By Dr. Angie Enoka
When I joined the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) Communications and Engagement Team in March 2021, MIQ was about to launch into its first full year cycle of protecting New Zealand’s border and playing a critical role in preventing Covid becoming widespread through communities while giving people a way to return home.
As I listen to the stories of how MIQ has evolved, I get a sense of a legacy lived and breathed. What started off with a phone call and a promise of a six-week contract to facilities in the MIQ network in 2020 at the start of this global pandemic has turned into more than two years working as the core element of our response to managing Covid-19.
The commitment from the MIQ facilities and workforce throughout this time has been extraordinary. If we are to do MIQ all over again, it needs well-armed champions.
The recent Government announcement that by the end of June, 28 of the current 32 MIQ facilities will leave the MIQ network and return to being hotels. MIQ is beginning to scale down operations as international travel starts back up.
I have seen MIQ become many things – a ‘hotel’ chain, a bus company, an air charter service, a healthcare provider; a complex and unique eco-system operating under Alert-Level 4 conditions, and unlike anything New Zealand had seen before. Our people describe it at its height, with the equivalent of Kaiapoi’s population having passed through managed isolation each month: 12,600 people in 9000 rooms every 28 days.
By February 2022, the MIQ workforce had helped almost 230,000 travellers and cared for more than 4,400 community cases – more than the population of Wellington – return home and gave New Zealanders time to get vaccinated. By this point globally, COVID-19 had caused the deaths of 5.89 million people, and infected 425 million more. In New Zealand the death toll was fewer than 60.
Of those 4,400 community cases, many were Pacific people from our community that suddenly found themselves in quarantine. MIQ staff did their very best to make our peoples’ stays as comfortable as possible. This includes catering for their different welfare and medical needs and cultural and dietary requirements.
As facilities start to downscale, New Zealanders should recognise the incredible work MIQ has done protecting New Zealand from COVID-19 over the last two years. MIQ serves as the buffer between the virus and the community and enabling New Zealanders extra time to become vaccinated and boosted.
But we all heard stories about the MIQ and coronavirus outbreak. It has created uncertainty, stress, emotional disruption, and more to Kiwis around the world. There was a time when Kiwis returned home to be housed in MIQ facilities and most coverage focused on returnees’ outrage about the length of stay, access to fresh air, lack of food choices and portions, room size, access to a microwave and other grievances.
Now the rules regarding MIQ have changed, if you look back you realise the MIQ frontline workers had a tough job. It was their dedicated service that enabled New Zealanders to enjoy a level of freedom not found in many other countries in the world.
Some may argue MIQ have served its purpose and its current form no longer makes sense, could we just pause for a minute?
MIQ workers have made considerable personal sacrifices to make sure the wider community is safe. It’s important that we take a moment to reflect on the huge service that these workers have provided to our communities.
Every day these workers have gone to work and put themselves between us and this virus.
We need to be so grateful for their commitment and dedication. MIQ workers truly have been our national heroes and they deserve the respect of all New Zealanders.
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Image Credit: Amohia Jet Park Hotel