It's "unlikely" Rotorua will get a new managed isolation facility, but without the assurance for locals of a final decision, a protest march is still to go ahead.
After a wave of local opposition to Rotorua taking on a fourth managed isolation facility (MIQ), Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today the tourist town was a "marginal" expansion option.
"It is unlikely now that we would set up additional MIQ facilities in Rotorua given the strength of the feedback we have had from them," he told RNZ.
Rotorua has facilities at the Ibis, Rydges and Sudima hotels.
With overseas Kiwis queuing to come home and too few MIQ spaces to meet the demand, the Government confirmed it was looking at adding facilities in Rotorua and Christchurch.
Those opposing the move included Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, iwi, local MPs, Rotorua Chamber of Commerce and the Lakes District Health Board - which was concerned about stretched staffing.
Representatives of the Whakarewarewa Village also objected to the possibility of a new facility nearby, and planned a protest against it this weekend.
Protest organiser Aneta Morgan said they had been given the mandate from Te Arawa to hold the protest and they would continue with their plans until they had a definitive answer from the Government the new facility would not be happening.
"We have been communicating directly with the minister and we have not had anything to tell us it's not going ahead so our position has not changed," she said.
Protesters plan to gather on Saturday at the Te Rau Aroha carpark on Tyron St from midday to 2pm and will demonstrate their opposition to an MIQ in the area without being consulted.
The protest intends to show they are mana whenua who uphold manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga within the area.
Chadwick said she was pleased Hipkins was listening and would await the final decision.
"As myself and others have been emphatic about conveying to MIQ officials and the minister, Rotorua is already doing its share of the MIQ load and we can't sustain any more. Our community has said the same and we now all respectfully look forward to Government making the right decision."
Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey said while Rotorua was yet to hear a final decision, it gave him confidence to hear Hipkins say establishing a new MIQ facility in Rotorua was now "marginal".
"I've not stopped advocating with my ministerial colleagues at the highest level and am inspired by the united stance our community has taken."
Waiariki MP and Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi launched a petition this month against Rotorua having another MIQ and on Tuesday claimed the Government was looking to set up two facilities in the city.
He said he understood Rotorua was to get a fourth MIQ and a quarantine facility for Covid-19 infectious people.
A spokesman for Hipkins told the Rotorua Daily Post two additional facilities were never being considered.
"No one knows where that came from," the spokesman said.
"The minister has said that a decision on the one that is being considered will be announced very soon."
Waititi said he had heard Hipkins on RNZ and he was thrilled.
"I'm absolutely elated," he said. "That's what our iwi and community look like when they rally together to protect their whakapapa."
Waititi said he was glad to have been able to represent the views of those concerned at a parliamentary level.
"It's been the voice of Te Arawa, the Rotorua community, Lakes DHB, [Rotorua Lakes] council and community members," he said.
"[They have] all been standing together and saying 'we're doing our bit for the country in terms of MIQ, it's time that some other towns across the country do some heavy lifting'."
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said Hipkins' comments were an indication but he said worried locals deserved more certainty.
"We know the Government has had people in town negotiating with hotels. It is important they back down publicly and firmly and the minister needs to categorically rule it out, not say it is merely unlikely to happen."
McClay said he first raised his concerns to the Government a month ago, and said it should have approached the community then.
Lakes District Health Board member Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, who previously told the Government to "bugger off" with a new facility in Rotorua, earlier said she was concerned about breaches.
"We are becoming the Government's MIQ sickbay using our big hotels and [Ministry of Social Development] emergency housing solution with 12 of our largest motels being repurposed," she said.
"This is a community that depends on the big hotels and motels to get us back into action as domestic travel and conferences start to pick up."
After hearing Hipkins' comments, she was "very grateful" the minister had listened to the numerous local requests to consider other locations.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which manages MIQ facilities, has previously said it would not disclose plans for new facilities until they were confirmed by Cabinet, due to commercial sensitivities.
Ministry MIQ joint head Megan Main said yesterday it was still "investigating potential options for short and medium term solutions".
"We've been looking at one facility in Rotorua and another in Christchurch. A final decision about potentially establishing any new facilities will be made by cabinet ministers, which will be communicated in due course."
She said the Ministry of Health had separately been working with district health boards around the country to develop a community-based isolation and quarantine service to respond to potential community outbreaks.
It is called Community Supported Isolation and Quarantine. The service had been designed to help community cases and/or their contacts safely self-isolate and may include alternative accommodation.
"These do not involve hotels or facilities."