Covid 19 coronavirus: Doctor describes working in managed isolation and quarantine facilities

Drug addicts going through withdrawal, the terminally ill, expectant mothers and new babies – medical professionals staffing the managed isolation and quarantine facilities deal with it all.

Dr Mark Craig is one of those doctors. He’s now urging the public to be compassionate to the people inside after what he saw working across Auckland’s MIQ hotels for six months.

Craig worked across all Auckland’s MIQ hotels as an on-call doctor from March 2020, where he encountered people in pain, battling addictions and suffering from heartbreak.

“From the outside, it looks like people are having a two-week holiday in a five-star hotel, but actually when you get in there, a five-star hotel can become like a prison camp.”

He said most guests cope well with the two-week stay, but 5-10 per cent struggle.

Guests can be extremely stressed, suffering from mental health issues ranging from mild to severe, withdrawing from alcohol or drug addictions, bereaved, or had overseas life plans ruined by Covid.

Guests suffered from a range of medical conditions, from diabetes to terminal cancers.

“Some people are returning to die here.

“The hardest ones are young people with cancer coming back. There are people with cancer in every hotel. It’s really, really hard. You’ve just been diagnosed and you’re coming back here to get top quality treatment and you’re in this holding pattern for two weeks where everyone is doing their best to look after you. You can’t have your family with you.”

One of the hardest things to witness was victims of domestic abuse, he said.

“Some people [are] leaving abusive relationships in Australia just with the shirts on their backs and [they’ve] got on a plane with nothing, then they have to start from scratch.  People arriving with bruises and cuts.”

He recalled the deportees that stayed at Auckland’s Ramada Hotel and how empathetic the staff were.

“Australia has kicked them out. A lot of them don’t have lives in New Zealand and haven’t lived here for years and it’s a pretty terrible thing to be deported when your life is already set up somewhere else.”

Craig said he hoped people on the outside didn’t judge the staff and guests inside MIQ.

“If you don’t know what’s going on in there, you can get quite judgmental. I read a lot of stories about people criticising the border lapses. People are working really bloody hard in there. There is a lot of stress.”

The staff working in the hotels were “gold”, he said.

“New Zealand should be very proud of them keeping the country safe. The nurses, welfare workers, hotel staff and more recently the NZDF work around the clock under huge stress and difficult situations, aware that the outside world is waiting for them to make mistakes to pounce on.

“They act as nurses, counsellors, logistics experts, greeting parties as some people haven’t set foot in the country for 30 or 40 years, onward travel agents, caterers, shoulders to cry on and, where necessary, enforcers in tandem with the very impressive NZDF staff.

“The MIQs are pressure cookers which magnify any ongoing stresses.”

Craig said the medical crew he worked with were up at all hours treating everything from rashes to infections to heart attacks, IVF expectant mothers and newborn babies with illnesses, terminally ill, mild to severe mental illness and the hardest of all, addictions.

“MIQs are a hard place to withdraw as you need specialist services.”

His “one criticism” of MIQ was the “largely over-rich, highly fatty, highly salted and processed” food served to returnees.

“So many gain weight and develop raised blood pressure, and undoubtedly raised cholesterols and blood sugars, in those two weeks. I tell all the chronic disease patients, of which there are depressingly large numbers, to choose the vege options or get their own delivery.”

Craig said he wanted to share his experience to shed light on the reality of life inside MIQ for guests and staff.

“I could tell a thousand stories of sadness and heartbreak, but also great humour, empathy and kindness taking place,” he said.

“We’re in an incredibly lucky position compared with the rest of the world, like my family back in the UK, bored after months of lockdown. Our isolation facilities aren’t perfect, none ever will be, but we’re dealing with a tricky virus and innumerable variables around transmission and variable people behaviours.”

Of New Zealand’s 32 MIQ facilities, 18 are in Auckland.

Since March 26, 2020, 119,373 people have been through New Zealand’s MIQ system with around 5581 people currently in MIQ.

• Dr Mark Craig is a GP and Fellow of the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners of New Zealand and the UK and member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He trained in the UK in surgery and then general practice, and is a certified lifestyle medicine physician.

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