During the Covid-19 there are strict border restrictions and rules in New Zealand. People arriving in New Zealand from abroad are required to spend at least two weeks in a managed isolation or quarantine facility (MIQ for short). “Managed facility” means that you won’t be able to go home and self-isolate. Whether you are a New Zealander returning home from overseas or a critical worker allowed the entrance to the country, in any case you will be met on arrival and transported to a managed facility.
Me and my family were returning to New Zealand after spending three years living and working in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, our planned return time coincided with Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and, hence, with border closures and travel restrictions. On our return to New Zealand we had to spend two weeks in a Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) in Auckland.
In this blog post I’m going to share our experience in the managed isolation. Hope this will help you to better prepare for it if you are planning to travel to New Zealand any time soon. So, here is our own Survivor’s guide to managed isolation in New Zealand.
Where can I read about border restrictions and isolation on arrival in New Zealand?
New Zealand Immigration and Managed Isolation and Quarantine web sites contain up-to-date official information on the subject – make sure you visit them before planning your trip to New Zealand.
I personally found the information on these websites helpful to better plan and understand what to expect on our return to New Zealand.
What happens at the airport when you arrive in New Zealand?
The plane has landed in New Zealand. Finally, we’re home! Now what? How long till we get to a managed isolation? After spending about 30 hours on the way from Amsterdam to Auckland, we were quite exhausted and just wanted to go home (to our Auckland’s house). But of course we knew we were not going to our house any time soon.
After our plane landed in Auckland airport, taxied and connected to the gate, airport workers came inside to ‘disinfect’ the plane. The disinfection consisted of the workers going through the plane and spraying aisles and overhead baggage compartments with some kind of disinfect. The passengers were asked to remain seated all that time and wait until the process was finished and we were allowed to take our hand baggage and leave the plane.
In the airport everything was organized quite well and we didn’t experience big queues or delays. Minimal processing times, all the personnel were friendly and many of them welcomed us home. Travelling a lot myself I must say not in many other places you see smiling border officers welcoming you to the country. Ah, that nice feeling being home! 🙂
On the plane we were given a short questionnaire related to our health (questions like, Do you have fever? Do you have a sore throat? etc.), recent PCR tests (if any) and list of recently visited countries.
First thing at the airport is going through a basic health check. We handed over our filled questionnaire, answered more questions related to Covid-19 symptoms and potential contacts, and got our temperature checked.
Only once cleared with the health check, we went through the regular passport check, picked up our baggage and went through a biosecurity control. Our family didn’t bring any restricted items to New Zealand, so it all went very quickly and we were out of the arrival gate.
At the arrival gate we were directed to a bus and told that we were going to MSocial hotel in the center of Auckland to spend our isolation time in. Good! At least we stayed in our home city and didn’t have to add a few hours ride to a facility in Rotorua or Hamilton!
Our baggage was loaded, we were seated on the bus and off we went. It’s about a half an hour drive from Auckland airport to the city center. The weather was sunny and it was nice to look out the window and say our first hello to Auckland after being away for three years. Andrey at once noticed how green the city is, how many trees are there and he was instantly happy 🙂
Note: If any of us had Covid-19 symptoms the procedure would be different – at the health check point in the airport we would be allocated to a managed quarantine facility. Which is more restrictive than a managed isolation facility and has more medical personnel to take care of sick people.
What happens when you arrive at MIQ?
When we arrived at the managed isolation facility – MSocial hotel in our case – while still seated on the bus, one of the facility workers greeted us. She briefly explained the process of the “checking in”, reminded us to keep our face masks always on (children also have to wear face masks) and to keep the 2 meters distance from other people outside our ‘bubble’ (family).
While we waited for our turn to leave the bus, the facility workers unloaded our luggage and moved it to the hotel’s lobby.
Health check by a nurse
From the bus we were directed via the fenced area to the hotel entrance. We were greeted by a nurse and again went through a basic health screening related to Covid-19. Then we answered questions about other medical conditions (not related to Covid-19) – e.g. If any of us have any allergies? If any of us are on a regular medication? If so, do we have enough supply of the medications?
In our family we have a Type 1 diabetic (myself) requiring insulin and blood glucose measuring sensors, and a person with food allergies (Andrey) requiring antihistamine medication when allergy symptoms appear. But we came prepared – I had enough insulin and blood glucose sensors to last me at least a month, and enough antihistamine pills for Andrey.
Tip: Bring enough medication to last you at least two weeks. Keep in mind that you can spend in the facility even longer if you develop covid-19 symptoms. However, if you run out the nurse should be able to help you with getting more medications.
Check by military/security stuff
Once we’ve been cleared by the nurse, we have moved onto the next check. A lady in military uniform asked for our passport details, wrote them down and let us onto the next check.
