A quarantine hotel nurse has revealed the intense work conditions inside the facilities, saying she and others are quitting because they are too exhausted.
The woman, who does not want to be identified, told the Herald she was a nurse working in a managed isolation and quarantine hotel.
"There is constant news we get about the people that can't get back to [New Zealand]. It's time to look at the nurses' plight," she said.
There were always vacancies for nurses, but not enough nurses to fill the positions, meaning they were working long hours with little chance of annual leave being granted.
"There is no one to fill the positions when they go off so we work extras . . . or forgo our holiday because we feel guilty taking time off because we know our colleagues will be so overworked."
The woman said everyone was tired and had had enough, so they were leaving - including her.
"I know that will put more pressure on the ones left that will have to take up the slack."
Since she started working at the facility the workload had "constantly increased". Tea breaks were unheard of and lunchtime was normally spent eating and discussing the day's work plan.
The number of Covid tests nurses had to carry out had increased and there were regular health checks on every returnee, but no extra staff supplied to help.
"Constantly we hear 'the nurses will do that'.
"Then there are the people that arrive knowing they will be in quarantine, and don't have enough medication, or no sanitary products, diapers for their children, and guess who has to organise that?"
Nurses were also using translator apps on their personal phones to communicate with returnees that spoke no English.
She said there were also nurses working 24-hour shifts.
"Give nurses a break they all deserve," she said.
The woman believed the solution was to get "tougher" on immigration.
She said permanent residency should expire for a person if they left New Zealand for longer than a year.
"Everyone has had time to get back - emergency returnees now only."
The woman said Australian nurses were being paid far higher wages, and once the borders reopened Kiwi nurses would be "crossing the ditch in droves".
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said there were ongoing improvements being made to working conditions in isolation facilities, and the move to a "sustainable DHB-employed workforce" was nearly complete.
"From time to time staffing can be a challenge in a hotel for a variety of reasons but we believe overall there is much greater stability," they said.
"The Ministry of Health has been advised by the Auckland DHB they are focused on establishing a pool of staff to help manage peaks in incoming returnee numbers and the roll out of a new clinical management system for MIQ by March. This new system is expected to reduce the time spent on administration and improve clinical quality."
The ministry had also been advised there were no 24-hour shifts happening, but on occasion someone would do a shift and then be on-call for the next shift, meaning they slept at the hotel and were on hand in case of an emergency.
"The DHB advises this is allowed for in the Nurses Organisation Multi-Employer Collective Agreement. Specific payment rates are paid and the overtime is not compulsory."
In response to the nurse's calls for changes to permanent residency, Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment immigration policy manager Andrew Craig said residence visas are granted to people who meet the criteria and have skills New Zealand wants to retain, or are granted on strong family or humanitarian grounds.
"In New Zealand, we distinguish between residence and permanent residence visas. For someone to progress to permanent residence they have to have been on a residence visa for 24 months and met commitment to New Zealand conditions such as residing here.
"Permanent residence visa holders, like New Zealand citizens, are exempt from the border restrictions. Residence visa holders can enter New Zealand if they had previously been in New Zealand on that resident visa."
He did not say whether changes to the system would be considered.