Covid-19: Managed isolation facility ‘failing international human rights standards’


Wellington’s MIQ facility is failing international human rights standards by not allowing enough access to fresh air and sunlight, the Chief Ombudsman says.

Ross Giblin

Wellington’s MIQ facility is failing international human rights standards by not allowing enough access to fresh air and sunlight, the Chief Ombudsman says.

Wellington’s managed isolation facility is failing international human rights standards by not allowing access to fresh air and sunlight, the Chief Ombudsman says.

Peter Boshier​ said Grand Mercure did not meet standards required in the United Nations Convention on the Crimes Against Torture, also embedded in New Zealand law, which requires people in detention to receive at least one hour of fresh air and exercise a day.

The hotel has an underground car park, where people staying in MIQ go down to exercise for a certain time a day.

“People in detention should receive a minimum one hour of fresh air and sunshine a day, and that’s what prisoners get, that’s the standard which operates at a maximum security setting” Boshier said.

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There was limited fresh air in the car park, and no sunlight, and people did not have access to the area for long, Boshier said.

“People [in MIQ] have done nothing wrong, their psychological welfare depends on them feeling at peace, and it’s hard to get that unless you get exercise, fresh air and sunlight.”

The Grand Mercure should stop operating as an MIQ facility, he said.

“How do you change the physical limitations of the building and the site? It really isn’t fit-for-purpose and shouldn’t be used.”

He said concerns were raised about the facility in a report published in June, but the situation had not changed, and he’d been given no indication action had been taken.

Twenty-one MIQ facilities were inspected and the Grand Mercure was the only one the office thought was not fit-for-purpose for this reason, he said.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says he raised concerns about the fresh air and exercise at The Grand Mercure in June, and has not heard anything had changed in response.

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Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says he raised concerns about the fresh air and exercise at The Grand Mercure in June, and has not heard anything had changed in response.

He said standards across the MIQ facilities ranged – some had comparatively better access to fresh air and exercise, and support systems, than others.

Scientists have previously raised concerns about a lack of ventilation in the car park posing a risk for spread of the virus.

All returning New Zealanders won’t need to isolate in MIQ facilities from next February – but at this stage, international travellers will until at least April 30.

Human rights lawyer Frances Joychild QC​ said a number of people had contacted her from MIQ facilities, because they were highly stressed and controlled environments.

“For a lot of people, those with fragile mental health or even someone with average mental health, it’s a huge challenge not to be able to be outdoors breathing in fresh air.

“They are detained, without a doubt.”

Joychild questioned why people could not be taken to nearby parks, so they had time in the outdoors to exercise and breathe.

Joint Head of MIQ Chris Bunny said he welcomed independent scrutiny of the facilities, but believed the Grand Mercure was “excellent”.

“We have received only two recorded complaints from returnees themselves about the exercise area at the Grand Mercure.”

The facility partially accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations relating to exercise and outdoor areas, but logistics made it tricky.

“Whilst we agree with the Ombudsman’s preferred state, the topographical area in which this facility is located means that efforts to change were not possible due to logistical, weather, security or infection prevention and control risks created by the proposed changes,” Bunny said.

Managed offsite walks stopped once Delta arrived in New Zealand due to updated public health advice, Bunny said.

The exercise area was naturally ventilated via access ramps, which have “openings to external airflow”.

“Returnees are supervised while in the fresh air area, the area is also monitored via CCTV.”



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