The gripes and the fabulous of MIQ: Study finds big variation in hotel quality

RNZ
Some New Zealanders heading home are being forced onto "milk run" flights hopping from one destination to the next to marry their arrival up with their MIQ spot. (Video first published in November 2021).

A survey of people who stayed in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) as part of New Zealand’s Covid strategy has found the quality of accommodation varied considerably.

Of the 75 people surveyed, one went into quarantine after contracting Covid in this country, while all the rest were returning travellers. Participants were aged from 20 to 68, with 61 of them women and 14 men. They stayed at eight separate MIQ hotels in five cities between April 2020 and July 2021.

While many participants felt the arrival and transfer were well managed, others were surprised by aspects of the process, such as a lack of compliance with physical distancing, the length of time it took, being asked the “same” questions multiple times, and a general sense of disorganisation, the study said.

One participant in the study said: “… we had to wait 2 hours for the flight before us to be processed. We had no food or water. We then were herded into lines unable to social distance …. Finally boarded our flight to Christchurch with random boarding passes. I didn't make it to my room until 5:30pm - 9.5 hours after landing and 24 hours since I boarded the flight in LA.”

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Almost a third of participants were transferred from Auckland Airport to MIQ hotels in other cities by bus or domestic flights, the study said.

Simeon & Deborah Reardon at the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility in Christchurch in December.
STACY SQUIRES/Stuff
Simeon & Deborah Reardon at the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility in Christchurch in December.

Almost all were not told they would be transferred until they had landed or disembarked the aircraft.

For some, not knowing their final destination added stress and discomfort to an already stressful process. This was also cited as an example of an MIQ system with no individual choice or options.

“Giving us information about our MIQ location before we depart would be really helpful. Also - why fly us to South Island when we live in North Island (I get the capacity thing) but surely we didn't have to get on another plane. Having to wait another 6 hours after a tiring flight was difficult,” a participant said.

Variability between hotels was noted by a number of participants and this was illustrated by the wide range of feedback about the hotels in terms of the adequacy of rooms, the study said.

“Small, Dated, Stinky, Dirty. I hated every minute of this place,” one participant said.

“Lack of fresh air is the key [issue]. Need windows that open,” another said.

The Novotel Hotel MIQ facility in Ellerslie, Auckland. (file pic)
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff
The Novotel Hotel MIQ facility in Ellerslie, Auckland. (file pic)

A prominent factor in how the overall MIQ experience was reported was the quality of meals provided, the study said.

Some found the food to be of “restaurant quality” but for others the quality of the meals and the lack of food choice was the biggest concern they had during their stay in MIQ.

The lack of choice, the paucity of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the timing and temperature of the meals was noted, even by those who thought the food was generally very good.

One survey participant said: “OH MY GOD WHERE TO START ….. IT WAS FABULOUS. The food quality and quantity and variety. Everything was hot enough and very tasty … I mean honestly we hit the jackpot staying here.”

But for another participant: “Food was beige all the time, I took photos to send to my family to see if they could spot any vegetables. Occasionally there would be a stray carrot stick or broccoli floret that had got lost and ended up in my ... tray!! It was heavily processed and full of fat and especially sugar. They would also call you for Covid tests as soon as meals arrived.”

The ability to exercise was limited in some hotels by lack of open spaces. This also posed a problem with separating the exercise and smoking areas. There was also inconsistency in how the exercise rules were applied, such as the hire of fitness equipment, the study said.

Roger Mitchell from Levin had a shocking MIQ experience in Auckland, and said his room was in an awful state, and the food was inedible. (file pic)
DAVID UNWIN/Stuff
Roger Mitchell from Levin had a shocking MIQ experience in Auckland, and said his room was in an awful state, and the food was inedible. (file pic)

“My children did NOT want to walk around in circles in an undercover carpark!!!!! If children are involved, there HAS to be suitable outside time. We got to play in the carpark once when it was just us in 15 days. It was rubbish”, one participant reported.

Another participant said: “I was allowed to book a daily 30 min deck walk, or a parking garage walk that smelled of cigarette smoke. I'm a runner and found this lack of exercise to be the most challenging part … I begged to be allowed to rent exercise equipment … but they said no.”

Replying to the survey, MIQ, which is primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said it was committed to continual improvement, learning lessons, and future proofing the system.

MIQ ran its own survey of returnees, with the most recent data being responses from 2433 people for October 2021, MIQ acting deputy secretary Andrew Milne said.

Two-thirds of that group said their overall experience of MIQ was positive, with 72 per cent saying they were satisfied with MIQ while planning travel to New Zealand.

People staying in MIQ were given three meals a day and snacks to their room. For any more meals, guests could order room service or deliveries from local shops or supermarkets at their own expense, Milne said.

While returnees were asked about their food needs, and MIQ facilities tried their best to meet those requirements, it may not always be possible to customise meals.

A woman walks past barriers outside the Grand Mercure Hotel in Britomart, Auckland, which is being used as an MIQ facility. (file pic)
Getty Images
A woman walks past barriers outside the Grand Mercure Hotel in Britomart, Auckland, which is being used as an MIQ facility. (file pic)

The authors of the study wrote that the high degree of variability in the hotels used for MIQ must be addressed.

“Where necessary, hotels should be trained and supported to ensure they meet agreed standards in the services provided and that prevention and control measures are consistently enforced.

“In particular, it is important that there is greater flexibility in the provision of appropriate and healthy meals, accommodating those with special dietary or cultural requirements wherever possible.

“Greater consideration also is needed for accommodating and supporting families, especially large groups, during MIQ,” the authors said.

“All individuals in MIQ must have access to appropriate health care and should be fully informed about how to access medical care if needed. Inconsistency in the provision of health care, especially mental health care, is concerning and must be addressed.”

Most of the researchers involved in the study were from the University of Otago, Wellington, or the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University in Wellington.

“MIQ of some form will be with many countries for some time to come,” the authors said.

The study was published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.