Next we were greeted by the hotel stuff. Here the procedure is more or less the same as when you’re arriving at any regular hotel – e.g. getting a credit card details (in case you break something in your room, or in case you use additional services during your stay so it can be charged to your room), asking for our passport details again, etc.
Finally we were given keys to our rooms and we were allowed to go rest. I must say after 30 hours of flights and transits we were all tired and ready to be left alone.
It was a long trip and lots of interactions, questions answering and passport details checking. It was helping a lot that we were always treated with friendliness, understanding and smiles from the personnel at the airport, isolation organization workers, military and security personnel and hotel workers.
Rooms in managed isolation facility
Inside the room
What kind of room, service and facilities you get in the managed isolation really depends on the hotel you get allocated to. Everything I describe here is based on our experience in MSocial hotel in Auckland.
Because we are a big family – 5 people – we were given two rooms next to each other, which were separated from the rest of the floor by a small corridor with a door. That allowed us to keep the corridor room closed and doors to our rooms opened – so we kind of had a two bedroom apartment with two bathrooms, but without a kitchen. Not bad. Though, of course, not quite the same as staying home.
If you are a family of four (with two children) you would get just one room. I can only imagine how tough it must be to spend 2 weeks in one small room especially with small and very active children.
The hotel we were staying at – M-Social hotel – has been renovated recently and the rooms were nice and new. In our rooms we had a big TV with selection of movies on demand (not a big selection, but it still helped with entertainment for the kids), small fridge, small table with one chair (not easy to have a meal for a family) and other regular things you’d find in a hotel – toiletries, hair drier, kettle, tea and coffee, etc.
Room service (or its absence)
Of course, unlike your regular hotel stay in an isolation facility hotel you won’t get daily room service. In fact, no one enters your room during the period of the stay. All the interactions (nurses coming to check on you, staff bringing the food, etc) happen through an open door with us standing inside and staff standing outside of the room with at least 2 meters distance between.
If you want a refill of tea or coffee – you have to call the reception and ask them to bring it to your room. Linen and towels get changed twice a week – they bring you bags to pack dirty linen and towels and put them outside the room, then somebody comes to pick them up and leave clean linen and towels at the door. Same goes with laundry. You can use laundry services once a week, leave it in a special bag outside of your room, and get it washed and dried the following day.
When your room gets dirty – and it will, because you will be living there for 2 weeks – nobody will clean it. Best we could do is to ask for a few spare towels, which I used to dust the room, wash the floors and bathroom.
You can also order a delivery from a selected supermarkets (depends where you’re staying) if you need something extra – toiletries, food, drinks, etc. But keep in mind that it will be checked by security prior to delivery to your room – to ensure you won’t order some restricted stuff (like, a case of whiskey to brighten up your two weeks in isolation 😉 ).
Can I leave my room while in MIQ?
We were allowed to leave our room (so, yeah, not fully a prison 😉 ).
Obviously, we had to wear a face mask anywhere outside of our room and keep 2 meters away from other people outside of our ‘bubble’ (family). There were plenty of masks available in the hotel for us to grab and use during the first week. But then all of them magically disappeared and were never resupplied again. So, better have some spare masks with you just in case.
We could leave our room either for a walk, for an outside time or for going for a Covid-19 test. In all other cases we were asked to call a reception so they attend our needs (bring a coffee, for example).
Can I smoke in MIQ?
In our hotel we had a small outside area at the front entrance – to smoke or to get some sun and fresh air (as fresh as it can be with other people smoking near you 🙁 ). It is a 10 by 5 meters fenced area guarded by military personnel. You are only allowed to spend outside 30 mins per visit during a day (and 15 mins per visit at night).
You have to still wear a mask when outside (except for when you’re smoking) – so much for getting a fresh air.
My dad, who is a smoker, went outside on average 2-3 times a day. Me, Yuriy and the boys went there very occasionally to get some sun and fresh air (kind of – in a mask and with smokers nearby) – because windows in our rooms were sealed and we couldn’t get fresh air by simply opening them.
The outside area is really small, so it’s not like you can walk there. You can either stand there a few minutes, or just sit on the floor, or talk through the fence if you have friends/relatives ‘visiting’ you (if you can call a ‘visit’ talking through the fence 2-3 meters apart from each other).
The outside area is open day and night and is only closed when a new batch of returnees from overseas arrives and gets processed to the hotel, which is usually 2 hours around lunch time. Because it’s small and you have to keep distance from other people – only 8 people are allowed outside at the same time. So, if you want to go out but it’s full you will have to wait for your turn.
Every time you go out for a smoke or a fresh air you have to ‘sign in’ – tell your name and room number to the military personnel guarding the entrance. Once you finish outside and return to the hotel, you need to ‘sign out’. I guess this is the way of monitoring that everyone who went out has returned.
