I'm a registered nurse - I have been for 12 years now… I see a lot of things that do concern me. I don’t have faith in the process.”

Mr Viljoen says he was so concerned about lack of regular sanitation in the hotel and the cold meals delivered to people’s rooms, he wrote an inspection report, as he would do in his sanitation job.

“The meals we are given always arrive cold, food temperature control is a basic thing. We don't want to be playing with norovirus, which can lead to acute gastric illness.

“Areas in the hotel and touch points should be getting sanitised but it is not getting done. I've visually seen and nothing has happened, no sanitation in that aspect is happening.”

Mr Viljoen says he raised his list of concerns with the hotel manager, to no avail.

“It didn't end up anywhere. Nothing was going to change… It seems like it’s just too hard and he's happy with the system.

“What I'm experiencing here is that relaxed attitude of, 'She'll be fine,' that whole attitude of, ‘We've got all the system in place, why would we be worried?”’

Mr Carter leaves mandatory isolation today, after isolating in the Philippines for three months before his arrival. He says he’s so concerned about the hotel’s process he’s going to self-isolate at home.

“I'm not going to jeopardize my son's safety or my grandson's safety by racing off out of here and giving them cuddles and kisses.”

The Crowne Plaza did not respond to 1 NEWS’ request for comment.