Editors update: Just over a month after Newsroom highlighted the close proximity of a public thoroughfare and the exercise yard of the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility, the outbreak began in Auckland. No concrete starting has or likely will be confirmed by Government, but contact tracing pointed at the Crowne Plaza after a traveller from Australia passed the virus onto their next door neighbours within the hotel. Soon thereafter, MBIE closed off the roof of the walkway to prevent aerosol transmission – however the Crowne Plaza MIQ facility remains in use and passersby can still get within spitting distance of guests.
A public thoroughfare in downtown Auckland sharing close quarters with the exercise yard of an MIQ facility has raised concerns, with some saying it’s an outbreak waiting to happen
The only access to a busy office block in downtown Auckland requires passing directly beside the exercise yard of an MIQ facility via an un-roofed walkway.
Pedestrians have been required to take this path for at least the last week after work on the Albert Street section of the City Rail Link restricted street access to the Huawei Centre.
Instead, office workers going to that building now walk through an area of the next door Crowne Plaza Hotel, within spitting distance, literally, of people in managed isolation. The office building houses more than 60 businesses and a cafe on the ground floor.
According to members of the public and public health experts, this is a worry.
“This is an outbreak waiting to happen,” one person who had gone through the zone told Newsroom.
The barrier between pedestrians and those in MIQ is around two metres tall, but without a roof – meaning people are within breathing distance of the exhaling exercisers from isolation.
“The public using the walkway are passing through this MIQ exercise area and sharing the same air,” said the source. “A person in isolation doing exercise using only a surgical mask can be passing directly on the other side of the plastic wall separating the walkway and a public person can be passing through at the same time – within one to two feet of each other.”
University of Otago epidemiologist Amanda Kvalsvig agreed with these concerns.
“There’ve been some instances with Delta variant outbreaks where transmission occurred during a very short interaction or where people weren’t particularly close to one another,” she said. “An outdoors interaction in an exercise setting in relatively still air may still present a risk of rebreathing air, and procedures need to be put in place to avoid this situation.”
Kvalsvig said the arrival of the delta variant of Covid-19 may also change the way we approach risk and who we contact trace. “Contact tracing in an outbreak may need to use a different risk threshold from now on when considering who might be a contact of a case,” she said.
A cafe worker inside the Huawei Centre said the only exit was past the MIQ facility, where a group of recent arrivals were walking in circles to get their exercise when Newsroom visited.
Plexiglass barriers like the ones outside this MIQ facility have come under fire as ineffective protection for a virus that can travel by aerosol transmission – which public health experts have warned is more likely with the new delta variant of the virus.
The Crowne Plaza MIQ facility recently made headlines when 12 people breached MIQ rules last month by socialising in the hallways.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, who are in charge of the day-to-day running of the MIQ system, have been approached for comment but had not responded at publication time.