Covid-19: the authorities unable to say how many border workers have not been vaccinated

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As of Monday, unvaccinated managed isolation workers will begin to be transferred to low-risk roles – but health officials cannot be sure which workers did not receive the vaccine.

The new Covid 19 vaccination center in South Auckland
Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Adoption by MIQ staff is rated high, although the government says a “small proportion” has not been vaccinated and some people may decide not to share their vaccination status with their employer.

A security guard at the Grand Millennium Hotel tested positive for Covid-19 and it turned out that he had missed two appointments for vaccines for “personal reasons”.

The Department of Health launched an audit of the Grand Millennium Hotel, doubled the frequency of testing for staff and said in a statement that the majority of the worker’s colleagues had been hit.

“We know that the company employing this case vaccinated 79 percent of its MIF employees and 81 percent of Grand Millennium staff received their first vaccination,” he said.

This is a significantly lower estimate than that provided by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on March 23. Speaking to the media about vaccination rates, he said that “the comments we have received from the management of the Grand Millennium hotel are that they are well above 90%”.

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Yesterday, Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield said between 90 and 95 percent of managed isolation workers nationwide had received the vaccine.

However, asked the same question a few hours later, the Department of Business Innovation and Employment said “about 85 percent of MIQ workers have had their first dose and about 50 percent have had their. second.”

John Crocker, the national secretary of Unite Union who represents MIQ workers, said he would like specific numbers.

“I see no reason why they shouldn’t have this public information. I think it’s good for other workers to see that adoption is here and I think it’s good to have the public reassured that this first line of defense is getting stronger and stronger, ”he said.

Neither Bloomfield, nor the Department of Health, nor the Department of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have been able to say exactly how many people working in MIQ hotels have had a hit.

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Vaccine data is recorded by individual MIQ hotels and MBIE noted that some workers had decided “not to share their immunization status with their employers.”

It comes as the government plans to crack down on unvaccinated border workers, including MIQ staff.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said it is becoming too risky to leave them in jobs where they could contract Covid-19, so from Monday they will start to be transferred to “low risk” roles.

The E tū union also represents frontier workers and organizer Mat Danaher said any job change should be carefully considered with an “inter-agency, inter-employer approach”.

“First, a risk assessment needs to be done to determine if the job is indeed high risk.

“For example, looking at MIQ… all the work is probably high risk. Elsewhere across the border there will be a mixture of risk.

“We are convinced that anyone who cannot be vaccinated is redeployed and is not harmed by not being vaccinated, because there are obviously many reasons why people cannot be vaccinated.”

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Society of Nurses director David Wills believed any new staff in MIQ hotels should have their immunization status checked.

“In a number of areas, and in fact we are currently seeing this across the health service, some employment contracts make it very clear that a condition of employment must be vaccinated.

“This is happening, for example, in the elderly care sector,” he said.

MBIE said that by next month “all work at the MIQ facilities will be carried out by vaccinated workers.”

In a statement, he said employers have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2015 to take all reasonable and practicable steps to eliminate or control “known risks”.

“This includes obligations to employees working at the border at this time, who are at high risk due to Covid-19,” the statement said.

“MBIE provided guidance to MIQ employers starting March 23, 2021, which helped them start one-on-one conversations with their staff about the importance of getting the vaccine.”

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