A prominent epidemiologist says officials are "kidding themselves" if they think they have good control measures in quarantine facilities.

University of Otago professor of public health Nick Wilson it was "absolutely concerning" workers in such facilities don't have restrictions on their community activities -but another infectious diseases expert said workers are not "prisoners of the state".

The comments follow the positive Covid-19 diagnosis for a health care worker at the Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility, who attended three gym classes, and visited the supermarket and the Warehouse before their positive test result.

The case has prompted the Government to contact trace 94 close contacts and urge anyone considered a casual contact to get tested.


Wilson said the Government was "playing a very high-risk game" by not putting restrictions on workers.

Wilson and fellow epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker published a blog post exploring the idea of managed isolation and quarantine facilities being moved to Ohakea air base near Palmerston North.

Wilson today told the Herald workers in these facilities could live on site.

He said keeping people in the main centres was "problematic if we keep having quarantine failures like this".

Otago University public health professor Nick Wilson said it was
Otago University public health professor Nick Wilson said it was "concerning" there weren't restrictions placed on quarantine and isolation workers. Photo / Supplied

The recent positive diagnosis of a Jet Park Hotel health care worker was one case of a quarantine failure, while the Rydges maintenance worker was another, he said. He also said it was likely the current community cluster in Auckland came about due to a quarantine failure.

"The whole system is not designed at the appropriate level for the infectiousness of this particular agent.

"I don't know how they're kidding themselves this is anywhere near good quality control ... if you're going to be as reckless as continuing to have facilities in Auckland you should have digital tracking on all the staff."

One option was for staff to be paid extra to avoid going to events, and to wear masks in public, he said.


"If we want to keep doing it in a No 8-wire way, this is what we're going to get.

"Maybe there's a chance after the election they will think strategically."

But Associate Professor of infectious diseases at the University of Auckland Mark Thomas said there had been thousands of people go through the quarantine and managed isolation process without the virus leaking into the community.

"They have been extremely effective," he said.

"People who work in managed isolation facilities are doing their job that they're being paid for, but they're not prisoners of the state - they have to carry on with their lives.

"They need to be able to do what's required to take care of themselves and their families."


That might include a trip to the supermarket for example, he said.

Associate Professor Mark Thomas said workers needed to be able to continue with their lives as normal. Photo / Dean Purcell
Associate Professor Mark Thomas said workers needed to be able to continue with their lives as normal. Photo / Dean Purcell

Thomas questioned who would put their hand up for such work if the Government began introducing restrictions on their free time, or if they were required to live on a military base during the period they did the work.

"Are we going to ship people from Auckland away from their families to go and live in Ohakea? I'm sorry, but that's what happens in Russia or China."

No system was perfect, but New Zealand was doing "a bloody good job", he said.

Subscribe to Premium

A managed isolation and quarantine spokesman said workers were provided with education, and were advised to keep records of their movements and close contacts, and when finishing work to have a shower and change clothes before going home.

"With all these precautions in place, the risks have been assessed as minimal, so they and their partners [or] spouses and children can follow their normal routines depending on any current alert level restrictions. That includes for exercise."


Staff undergo daily health checks and have access to onsite nursing staff.

"There is a programme of regular staff testing to ensure any transmission within a facility is caught early."