Business self-isolation pilot: MBIE yet to finalise how to check on compliance

STUFF
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins details the self-isolation pilot.

Officials have indicated they don’t yet know how they will monitor business travellers, ministers and fellow government officials taking part in a home self-isolation pilot to ensure they are sticking to the rules.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that 150 business people would be allowed to self-isolate at home rather than in MIQ facilities, on their return to New Zealand.

Applications to take part in the pilot opened on Thursday with all of the business travel and isolation stints intended to be completed by Christmas.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said he had applied to take part in the pilot.

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Barnett is on the board of the International Chamber of Commerce and has been due to speak at a conference it is holding in Dubai in November.

But Barnett expected he would only be able to attend if he was admitted to the pilot, due to the uncertainties of getting a spot in MIQ on his return to New Zealand.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has said business people participating in the pilot would not be allowed to leave their homes or – with only a few exceptions – have visitors during self-isolation.

But it was unable to confirm how it intended to monitor compliance with those rules, when first contacted by Stuff on Thursday.

“MBIE is exploring options on a suitable provider to assist with monitoring and compliance.

“Once we have chosen the provider and finalised how we will monitor participants, we will make this known publicly,” a spokeswoman said.

Ministers and government officials will be able to take part in the pilot.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff
Ministers and government officials will be able to take part in the pilot.

Nick Wilson, a professor of public health at Otago University in Wellington has said New Zealand could look to Taiwan, where travellers involved in a similar scheme are checked “every few hours” using digital technology, with large fines for even minor transgressions.

There, “no-one is so stupid as to take people’s word for anything” and “everything is checked up”, he said.

The New Zealand pilot should involve “high quality enforcement if we want it to work well”, he said.

But MBIE would not say whether it would describe its pilot as adhering to a 'high trust' or a 'low trust' model.

It is understood the ministry is preparing further comment.

Barnett believed a ‘medium trust’ model could be appropriate.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett has applied to take part in the self-isolation scheme and believes a ‘medium trust’ model could be appropriate.
Supplied
Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett has applied to take part in the self-isolation scheme and believes a ‘medium trust’ model could be appropriate.

Businesses had a strong inventive to make sure rules were not broken, which would mean they were likely to be selective about the employees they allowed to take part in the pilot.

“Any employees involved would be thinking seriously about their ongoing employment if they broke that trust,” he forecast.

However, MBIE has said the pilot will be open to sole traders, as well as “a small number of ministers and officials attending overseas events”.

Fonterra spokeswoman Philippa Norman said it was undecided about whether it would participate but suggested the scheme might be more of interest to smaller businesses that could not call on employees based permanently overseas.

The chief executive of one export-oriented Wellington software company in that situation said they were more concerned with getting prospective overseas hires through MIQ.

Xero was also unable to say whether it was likely to participate.

MBIE has said business travellers involved in the pilot will be transported from airports to their homes by MIQ staff, with the cost of that included in the pilot’s $1000 participation fee.