By Ben Strang for RNZ
Two staff members are among those who have breached Covid-19 infection prevention rules at quarantine facilities since the current community outbreak began.
The staff members were found to not be wearing masks appropriately while caring for hundreds of people who have confirmed cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Joint head of managed isolation and quarantine Brigadier Rose King said there have been eight reported “bubble breaches” at specialist quarantine facilities since the outbreak began.
That does not include the incident where a Covid-19 positive community case absconded from the Novotel and Ibis in Ellerslie on Wednesday evening.
“Auckland bubble breaches include incidences such as a staff member wearing their mask incorrectly, and separately another staff member wearing an incorrect mask,” Brigadier King said.
“Both were reminded of PPE protocols.”
There was no mention of further repercussions for the staff members.
King said there were other breaches in Auckland.
“A person was dropped off and entered a facility without an escort, in this case correct PPE was worn, and no other people including staff were encountered.
“Further incidents have been people leaving their room to go to another room to pick up, or pass on items; and one person leaving their room for a smoke break without an escort.
“All people involved were reminded of protocol around opening doors and transiting through hallways without an escort.”
In Wellington, there were two breaches where people were found in parts of the hotel they were not meant to be in, and were reminded of protocols afterwards.
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said the breaches by staff were of particular concern.
“We have to assume that everyone at these facilities is potentially infectious, so any breach is of concern because it could provide a pathway for this virus to go from one of those infected returnees into the community,” Baker said.
“And of course it’s even more important at the moment because rather than having perhaps 20 to 30 people in our MIQ system, we’ve got hundreds of infected people in the system in Auckland at the moment because so many people have been infected in the community.
“This is really going to be straining our system at the moment, so it’s even more important than usual that very good practices are followed by the staff and that they make sure that people staying at these facilities are following these precautions.”
Staff in quarantine facilities are fully vaccinated, and should be wearing full PPE at all times, when inside the quarantine hotels.
The majority of staff are able to head home after a shift, and use facilities in the community such as supermarkets or service stations.
It comes as staff whom RNZ has talked to say they are coming into contact with more infected people than they would like, and rates of breaches appear higher than throughout the rest of the pandemic.
They say people generally enter MIQ under a level of choice, having flown to New Zealand, and are partially prepared for their two weeks of isolation.
But the people in quarantine now have not had time to prepare, and are struggling to deal with the rules.
RNZ has been told by staff in Auckland that rule breaking, be it purposeful or accidental, has increased.
King said the numbers are still low.
“Bubble breaches do happen from time-to-time inside MIQ,” King said.
“In the context of almost 170,000 people having been through MIQ so far, the numbers are relatively low though.
“MIQ is an adjustment for everyone, it takes most people a few days to get used to it and staff take an educational approach.”
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