By Katie Todd of RNZ
Returnees were caught escaping MIQ hotels, attempting escape or venturing into out of bounds areas 117 times in a 10-month period.
Officials told the public about only three of those absconding incidents between September 1, 2020 and July 11, 2021 and only after the escapee had been found.
A list obtained under the Official Information Act shows the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment recorded “absconding, attempted absconding or unauthorised access” incidents roughly once every three days, across 30 different MIQ hotels.
Due to the number of incidents the ministry refused to provide further details of the breaches, including whether the person had left the hotel, and any specific follow-up action it took.
It said it did not record where each offender had travelled from or how long they were out of the hotel.
The Crowne Plaza in Auckland had the highest number of incidents, with 13 in total including four in an 11-day period in October 2020.
Second highest on the list was Distinction Hamilton, where there were nine incidents recorded.
There were no incidents recorded in the timeframe at the Commodore Hotel in Christchurch or the Four Points by Sheraton in Auckland.
Only incidents with a potential public health risk are notified – MBIE
In the same 10-month timeframe, officials reported three absconding incidents via the MIQ website and in media releases.
The ministry said it will “make the public aware of any attempted/alleged absconding attempts if it meets the threshold of affecting public safety”.
MIQ general manager service quality and assurance Shayne Gray said the local Public Health Unit carries out a public health risk assessment, looking at whether the person has shown symptoms of Covid-19, if they have had contact with any confirmed cases and if it is possible they have the virus.
He said the Public Health Unit will consider how long the person has been out of the hotel and whether their movements could pose a risk of transmission.
“This assessment will be continuously updated as new information is made available.”
One of the incidents reported was at the Ramada in Auckland, where a man made a rope out of bedsheets to flee and then returned seven hours later of his own accord.
He was later convicted and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
Another was at the Sudima in Rotorua, where a man was reported missing from his room then found by staff half an hour later.
The third was at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Auckland, where a woman went out a fire escape, returned, and was caught making a second escape attempt.
In each of the incidents, the public were told that the public health risk was “low”, the people had no symptoms of the virus and that they had recently tested negative.
All of them had returned to the facility by the time the information was published.
In April, RNZ reported one of the incidents that hadn’t been notified, involving a family who fled and stayed in the community for more than two days.
Continuous security improvements
Officials have introduced more CCTV cameras and door alarms to MIQ hotels as part of a “security enhancement programme” launched in August 2020, aimed at reducing the number of breaches.
“Returnees are communicated with about the technology used at our facilities, and the consequences of potential breaches or absconding incidents,” Gray said.
The ministry is also reviewing security as part of an investigation into an escape from the Novotel in Ellerslie last month.
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