Covid-19 has changed the way we live and the way we travel.

Before the pandemic, MIQ or the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system would have been unheard of. On April 9, 2020, New Zealand's MIQ started up at a few hotels after the country closed its borders to all but citizens and residents. In line with NZ’s strategy to deal with the pandemic, the MIQ system became its frontline defence in the fight against Covid-19.

Since December 23, 2021, anyone travelling to NZ must go through 10 days at a MIQ Facility along with the number of Covid tests before they could safely come to the community. At present, the cost for a NZ citizen or permanent resident is $1610 for the first or only person with $460 for each additional adult and $230 for each additional child (3 to 17 years old, inclusive). Children under three years old are not charged. Earlier it was 14 days duration, and the cost was $3100 for the first or only person in the room; $950 for each additional adult; $475 for each additional child.

Interestingly, currently, the rates for the 10-day stay for all people entering NZ on a temporary entry class visa is $2760 for the first or only person in a room; $1495 for each additional adult; $805 for each additional child. Earlier, the charges for the 14-day stay were $5520 for the first or only person in a room, $2990 for each extra adult, $1610 for each additional child.

Undoubtedly, NZ’s MIQ arrangements have been considered one of the tightest in the world. However, many people have found their stay in MIQ below average, stating that the room and the food served are far below standard. Many have openly written on social media expressing their displeasure over the deplorable room conditions and how the food served was inedible. They contend that the cost of MIQ does not justify the facilities being provided. The complaints have even been raised with the Chief Ombudsman, who is in the process of completing his investigation.

 

Falling curtains, cockroaches

One of the recent returnees, an NZ citizen who travelled from London, was disappointed with her allocated room. Expressing her plight on social media, she wrote, “I competed in a ‘luck of the draw’ to win the privilege to pay for this hotel spot, up against people whose relatives were dying. After arriving in Auckland, I was taken on a 3-hour bus journey all the way to Rotorua where I am expected to pay $1600 to stay here for 10 nights.

“I can't close the curtains, they will collapse, so I am sleeping and changing with them open. No one will come into my room to fix it, they gave me tools to do it myself. I'm avoiding standing on the wrong spot of the carpet because there are exposed nails. Bedhead rattling around. They won’t even collect my piling up food rubbish and it stinks. Mental and physical health not great. How is this whole operation legal? We needed to be treated with dignity, not like criminals picking up the slack and cost for an underprepared administration. The rest of the world is laughing at us.”

Sharing a picture of a massive cockroach in the room, she further wrote, “Lifted up my laptop and found this friendly MASSIVE COCKROACH beast underneath it.”

While sharing the photo of a bed full of dead insects at an Auckland MIQ facility, another user wrote on Facebook, “The bed is covered in dead insects. I called reception who told me there's no housekeeping. I said they are dead insects and it's not hygienic. She said she'd speaking to her manager and hung up….. so now we wait.”

 

‘$3500 to stay in this dump’

Another user shared his horrible experience of the MIQ facility by writing the following on Facebook: “Absolutely discussed (sic) with the motel we are at in Rotorua. I would not be complaining if we didn't have to pay. But everything is run down, leaking, mold in our room, our shower floods, mold in our kettle. Doesn't seem fair to have to pay $3500 to stay in this dump.”

Another user was appalled by the room he got at an Auckland MIQ facility and shared, “I was excited until I stepped foot into the room and saw where I was going to be staying for 10 days. There are stains all over the place and there was mold on my bedding .”

Another user shared their agony writing, “The worst hotel experience I have ever had. Food was disgusting, mostly uneatable. Hotel room was tiny. There's no way I would be paying the fee to stay here. Absolutely disgraceful."

Some people face issues with the food being served in MIQ. Sharing her story, one user wrote, "The food is pretty bad. We are vegetarian and have seen very little protein and some meals I really can’t eat. I am grateful to be home but my health and what I eat is important to me and my husband so we have done a Countdown order and got a friend to bring some food but it’s really hard to eat healthily without any cooking facilities, a small fridge and Xmas closures. Lunch yesterday was a huge dry focaccia bread about 10 cm thick with a teaspoon of avocado paste and 2 thin slices of tomato and 2 thin slices of cucumber. This is breakfast on Xmas morning. Totally inedible!!"

 

Chief Ombudsman still investigating complaints

Indian Weekender contacted the Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier on the complaints against MIQ that he has been receiving.

In response he said, “Issues relating to Managed Isolation and Quarantine are very much on my radar. My broad investigation into the Managed Isolation and Quarantine Booking System, which I announced last October following several complaints to my office, is continuing. I am still gathering and assessing information. I then aim to report to Parliament on my substantive findings.”

He added that he is also investigating individual complaints on a range of issues. “I also conduct independent inspections of MIQ facilities under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). This programme was established to provide the public and Parliament assurance that the basic human rights of people isolated for health reasons are being respected. In August,  I released a thematic report covering my first six inspections conducted in the Auckland and Rotorua regions in late 2020. This report included recommendations on the conditions and treatment of people detained in those facilities including  dietary requirements and access to fresh air and exercise.”

 

MIQ’s bureaucratic response

When Indian Weekender contacted the MIQ for their response an MIQ spokesperson said, “MIQ has catered to over 200,000 returnees and over 3000 community cases. Our facilities do all they can to make sure every guest enjoys their stay with them and have so far delivered over 16 million meals. Guests are provided three meals a day and snacks to their room. For any additional meals, guests can order room service or deliveries from local shops or supermarkets at their own expense.”

The spokesperson added that as part of the site assessment for managed isolation facilities, a confirmation that the facility can provide returnees with three meals a day that meet returnees' dietary requirements, medical needs, and cultural tastes is done.

"Dietary requirements, including allergies, intolerances, preferences, and/or cultural/religious considerations, are identified through a questionnaire returnees answer as they enter the facility. While our facilities try their best to meet these requirements, it may not always be possible to customise meals. Meals can be prepared onsite or catered and delivered.

“All food procurement, preparation, and storage must comply with current New Zealand food safety standards. Anyone staying in a managed isolation facility who has concerns should contact hotel staff, so they can address any issues and make sure they are happy with all future meals, "added the spokesperson.

According to the spokesperson, according to the MIQ’s returnee experience surveys for October 2021, people staying at MIQ report an overall positive experience. The overwhelming majority of people staying at MIQ said they felt safe, were being treated well, and were well informed about their stay. At the same time, some people reveal that they are unhappy with the cost of MIQ.

PS: Pictures: From posts on Facebook groups related to NZ's MIQ