About 2600 people will be eligible to exit their managed isolation hotel on Sunday when stays for international arrivals are shortened to seven days, followed by three days isolation at home.
Returnees are wrapping their heads around the logistics and guidelines for the two-part isolation – which epidemiologist Michael Baker thinks is redundant in Auckland.
Compared to a normal day in MIQ, officials estimate there will be eight times the normal number of departures on Sunday.
Each person who has completed seven days or more in MIQ will be assessed via a ‘low risk indicator’ and health check before they leave – and due to the sheer number of people, officials warn some returnees might have to wait another two or three days to be processed.
Paul Clark will be entering his eighth day of isolation in Auckland’s Stamford Plaza on Sunday.
He said details on exactly how the mass departure would work had been scarce.
“I’m somewhat puzzled as to what the arrangements will be. I guess anyone going out of the region will probably go back to the airport, and maybe pick up a rental or get on another flight elsewhere … they must be having to lay on a load of buses and shuttles and I’m not sure how that’s going to work yet,” he said.
He has been trying to organise food deliveries and transport for his self isolation near Thames.
Returnees have received a list of what they can and cannot do for the three days of self isolation, asking them to go to one place and stay put until they return a negative day nine test.
The Ministry of Health said they should leave MIQ in private transport where possible – like a car that a friend has dropped off – otherwise it suggested returnees have a friend collect them, while wearing masks.
If private transport is not available, the ministry said returnees could use public transport like a taxi or domestic flight, but it must be “the most direct route possible.”
The ministry said people could isolate in their own homes, in private accommodation like an Airbnb, or with friends or whānau if they maintained two-metre distancing.
Returnees can only leave to get their day nine test or in the case of an emergency, and any food has to be contactlessly delivered.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was confident people would follow the rules.
“We see a good degree of compliance from those people coming in across the international border,” he said.
“The public health risk assessment is that the risk, from that seven-day marker onwards, is very low. That extra three days of isolation at home drives it even lower still.”
Epidemiologist Michael Baker agreed – for the most part.
The rules were sufficient to keep the population safe and made sense for most parts of the country, Prof Baker said.
However in Auckland, where experts have estimated returnees are less likely to be carrying Covid-19 than residents, Baker said it was a “completely different story”.
“In Auckland, really there’s no need for people to go through MIQ anymore, because their risk is so low compared with people in Auckland,” he said.
“The other big reason is we need MIQ in Auckland for people that are currently infected by the virus, and are having to isolate at home – sometimes with their family there as well.”
It was still unclear exactly how many rooms will be freed up for more returnees or community cases of Covid-19 by the shortened stays in MIQ.
Prof Baker said MIQ was a “precious and expensive resource” and it was clear that there were community cases of Covid-19 who desperately needed that space.
In a statement, an MIQ spokesperson said there was a lot of planning underway to ensure the transition to the new system went smoothly on Sunday, and it was asking people to be patient while it worked through the departures.
The spokesperson said MIQ staff would be available to help with arranging transport.
Brigadier Rose King was not available to be interviewed.