Ministry of Education Rejects MIQ Air Purifiers During Omicron Peak

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In March, more than 3000 of the second-hand air purifiers were offered for placement in schools. File photo.
Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

The Department of Education rejected air purifiers pulled from MIQ hotels for use in schools at a time when Omicron was booming and still waiting for its own order in the country.

More than 3,000 of the second-hand air purifiers were offered to schools in March 2022, when the number of cases from Covid-19 communities each day was in the tens of thousands.

Instead, the filters were picked up by hospitals, dental clinics and other community providers.

Health sociologist Dr. Andrew Dickson was one of the parents who bought air purifiers for schools earlier this year.

He spent $1500 on two for his children’s school in Ranfurly and said the MIQ air purifiers had been welcome.

“Absolutely, I would have used them. I would have had them there in March as soon as I could,” he said.

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“They’re incredibly useful, especially in the winter when it got cold and there were tons of classrooms that could have done with that sort of thing.”

Temperatures drop to the negatives on winter mornings in the city of Central Otago, and Dr. Dickson said it was impractical to open windows for better ventilation — as recommended by the government based on a NIWA report.

“I can’t see any point in that. It seems like a decision they probably made based on the NIWA report, but I don’t think they thought about the reality of what came up and they should have taken all the help they could get.”

By mid-April, the Ministry of Education had delivered 450 air purifiers to schools – another 4,500 arrived at the beginning of winter.

Sam Fowler, the Department of Education’s deputy assistant secretary for property supply, said it did not accept the MIQ air purifiers in March because it had its own air purifiers on order and believed that would be enough.

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“The ministry was approached by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in March 2022 regarding the purchase of a number of air purifiers coming out of MIQ facilities,” he said.

“At the time, the ministry was well advanced in an open-market purchase for air purifiers and so let that process run its course. Our procurement process and the resulting devices purchased and made available to schools effectively met our needs.”

The Department of Health confirmed that 3,800 air purification units went from MIQ hotels to hospitals, dental clinics and community services – none to schools.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment said air filtration units have been installed in shared areas in MIQ facilities, such as cleaning rooms, elevators and corridors and quarantine rooms.

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MIQ was responsible for cleaning and replacing the filters while the air purifiers were in use at facilities, but was not involved in the distribution for reuse.

Julie Bennett, an indoor air quality expert and professor at the University of Otago, said the second-hand MIQ purifiers could have been helpful.

“There could have been a lot of reasons why they couldn’t accept them, things like having to replace the filters in them, but for those schools that couldn’t ventilate well, they might have been useful to use,” she said.

“First of all, we want schools to be really well ventilated and if that doesn’t work, the next action could be using something like an air purifier.”

As of this month, the Ministry of Education said more than 13,500 air purifiers have been delivered to schools across the country, with more available on demand.

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