Checkout time for almost all MIQ hotels has been announced, with only four out of 32 staying in the network from the end of June.
Soon, more than 600 Defence Force personnel involved in managed isolation and quarantine will return to their units, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
Rydges in downtown Auckland will be the first hotel to leave the network, on April 30.
By the end of June, 28 of the current MIQ facilities will return to being hotels.
Not everybody would mourn the end of the managed isolation hotels, Hipkins acknowledged.
“MIQ meant that not everyone could come home when they wanted to. But it also meant that Covid-19 could not come in when it wanted to, either.”
And Hipkins said the MIQ network had already helped almost 230,000 people return to New Zealand.
He said the Government was still figuring out what might be needed in terms of a national quarantine capacity in the future.
“This could include retaining hotels or purpose-built facilities.”
Hundreds of nurses and police who staffed the isolation hotels had already gone back to frontline duties, Hipkins said.
The Grounded Kiwis lobby group challenged the MIQ system’s legality, especially effects on citizens’ right to return home and whether border controls were justified in the public good.
Some opposition politicians in recent months described the MIQ system as inhumane.
The network’s development started in April 2020.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced an award that will recognise people who have contributed to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response.
The first recipients of this award will be MIQ staff.
“The award provides a formal opportunity to acknowledge those who have played a critical role in our Covid-19 response,” Ardern said.
“Our MIQ workforce has demonstrated care and professionalism, often at considerable personal risk and sacrifice and are worthy recipients of this award and our gratitude.”
She said the award will take the form of a lapel pin.
“MIQ staff have been at the front line of Covid-19 from the start. Prior to the vaccine they had no way to protect themselves from the virus, other than PPE.
“Working in MIQ often meant giving up on normal lives to protect others. I’ve heard stories of staff being ostracised through fear of infection and isolating and changing their normal routines to reduce the risk of passing on the virus to others.”
The MIQ overhaul was announced shortly after a change to isolation rules for people with Covid-19 community cases.
Hipkins said from Friday, people testing positive and their household contacts will have to isolate for seven days, rather than 10.
Public health expert Dr Collin Tukuitonga said the seven-day isolation period was sensible.
“It’s a pragmatic decision by Government to balance the risk of infection and transmission versus the need to allow people to get back to work,” he told the Herald.
Tukuitonga, Associate Dean Pacific at the University of Auckland, said evidence suggested most people with Omicron were infectious within four days of catching the virus.
The new regime would miss the odd case, when a person was infectious longer than average.
But he said the shorter isolation period would reduce some burdens for many households.
“I understand at the moment there are really big problems with food and social service providers struggling to cope with demands,” Tukuitonga said.
Tukuitonga said evidence suggested Auckland was at least a few days ahead of other regions in terms of the Omicron surge.
“We can be confident and say that it’s plateauing and possibly declining but I wouldn’t be out celebrating in the streets just yet,” he said of the Auckland outbreak.
Nationwide, the number of hospitalisations for Covid-19 was 742 yesterday, with 19 in intensive care units.
Of the people hospitalised, 497 were in greater Auckland.
Auckland DHB had 207 such cases, Counties Manukau had 169, and Waitematā had 121.
In Waikato, 67 people were in hospital with Covid-19. No other region came close to even Waikato’s hospitalisation numbers.
Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce said the reduction to seven days’ isolation was a step in the right direction.
The chamber’s chief executive Leeann Watson said10 days’ isolation was unsustainable and bad for business.
“This is a small gasp of relief for businesses who are already facing significant staff and customer shortages at a time when the labour market has been under significant pressure,” Watson added.
“The biggest issue that businesses are currently facing is access to staff, and in the case of our hospitality and retail sectors, access to customers.”
Tompkins Wake insolvency specialist Wayne Hofer said Omicron and associated restrictions meant many businesses had insufficient revenue to stay solvent.
He said even before Omicron entered New Zealand, the country faced a severe labour shortage, which border closures had compounded.
Shorter isolation periods reduced some pressure for companies with staff isolating, Hofer said.
Meanwhile, a local brain health expert said it was important for research into Long Covid to get underway.
Long Covid involved the effects of Covid-19 a person could experience weeks or months after the initial illness.
Emeritus Professor Warren Tate said all graduating doctors should have a clear understanding of the illnesses and the dysfunctions Long Covid might cause.
“Currently the messaging is very mixed,” Tate told the Science Media Centre.
“Some senior clinicians have said the current Omicron pandemic is just a mild flu-like illness while others have warned not to be complacent about the potential serious health consequences, even if for a minority.”
The Ministry of Health announced 22,454 new community cases and four deaths from the pandemic yesterday.
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