It has been suggested cruise ships could be commandeered as floating quarantine hotels, as the numbers of returning New Zealanders needing isolation accommodation increases to 6000.

"I think everything is on the table at this point," Health Minister Chris Hipkins responded to the idea that was floated at a press conference on Tuesday.

There has been a shortage of appropriate accommodation for New Zealanders returning from overseas to spend their mandatory quarantine period of 14 days. Airlines have been told to cap inbound travel as hotels and temporary isolation facilities are booked out for returning travellers.

There have also been couple of high-profile breaches at quarantine hotels, including an incident on Tuesday, after which a returning passenger who absconded from a central Auckland address tested positive for coronavirus.

"There are a whole lot of things to consider, the security of the facility is one of them," said Hipkins.

Advertisement
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said that cruise ships were
Health Minister Chris Hipkins said that cruise ships were "on the table" as a solution to isolation facility shortage. Photo / File

Cruise shipping may be at an advantage in this regard, as the floating hotels are able to accommodate thousands of returning travellers in a location that is not easily compromised.

While the New Zealand Cruise association said it was not aware of the government making any approach to cruise lines, they were aware that it was "one of a range of options being considered by officials".

Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive officer of NZCA said that cruise ships would be a logical choice of accommodation for returning travellers.

"Cruise ships are very well controlled and secure environments, with good sanitation and health protocols, staffed by health professionals, and capable of housing reasonable numbers, so it is logical that they would be considered for isolation of New Zealanders arriving from overseas," he said.

The repurposing of ships as isolation facilities would be a welcome decision by liners who have had to cease sailings during the coronavirus pandemic. Cruise companies have had to adapt quickly to the coronavirus pandemic, after the World Health Organisation identified ships as potential "reservoirs" for infection and the CDC implemented a no-sail order over concerns that ships might become settings "where [crew and/or passengers] are likely to have close contact with one another".

In February a mismanaged attempt to contain an outbreak of Covid 19 on the Diamond Princess ship in Yokohama lead to 20 per cent of passengers contracting the disease and 13 deaths.

Containing infection within isolation facilities would be a large part of assessing potential quarantine accommodation.

The cruise industry's return to operations was further delayed after a ban on ship arrivals at New Zealand ports was extended for a further 60 to 90 days. Sailings are not scheduled to resume until September at the earliest.

Advertisement

This announcement comes as government has told Air New Zealand and other airlines to cap tickets and reduce capacity of inbound flights to reduce the demand on isolation facilities.

Quarantine Hotels: The Stamford Plaza where a 32-year-old passenger breached his isolation conditions on Tuesday. Photo / Dean Purcell
Quarantine Hotels: The Stamford Plaza where a 32-year-old passenger breached his isolation conditions on Tuesday. Photo / Dean Purcell

Airlines have agreed to freeze bookings in the short term as the ministry scrambles to find adequate capacity for managed isolation facilities.

"People who have already booked flights with Air New Zealand will still be able to enter New Zealand subject to availability of quarantine space," said housing minister, Megan Woods.