The Government is hiring its own security force for New Zealand’s 32 Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities, replacing private contractors.
The move is supported by the MIQ workers’ union and one of the nation’s most prominent Covid-19 experts.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Business will employ the new security workforce, a spokesman says.
The ministry is now appointing site security and operations managers for all the facilities.
To date, the number of private security companies working within MIQ has shrunk from 18 to five, with plans to reduce to one within the first quarter of this year.
“This is being undertaken in stages in order to minimise any risks to the security of our facilities,” the MIQ spokesperson told the Herald.
New Zealand Defence Force and Aviation Security Service personnel will continue to supplement MBIE employed staff.
Once the new security managers are in place, MIQ will transition from private security personnel to MBIE security staff.
The spokesperson says this move will ensure there are consistency and standardisation of security protocols and policies across the network of facilities.
While security isn’t his expertise, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says “anything that improves consistency and quality” is a win.
“If employing a security force directly means we can get better training and support to deliver the MIQ system better, that has to be good news,” he said.
“I never think of blaming individuals, problems are almost always about systems.
“It’s not really my area, I can’t say this will make any difference. It’s really about deliverance and quality of delivery of the system.”
E tū union organiser Mat Danaher says it also supports the move by MBIE.
The move comes after the Herald revealed MBIE was pumping millions of dollars into strengthening the nation’s MIQ facilities.
These efforts have been further ramped up after a number of close calls, which have seen the virus move from quarantine facilities into the community.
Enhancements include CCTV, alarms on doors and other initiatives not outlined by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, who is footing the bill.
Head of managed isolation and quarantine Brigadier Jim Bliss told the Herald indications were the final spend of the project will be close to $6.45 million.
These upgrades became urgent following a string of recent cases who tested positive after completing managed isolation at the Pullman.
An extensive investigation of the processes and facilities at the Pullman led to a number of recommendations to ensure those lapses did not occur in the future.
Last month, an employee at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Auckland was sacked after a bedroom encounter with a MIQ returnee.
The encounter took place for 20 minutes, with MIQ head Brigadier Jim Bliss describing the forbidden liaison as “incredibly irresponsible and extremely disappointing”.
Both the hotel worker and the returnee returned negative Covid-19 tests before and after the encounter.
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