The first 40 days of quarantining and isolating all people arriving from overseas amid the Covid-19 pandemic has cost almost $50 million.

With 7755 people being housed and monitored in hotel rooms over that period, from April 10 to May 19, the average cost is about $6200 per person.

According to Ministry of Health data, 12 of them have tested positive for Covid-19 during that period. All but one had arrived from Australia, while the other person had flown in from the USA.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she was looking at how the Government could ease itself of the financial burden of putting all overseas arrivals into hotel rooms for 14 days.


"This is something that we've been working with the all-of-Government group around. I expect to receive some advice in the coming weeks on this, and decisions thereafter.

"Obviously, maintaining the strict requirements that we have and ensuring that we have the border agencies there present ... does come at some expense, but obviously Covid in New Zealand comes at an even greater expense."

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In the face of mounting pressure, Ardern announced that every person arriving from overseas would be placed in quarantine or managed isolation from April 10.

She has defended not moving sooner, saying that putting the logistics together - including food, accommodation, security and health checks - took time.

She also had concerns about turning a hotel into a Covid Petri dish, which had happened on cruise ships around the world.

There had also been too many arrivals to have implemented a blanket quarantine in March; the number only dipped below 1000 a day on March 28, though there were 300 or fewer daily arrivals for the first 10 days of April.

Health Ministry data shows a further 10 people flew into New Zealand between April 1 and April 10 and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.


The Herald asked for the most up-to-date figures for the cost of the border programme.

From April 10 to May 19, $48,222,453 was spent, made up of $45.9 million based on invoices and $2.3 million based on estimates.

"This includes hotel accommodation, food, laundry, hotel security, and wrap-around health and wellbeing services," a spokesperson for the Covid-19 National Response said.

During that period, 7755 people were put up, 94 per cent of them in Auckland and the rest in Christchurch.

The spokesperson said the cost per person would likely decline over time because of the set-up costs and expensive short-term contracts that were entered into when the programme was being put in place.

"Subsequently, the programme has managed to secure longer-term contracts, which has enabled it to achieve some greater efficiencies."

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There are currently 3321 people in managed isolation or quarantine, which is about 80 per cent of the full capacity of 4194.

This is made up of 15 hotels in Auckland and two in Wellington. From next week, two hotels in Christchurch will be added, while more hotels in Auckland are available if required.

The film crew for Avatar who have been in isolation at the QT Hotel in Wellington had paid for their own costs.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said earlier this week there was no indication anyone had been put at risk at the QT Hotel.

"We've learnt and will be ensuring that the arrangements for any future privately-organised arrangements like that are strong."

The Avatar crew are some of the essential workers who have been granted entry.


Yesterday, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford announced that two syndicate teams who will challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the America's Cup had also been approved.

American Magic would bring 102 workers and 104 family members to New Zealand, while the INEOS Team UK would bring in 86 workers, 128 family members and one nanny.

Twyford also announced the new criteria to grant a border exemption for a short-term (less than six months) or a long-term (more than six months) essential worker.

A short-term worker must have "unique and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand", or they must be working on a major project, such as infrastructure, which would be severely impacted by their absence.

Long-term workers must meet one of the two short-term worker criteria. They must also be earning twice the median salary, or have a role that is essential for a government-backed science programme, or a role that is essential for a government-approved event, such as the America's Cup.

Up until May 28, 1972 people had applied for an exemption to come to New Zealand as a non-health essential worker; 1802 applications had been denied.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says private arrangements for isolation for overseas arrivals will be monitored closely. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield says private arrangements for isolation for overseas arrivals will be monitored closely. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Border measures were tightened this week. Overseas arrivals must be in a hotel room for at least 14 days and test negative for Covid-19 before they can go into the community.

Exemptions have also been tightened, meaning they will no longer be granted for people wanting to leave the hotel to attend a funeral or tangi.

Ardern has said border controls will remain for the foreseeable future because importing a case of Covid-19 remains the greatest risk to New Zealand's virus-free status.

Those measures will be constantly reviewed as support grows for a transtasman travel bubble, the return of international students, and for more exemptions for foreign essential workers or people with valid New Zealand visas who are stuck overseas.

Yesterday a woman in managed isolation, who wished to remain anonymous, told RNZ that the restrictions on time spent outside the hotel had been tightened under alert level 1.

She is about halfway through her two-week stint at the Crowne Plaza in central Auckland, and the move to level 1 had seen the cancellation of her escorted daily walks outside.


"Obviously I cracked a bit of a tantrum and said that was ridiculous."

The woman was told she would still be able to get some fresh air in a small, fenced-off area in front of the hotel.

Another recent arrival from overseas, staying at the Novotel Ibis in Ellerslie, told the Herald he was happy with the programme.

"I have a nicer, bigger, sunnier room than I could afford to rent in Wellington. Don't have much outside space but that's the point of quarantine, right? Seems worth it."