Punters have downed pints at the Quality Hotel Elms for years, but for the foreseeable future the bar will not be topping up glasses, but rather supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
That is because the Christchurch hotel is New Zealand’s 32nd managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility. It is just days away from opening, with the first returnees expected to arrive on November 30.
On Wednesday, officials treated me, and several other media representatives, to a tour of the revamped hotel and offered us a condensed experience of what it is like to stay in MIQ.
The property looks ready, surrounded by MIQ’s hallmark black perimeter fences.
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On arrival, Paul Aldous, the facility’s manager, took us on a tour.
We went to the bar first, which has been transformed partly into a storeroom for PPE, but also a base for the comprehensive 24/7 security setup, where staff have four screens-worth of live CCTV footage.
It felt like something you would see in a James Bond movie.
The facility’s operations centre is based in what used to be a sun-room. Aldous said key staff will hold a daily 9am meeting there.
Other conversions include the car park becoming the exercise area, a room off of the bar is the wellbeing centre, and the dining hall is now a staging area for preparing meals. Brown bags already lined the tables.
The layout of the Elms Hotel seems to suit MIQ.
All areas dedicated to running the facility are housed on one side of the building, while the 92 rooms for returnees are on the other side. The entrance and foyer separate the two sections.
This makes it easy to split the hotel into a “green zone”, where operations are, and a “red zone”, where rooms are.
To do health checks or deliver meals, nurses enter the red zone, donning a special gown, an N95 mask, gloves, and a face-shield as they do.
Inside the red zone, I was shown into a room to begin my condensed MIQ stay. On my way there, I noticed the hallways are lined with filters, which staff said were to keep Covid-19 particles out of the air.
The room is what you would expect – a normal hotel room.
After a few minutes, a staff member rang to do a wellbeing check, which was swiftly followed by a health check from two nurses in full PPE.
Nurses always work in pairs when doing these checks. One focuses on doing the health check, while the other cleans and sanitises any used equipment.
If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, the nurses will check your temperature, heart rate, lungs, and then give you a nasal swab.
After the health check, a staff member left a brown paper bag at my door – lunch.
I had requested a vegan option, which included a main meal of falafel with lettuce and couscous. The other snacks included a pita pocket, a chocolate-and-berry slice, and an apple. The slice, in particular, was delicious.
By the time I finished lunch, I had been in MIQ for an hour or so – a lot less than the seven days most people will now be required to do. Fully-vaccinated returnees who have negative tests on day 0, day 3 and day 6 get to spend their final seven days doing isolation at home.
I was relieved to hear that my MIQ simulation did not include this, and I was free to head back to the office.