Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Labour, Green MPs question apartments as managed isolation

Two Members of Parliament representing Auckland Central are questioning whether apartment buildings are suitable for Covid isolation.

Helen White, Labour list MP for Auckland Central, and Auckland Central and Green MP Chloe Swarbrick have rallied behind concerned apartment owners, talking to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office and other Cabinet ministers.

White and Swarbrick commented after the Body Corporate Chairs Group yesterday questioned whether apartments are suitable for isolation.

After isolation was halved by the Government from 14 to seven days followed by three days at home, apartment chiefs raised alarm. They are worried about Covid spreading rapidly via air conditioning, lifts and common areas.

White said: “I am meeting regularly with the body corporate group and the residents’ groups, Auckland District Health Board and liaising with the Minister of Covid Response Chris Hipkins.

“Now, I am also liaising with the Minister of Health Andrew Little who has agreed to work with them to make sure they are engaged in the solutions,” White said.

Swarbrick said she had been working with the PM’s office, Cabinet ministers and the Auckland City Centre Residents Group’s Noelene Buckland and Adam Parkinson since late month.

“I had a number of conversations raising the concern about self-iso with different ministers and officials, particularly through the Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,” Swarbrick said today.

She wrote to Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins last month and said she had also been discussing the issues with barrister Tim Jones of the Body Corporate Chairs Group.

Yesterday, Jones expressed concerns about the suitability of apartments for Covid isolation and the group has issued guidelines, as well as a series of questions which owners and residents in apartments need to ask about the issue.

Swarbrick said today more discussions and calls identified the work on care in the community falls within the remit of Health Minister Andrew Little.

“There’s quite a lot of work going on on this at the moment, but it’s not my place to provide specifics in what is the understandably confidential initial working,” she said.

“I asked for an official Government guidance for those in apartment dwellings and denser living, particularly through Body Corporate Chairs Group.They have confirmed that they will provide this information as part of their broader piece of work. It’s expected imminently,” she said.

“It’s also been suggested to me that it may be health officials’ understanding that the possible transmission of the virus within dense dwellings and shared areas may not be as concerning or severe as regular people like myself- also an apartment dweller whose body corp is literally discussing this issue this week -might think, so I’ve asked that modelling or data or information is made publicly available too,” she said.

“I’ve suggested that for apartments and dwellings considered unfit for care in the community that the Government make MIQ facilities available,” Swarbrick said.

The Body Corporate Chairs Group said some key questions about apartments being used for Covid isolation were:

• Can the isolating person enter a building and cross over the common property
with safety?

• Does the unit in the apartment building have its own airflow system or is it part of the common airflow system throughout the building?

• Is the door of the apartment opposite another apartment in a closed corridor?

• Is there a balcony on the apartment adjacent to others?

• Is there someone to service the isolated person in safety, like a building manager?

• Is there a mask mandate throughout the building?

• Are there multiple lifts or stairwells so that those accessing the apartment where the isolated person is living can do so safely?

• Are there other immune-suppressed people living in the apartment building?

• Are there common recreational areas such as gardens, courtyards, gyms, pools and saunas which the isolating person should not access?

Those isolating will need food, medication, testing and rubbish removal services. Some might be in the apartment for many days, the group worried.

Who will help them with that, it asked.

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