Can I exercise in MIQ?
Our hotel also had a dedicated area for people to walk and do minor exercise. It wasn’t outside, it was at the underground parking grounds. One floor of the big parking garage was dedicated for walking. You still have to wear a mask during the walks, and you are not allowed to heavily exercise (e.g. no running). They don’t want you to sweat and pant and spread your microbes into the air more than necessary.
We used to walk in laps everyday at least once but sometimes twice a day.
Yes, it’s boring to walk around the car park. Yes, it’s not quite like walking outside. Yes, sometimes it felt like a prison with security personnel always watching you. But at least it was some active time spent outside our room! I heard that some other managed isolation facilities didn’t have walking facilities at all. Some may even say we were lucky to have it.
Every time you’re going for a walk you have to sign in (somebody from military staff writes down in a journal your name and room number). Then security staff takes you to the parking, opens the gate, you walk in, another security staff member meets you at the parking, and the gate closes behind you. After the walk, a security staff member accompanies you from the parking garage, you sign out, and go back to your room.
Can my children play outside while in MIQ?
You can go outside with your children – to the small area where some people smoke, if you like. Children won’t be able to run around or play because the area is small, and everybody should keep their distance from each other.
You can take your child for a walk around the underground parking. Well, our children are older and they were fine with the walks (although, after a few days their enthusiasm went down, as it’s not much fun to walk laps).
I saw some people going there with little kids – 2-3 year olds. Poor kids and parents :-/ Children want to run and play ball and go everywhere. They don’t care about keeping distance from other people, they don’t care about fences, which they’re not supposed to go past, they don’t care about very dirty floors where they just want to crawl over or sit on. And when small children are not allowed to do what they want or simply what they used to do when on a walk, they become very vocal. Like, very vocal! And in an enclosed parking garage with a very good echo… Well, not much fun neither for the parents nor for other people on the “walk”. At least, perhaps, it’s some fun for the children 🙂
In our hotel, they had a special family play time. At the same parking garage, but at a dedicated time slot – from 13:30 to 14:30 – only families with children were allowed to play ball and other active games. So, no walkers or exercisers, but only children can run around, play football, ride small bikes, go wild (as much as it’s possible to go wild in a covered parking lot with very dirty floors and walls).
One lady from the security staff gave our boys a ball. She told us that we can keep the ball during our stay here, so we can go play football at the family time, and then return the ball at the end of our stay. Very thoughtful of her!
How can I entertain my children in MIQ?
I truly believe that people with children struggle much more in managed isolation than people without them 🙂 Not only you need to stay sane yourself, but you also are responsible to come up with entertainment and activities for your little ones while very limited in resources and space!
If you’re planning to travel with kids to New Zealand during Covid-19 related border restrictions and therefore stay in a managed isolation, make sure you plan well for it.
Pack enough books (paper books and activity books for little kids, electronic ones for older children), board games and toys (e.g. Lego). Have some movies and cartoons handy (e.g. on a laptop or a tablet). We had a Chromecast with us to cast movies and cartoons – most of the hotels now have TVs with HDMI ports. Also, in our hotel they had free movies to watch. We also brought our Xbox – and that was a very wise decision! 🙂
When we just arrived at the isolation and were processed by the nurse, she was asking questions about our health and whether we had any questions. Yuriy had joked “I only have a question on how to stay sane with two active boys locked in a room for two weeks :)”. The nurse said she can bring us some board games and books! Early the next day she knocked at our door and brought us a full bag of various board games, puzzles and lots of books to read! It was really nice of her!
I think what’s really important is to create a routine for the children (and for adults too :)). Even before we departed for New Zealand and knew we’re going to spend two weeks in a managed isolation in a hotel, we told our boys they are not going to play Xbox or other video games all day long! (I know, I know – we’re inhuman parents :))
Roughly our days here looked like this: waking up in the morning, getting ready for the day, breakfast, time spent on reading books or doing puzzles, and then going for a walk (yep, in the underground garage). Shower after the walk, some studying (e.g. math, reading, writing for boys). Lunch time, and then going for the Family Active Time (playing football in the parking garage). I must say that we stopped going there after first week as it stopped being fun for the boys.
Only after all the studying has been done the boys were allowed to play video games for an hour or two – on laptops or Xbox. Then we would go to either a second walk (shorter one) or go get some fresh air outside.
After dinner, we would either watch a movie before bedtime or play some games.
It’s not like we kept this schedule 100% every day, we had some variations of course. But having a routine for children helped them to manage expectations and to keep their days more or less busy.
How can I entertain myself in MIQ?
Well, see above – ‘How can I entertain my children in a managed isolation?’ – it’s pretty much the same. Have a routine for yourself, have a project or some things to do while you’re in a managed isolation.
