Saturday, November 27

Concerns such as cases of Covid-19 exercising in the underground car park of the Grand Mercure Wellington

Wellington’s Covid-19 cases are allowed to exercise in an underground parking lot, raising concern that MIQ workers are taking unnecessary risk.

Grand Mercure in Auckland, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

Photo: RNZ

All confirmed Wellington cases of the Delta variant are housed at the Grand Mercure hotel, with the exception of at least one person who is in hospital.

An aerosol chemist says the closed air from an underground parking lot increases the possibility of transmission, while a public health expert says the hotel does not seem suitable to operate as a quarantine facility.

The joint chief of managed isolation and quarantine, Brigadier Rose King, said that people staying at the Grand Mercure in Wellington can still use the hotel’s “fresh air” area, an underground parking garage.

That’s despite having tested positive for Covid-19 and the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant.

“Controlled isolation or quarantine is a challenging time that affects people who go through it in different ways,” King said.

“Having access to fresh air supports your well-being.

“There are infection prevention and control protocols in the fresh air area, and returnees must wear the medical masks provided at all times and disinfect their hands before and after entering the exercise areas and maintain a physical distance of 2 meters of others. “

Joel rindelaub

Dr. Joel Rindelaub.
Photo: supplied by the University of Auckland

University of Auckland aerosol chemist Dr Joel Rindelaub said he sympathized with those quarantined in Wellington.

But he said those measures weren’t always enough to prevent Covid-19, and in particular the Delta variant, from spreading.

“They are definitely useful, but they are not going to be 100 percent perfect as we have seen through the types of aerosol transmission in the past at MIQ facilities,” Rindelaub said.

“Taking them to these corridors or these confined spaces where we know that there is not the greatest air flow, to a place where they are not regulating ventilation, we do not know how many air changes per hour are occurring in these places, there is a risk of transmission by aerosol sprays “.

RNZ understands that to get to the underground car park, people have to leave their rooms and be guided by MIQ personnel, usually soldiers from the Defense Forces, to an elevator that takes them to the car park.

Brigadier King said air filtration units had been installed in hallways and elevators, and that each room occupied by a positive box had a HEPA filter installed.

Rindelaub said it was a good standard, but using an underground parking lot for exercise was still very risky.

“This one can’t even pass the smell test,” he said.

“If you are in some of these closed parking lots, you can smell vehicle fumes left over from people passing by.

“Every time you are in that environment, you know that there is not enough ventilation to get fresh air in, so a parking lot would be much more dangerous than a real outdoor environment where you get fresh air from the environment.”

Nick Wilson, a public health expert at the University of Otago.

Professor Nick Wilson.
Photo: University of otago

Professor Nick Wilson, a public health expert at the University of Otago, said he would not want to be near the underground parking lot as long as there were positive cases.

“I don’t think it’s fair that MIQ workers have to be involved in that process because even though the masks are good, they are not perfect, so MIQ workers are unnecessarily exposed to risks.”

Remediation work in progress

While filters have been installed in occupied rooms and shared areas, the Grand Mercure is still undergoing ventilation remediation work in parts of the hotel that are in use.

Brigadier King said work will be completed earlier this month, with a second phase of work, on the other side of the hotel that is currently not in use, which will begin soon.

The job includes cleaning vents, replacing faulty exhaust fans, and replacing window gaskets.

Wilson said the Grand Mercure is not fit for purpose and should not be in use.

“This sounds troublesome, I mean the remediation work should be done,” Wilson said.

“It sounds extremely problematic if people who are known to be positive and infectious are exercising in an underground parking lot with presumably quite poor ventilation, so this seems like a very unsatisfactory situation.”

Wilson said that people staying at the Grand Mercure should be given exercise equipment, such as exercise bikes, to use in their rooms, rather than being allowed out into the underground parking lot.

Brigadier King said MIQ’s Technical Advisory Group had estimated the risk of ventilation problems at the facility to be low.

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