Thirty jobs, many of them in security, will be created at a new iwi-led community Covid-19 isolation facility in Rotorua.
The Lakes Lodge Okataina isolation facility, with capacity for 78 people, opened on Tuesday afternoon following a formal blessing.
The facility had recently been bought by Te Arawa iwi Ngāti Tarāwhai. The iwi approached the Ministry of Health to offer it as an isolation facility, which was supported by Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Rongomai.
The health service was to be overseen by Ngāti Pikiao Health Services, with support from the Lakes District Health Board (DHB) and the Ministry of Health.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao GP and member of Te Roopu Hauora o Te Arawa Dr Grace Malcolm said the lodge was an ideal place for isolating given its remoteness.
She said the facility was not a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility like the three hotels in Rotorua's CBD.
"[It is] a step down from this and a step up from home isolation - somewhere in between.
"We are all finding our way through this new paradigm shift."
Only the lodge was closed to the public, and the area surrounding it would remain open.
About 30 jobs would be created at the facility, most of which would be in security, she said.
Their role would be deterring people from approaching the facility, and keeping guests from going out. This was necessary to provide confidence to the public, she said.
Malcolm said Lakes DHB had sent Ngāti Pikiao a service contract with "provision for a security presence to encourage safe isolation for those who are choosing to isolate at Okataina Lodge."
All costs for guests were covered.
A Lakes DHB spokeswoman said a contract for welfare support for guests isolating in a facility that was not their own home was with Ngāti Pikiao for ratification.
The public funding would cover services such as transport, medical and other wellness support costs, meals and security.
The spokeswoman said each DHB was required to have in place facilities that can be used to isolate cases and vulnerable whānau.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said community isolation facilities such as the lodge were funded as part of its "alternative accommodation" arrangement with district health boards.
The facilities were for people with Covid in the community who may not be in a position to self-isolate in their home and who could not be easily transported to MIQ facilities.
Who used each facility was up to the relevant district health board and public health unit.
Ngāti Tarāwhai Iwi Trust chairman Cyrus Hingston previously called the official opening a "significant milestone" in the iwi's journey to reconnect its people with their homelands.
Hingston said the isolated location on the edge of Lake Okataina, about 30km from Rotorua, was an ideal opportunity to provide support to people who need to isolate away from whānau in a way that enabled iwi to look after its own.
"Tuesday's event was first and foremost a celebration for Ngāti Tarāwhai who have now returned to Okataina."
Representatives from Te Arawa Covid Response, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao, Te Arawa Whanau Ora and Te Toko i te Ora were welcomed, who he said were integral in providing support and services for the CIQ facility.
Hingston acknowledged the effort of trustees, in particular, lead negotiator Niwa Nuri and project manager Angela Wharekura for their "excellent" work in acquiring the lodge and establishing the CIQ facility.
"Following the purchase of Okataina Lodge by Ngāti Tarāwhai Iwi Trust, the lodge's 28 accommodation units were offered by the trust to the Ministry of Health as a potential CIQ facility. An agreement was signed for the lodge to provide CIQ accommodation from January 11."
He said the CIQ facility was in relatively close proximity to each of Ngāti Tarāwhai, Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Rongomai's lands.
"Te Runanga o Ngāti Pikiao working with Te Arawa Covid Response, Te Arawa Whanau Ora and Te Toko i te Ora (Ministry of Health) are overseeing the management and training of members of these three iwi to help support close contacts of Covid positive people and provide the necessary wrap-around health and welfare services for those who stay at the Okataina Lodge CIQ facility."
Okataina facility 'very different' to MIQ
There are three Government-run Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities in Rotorua. It investigated opening a fourth in the city last year but elected not to proceed after MPs, iwi and members of the community expressed opposition to the idea.
Rotorua-based Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey, who attended Tuesday's blessing, said the Okataina facility was 'very different' to an MIQ hotel.
"This is actually a product of learning from Whakarewarewa."
Coffey said MIQ facilities were for people coming into the country but the Okataina facility would provide a space for people needing to isolate away from home.
"It is easy for us to say self-isolate ... but actually it's very hard if you've got a small house and a lot of overcrowding happening."
He said iwi had been able to consider the risk factors before offering the isolated lodge as a facility and noted the importance of the site returning to Ngāti Tarāwhai ownership.
Rotorua MP Todd McClay, of the National Party, who was opposed to more MIQ facilities in Rotorua, said the isolated nature of the lodge set it apart from MIQ hotels in places such as central Auckland.
He said Covid positive people in Rotorua needed a secure place to go.