Go for regular walks or outside time – whatever they have in the isolation facility. I know, after the first few days I couldn’t look at that underground parking garage, and at some point I even had dreams about it. But nevertheless it was better than no exercises at all or only exercises within my room.
Make sure you have a book or two, or have access to an online library. Bring a gaming console if you’re into video games. Bring a puzzle or perhaps a Lego set if you’re into it. Perhaps, have a project for yourself: e.g. write a blog, an article, create a website, or do an online learning course you always wanted to do, but never had time before. Whatever helps to entertain yourself, keep your brain occupied and simply kill the time.
We ourselves spent a lot of time online sorting stuff after our long absence from New Zealand. Thing like finding and shortlisting cars we wanted to inspect and buy once we released, choosing a health insurance, a GP/doctor to enroll, find ourselves mobile and internet provider, finding sport sections for the boys, etc, etc, etc.
Food in MIQ
I am sitting in my room writing this paragraph about food in a managed isolation while waiting for the familiar knock on the door announcing that the dinner is here. Like Pavlov’s dogs we’ve got used to knocking on the door three times a day signaling meal arrival.
Quality and variety of the food depends on the hotel you are staying in for the isolation period. Meals in our hotel (MSocial) were quite good. They might not always be to our taste, but it was always nice and fresh food with some variety in the menu.
They give you a menu for the week where you can choose options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Usually, there were three different options for each meal time, one of them being vegetarian. So, at least we had a choice.
From the downsides is that there was no children menu. There is one menu for all – and you have to choose from it. I don’t know about other children, but my boys won’t eat steamed broccoli and cauliflower or a couscouse full of pieces of fresh onions or a spicy chicken. They would prefer simpler food and more plain fresh vegetables.
Another downside is when you have some special diet requirements. For me, being a Type 1 diabetic, it was at times very hard to calculate the amount of carbs in the food and guess things like ‘how much sugar they put in that sauce for the beef?’.
Small side note: For those who don’t know – I have to give myself insulin injections with every meal and snack. And amount of the administered insulin depends on the amount of carbohydrates in the meal. If I inject too little, I end up with high glucose levels in my blood, if I inject too much – I may end up with hypoglycemia (when blood sugar is lower than normal, which becomes life-threatening if not treated).
So, for me the first week in isolation was a nightmare in terms of my diabetes management. Not being able to properly calculate insulin injections and often doing lots of guessing, not being able to get enough fresh air and regular exercise (which is also important for diabetes management), and with my organism struggling with the drastic time zone change, – with all that my blood glucose levels were constantly over the top 🙁
Andrey has nut and egg food allergy, which we noted on every page with the food orders. Kitchen stuff was mindful of that and with food delivery we often had stickers “contains nuts” on the containers with nut containing food. When all desserts on the day were containing nuts, Andrey would often receive a special dessert from the kitchen – like, a muffin baked separately from other muffins containing eggs or nuts.
However, add allergy limitation to the absence of children menu limitation – and you will get a very limited food options to feed the child.
Overall, I would say the food was good and kitchen staff put an effort into cooking us nice meals every day and making an exception for those with allergies.
It’s just when you have some diet requirements… well, better embrace yourself for the two weeks in isolation 🙁
Health checks and Covid-19 tests while in managed isolation
Every day during our stay in the managed isolation we had a health check aimed to identify whether we’re developing Covid-19 symptoms. Heath check consisted of two nurses visiting us every day (when I say ‘visiting’ I mean staying outside of our room with 2 meters distance from us), checking and writing down our temperature and asking us a set of standard questions. Like, do you have sore throat? do you feel unwell? do you have other health complains? etc.
During the isolation everyone (including children over 6 months old) has to do two Covid-19 tests – first time on Day 3, and second time on Day 12 of the stay.
Only after the day 12 test returned negative and you don’t have Covid-19 symptoms you may be released from the managed isolation.
Releasing from managed isolation facility
At the moment of publishing the first version of the article we were still in the managed isolation. The following writing in our room very well represented our state of counting days till the release:
In our case that would be:
“Does it feel long to spend 2 weeks in managed isolation?”
“It feels forever!”
So, after what felt like forever we were finally due to be released from the managed isolation. Our Day 12 Covid tests came out negative and we started packing our bags. We were told exact date and time we are going to be released, and asked whether we need a transfer back to the airport (you can choose to be transferred to the airport free of charge). We didn’t need transfer as we already booked a car to go home.
On the day of the release we were given an official letter and a framed certificate with congratulations on completion of the 14 days isolation. Staff at the hotel joked that may be I want to hand it proudly on the wall somewhere. To which I answered ‘No thank you, I want to forget that ever happened to me!’ 🙂
That was our Survivor’s guide to managed isolation in New Zealand.
Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you would like to know about managed isolation on arrival in New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!