"The system works. All the evidence we have shows Covid is not spreading within the isolation facilities and it's certainly not spreading outside them."
That was the assurance given to Rotorua Lakes Council in an update from the military about the safety of having isolation hotels in the city.
In two days the first group of returned Kiwis who have spent their 14-day isolation period in Rotorua will be released.
Lieutenant Colonel Chad Preece told at the council's Operations and Monitoring Committee yesterday the speed in which the isolation hotels were established in Rotorua had alarmed some people, but there was a commitment to keep everyone informed and reassure the public every precaution was being taken.
"The isolation facilities here were established very fast and with little warning. It was done safely but I understand the speed in which it happened was a shock to some people.
"I would like to thank you [council] and the community. After the initial shock, which was completely understandable, the community has already begun to work around the isolation facilities and provide support, which has been humbling to see."
Preece spoke about the manaakitanga from local businesses and individuals who had been donating items to help the time go faster for those in isolation.
He said from a military perspective, their number one priority was to "make sure Covid does not get out into the community".
"People need to be kept safe.
"The second priority is to make sure people feel safe and that is equally important for people's mental health and wellbeing."
Preece went on to outline the isolation system so the public would understand how robust it was.
"As people get off the aircraft, there is an initial health check. If they don't pass that health check, they and their bubble are all off to the quarantine facility.
"The health checks continue throughout the 14-day stay and again, if somebody does not pass that health check, they are isolated in their room until they are able to be moved to a quarantine facility."
He reiterated there was testing on day three and day 12 and nobody could leave until a negative test is returned on day 12.
"There is an exit health check as well as confirmation of the test data before they can be released from isolation.
"The sites are fenced off and are staffed 24/7 with NZ Defence Force, aviation security and health staff supplemented in some sites with private security."
Preece said the system had been in place for 14 weeks and more than 15,000 people had been released into the community Covid-free.
"The system works. There has been transmission within bubbles as you would expect and that's why the whole bubble gets moved to the quarantine facility, even if only one returns a positive test.
"All the evidence we have shows [Covid is] not even spreading within the isolation facilities and it's certainly not spreading outside them.
"Most importantly, not one staff member in 14 weeks has been infected. The protocols work, the social distancing works, good hygiene, hotel cleaning - which is done to a clinical standard - all of these things mean there are multiple layers of safety and protection throughout the system."
Preece said Sudima and Ibis are the only two isolation hotels in the city and there were no plans to establish more "in the immediate future".
"The earliest we would plan to establish more here is not before July 13."There are other regions being grown such as Christchurch and Hamilton and as the numbers change on a daily basis we look around the country to see where the most sensible place to expand is."
The first of the isolating Kiwis would be released between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, provided they returned a negative test result.
Those who landed in Auckland and wished to return to Auckland would be taken there.
Mayor Steve Chadwick asked whether people parking outside the hotels with cellphones waiting for a sign the protocols weren't being followed were impeding their work.
"We've had reports of our people, the public, going down with cellphones and sitting in cars waiting for something they could capture that might indicate things are not working according to the protocol.
"Can you give us an assurance that's not getting in the way of the operation because we can ask the community to please let them get on with doing their work."
However, Preece said if people saw something of concern, they would like to know about it.
"It's part of the quality assurance. If people are seeing things of concern, that can be reported through to us and I will make sure the channels to do that are established as soon as possible.
"We definitely want to hear about it if people are seeing things that are genuinely not being done correctly, which I would hope would be far and few between, if at all, but even if there is a perception they are not being done correctly, so we can correct those perceptions with facts and information to reassure people."
Councillor Mercia Yates asked whether anyone had escaped the isolation facilities but Preece said there had been no evidence in Rotorua or any other city of that. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet told NZME it was exploring whether a separate suitable quarantine facility was needed and available in Rotorua.
"At present, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 or becomes symptomatic will be isolated to their room and moved to appropriate quarantine accommodation, i.e. the Jet Park Hotel in Auckland.
"This transfer is done under strict medical supervision, by trained staff wearing appropriate PPE."
A spokesman for the department said facilities needed to meet a strict set of criteria to ensure people staying and working in them were safe, and that there was a safe transition of people into the community after their isolation.
"Potential hotel facilities will be assessed based on demand and suitability. This includes preliminary investigation work by the national Managed Isolation and Quarantine team and site visits.
"Once a location has been assessed as suitable, a procurement process is begun, with a contract put in place between the hotel and the Ministry of Health if that procurement process is successful."
He said the rates negotiated with managed isolation hotels was commercially sensitive and would not be disclosed.
However, he did confirm some of the requirements for isolation facilities included rooms having natural light, reasonable space to move around and separate toilet facilities in each room.