Non-compliant Covid-19 cases could be quarantined

Documents released today by the Government show that people who catch Covid-19 from any community spread but who refuse to self-isolate could be placed in managed isolation facilities, Marc Daalder reports

Anyone who catches Covid-19 in the community who will not or cannot self-isolate at home could be placed into a DHB-run managed isolation facility.

That's according to a Cabinet paper dated June 3 that was released alongside dozens of other documents relating to the Government's Covid-19 response since late May.

The paper was lodged by then-Health Minister David Clark and outlined a "support plan for Covid-19 cases and close contacts in the community under Alert Levels 2 and 1".

Cabinet agreed to the paper and provided $20 million in funding to help set up the facilities that might be needed.

It noted "managing confirmed cases and the movements of their close contacts will be more difficult than during the lockdown, with the risk of transmission significantly higher as people resume their normal movements and routines again (i.e. return to workplace, schools, resume social contact etc)".

When someone tests positive for Covid-19, they and their close contacts must self-isolate in their own homes. That self-isolation includes refraining from physical contact and sharing space with others in their household until they recover (for Covid-19 patients) or 14 days have lapsed (for close contacts).

Under the new plan, self-isolating people will receive wraparound health and welfare services "to support self-isolation plans for confirmed cases including culturally appropriate clinical, psychological and welfare support services". Daily Healthline checks will also be supplemented by random visits from health staff, even for those who are just close contacts and not Covid-19 cases.

However, the plan also noted that not everyone can or will self-isolate in their own home. Managed isolation facilities would be established for confirmed Covid-19 cases who refused to self-isolate, were unable to self-isolate due to the arrangement of their household, or unable to self-isolate because they live with a vulnerable person who could be put at risk. Non-compliant close contacts could be similarly quarantined.

"An order under section 70 of the Health Act 1956 would be the legal instrument for the managed isolation of confirmed cases and close contacts where required. If these powers are required for long-term management of non-compliant cases and close contacts, I will need to authorise their continued use," Clark wrote.

District Health Boards (DHB) would be responsible for setting up and running these facilities where existing border facilities are not available and the Ministry of Health would have oversight. This is different from the managed isolation and quarantine system at the border, which is being run by Air Commodore Darryn Webb with an eye towards handing over control to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment later this year.

DHBs without a border facility would be asked to set up a managed isolation facility in preparation for the eventuality that someone needs to be quarantined there.

"In some smaller DHBs, such facilities may not be immediately required if case numbers remain small and appropriate home-based self-isolation exists, and it will be more appropriate in these areas to establish a plan to rapidly set up facilities if required," the document adds.

The entire project is estimated to cost between $18 and $22 million a year.

In response to a request for comment, the Ministry of Health confirmed that placing those who are unwilling or unable to self-isolate at home into managed isolation remains on the table.

"These facilities would be funded by the Ministry but run by the DHBs, and work is ongoing with them to scope out the requirements," a spokesperson said.

"But to be clear, these will not be large hotels like those used at the border. They are more likely to be something like local motels, reflecting the lower numbers involved and the fact we are dealing with people from New Zealand, as opposed to people from COVID-19 hotspots overseas. That said, there will be compliance and enforcement wrapped around the facilities as required."

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