What happened when isolation guests shared same building with NZ’s flashest apartments

Residents of one of Auckland’s most expensive penthouse apartment complexes discovered in June that their building had qualified to become an isolation facility.

They were terrified.

Many in the 149 apartments at The Stamford Residences on Albert St are in their 60s and 70s, considered to be highly at risk if they caught the virus yet they weren’t consulted before the hotel on the lower floors of their buildings became travellers’ secured facilities.

As soon as they found out, they complained – but they got nowhere.

Adrian Yap, an apartment owner who bought his level-13 place four years ago and is body corporate chairman said: “Elderly residences came to me with health issues. One man had only one lung. He was so concerned. A neighbour who lives four apartments down has a son with cerebral palsy who is wheel-chair bound and only nine years old.”

Wire mesh security fences were erected around the entrance lobby area in jail-like fashion. Guards arrived to keep the Covid stayers inside for their mandatory solo fortnights.

The apartment dwellers cried out: “My wife is eight months pregnant,” Yap said. “We were forgotten about. We were overlooked and our concerns were not considered.”

But the hotel warned it would have to lay off staff if it could not take in isolating guests. Busloads of would-be stayers were initially diverted at the last minute to hotels in Rotorua.

Use of the Stamford was on hold until arrangements were reviewed there, the head of the Government’s isolation and quarantining operations Air Commodore Digby Webb said at the time.

Yet the hotel did become an iso facility, leaving apartment owners feeling powerless.

Stayers arrived via buses. Then, they began to escape. One man who arrived from India on July 3 and was incarcerated in the enforced Stamford luxury left for the Countdown nearby on Victoria St.

So more security gates were erected around the entrance and in the areas where they are allowed to walk.

“We were concerned about level three and four passageways to carparks where a barrier was erected but we shared those areas. It was a thoroughfare for isolation staff – the military, hotel workers and Ministry of Health staff,” Yap said.

“A goods lift was being used by residents who were wheelchair-bound or had baby equipment like me. That goods lift is still being used by the staff who work in the same areas as the isolation guests.

“The fire egress is the biggest worry to us. If there was a fire in our building, we’d be evacuated with the isolation stayers. The Government has been criminally negligent. I had to issue to face masks and gloves to every apartment resident and tell them in the event of a fire, to be very careful,” Yap said.

A complaint to the Ministry of Health got Yap the response that the building was unsuitable – yet isolation stayers remain there today.

“I have been advised that the team reporting to Air Commodore Webb did look at The Stamford as a possible managed isolation facility but it did not meet the requirements for being a facility,” wrote ministry consultant Angus McGregor to Yap on June 22.

Yet the buses arrived and the iso stayers poured out.

“It’s outrageous,” Yap said today of the situation the apartment owners find themselves in today. “It’s diabolical.”

Yap wrote to PM Jacinda Ardern, Housing Minister Megan Woods, Health Minister Chris Hipkins “and I got no response. I think it’s disgusting. The behaviour of the Government is appalling. The building was found to be unsuitable by the ministry yet it was used anyway and those guests still stay today.”

So residents did the only thing they could: went to their local MP. Fortunately, she was experienced ex-National deputy leader Nikki Kaye who battled for years to get amendments to the deficient Unit Titles Act. They could not have found anyone more au fait with the laws governing their property than Kaye.

She tried every avenue she could, then resorted to the ombudsman.

The finding has now been released: the Ombudsman came down hard against the Government officials who picked the Stamford.

The investigation found that decisions about risk mitigation and health and safety were made by the All of Government Response Group in June, in consultation with hotel
management. The group did not consult directly with the residents in the development of the health and safety plan, instead relying on the hotel to seek their views, Ombudsman Peter Boshier has ruled.

“The residents received the health and safety plan on July 17, more than two weeks after
the hotel became a MI facility. The Chief Ombudsman found that the Department had
sufficient time to provide the draft plan to the residents, in advance of the arrival of MI guests.”

Boshier noted that the residents had made requests to the hotel for health
and safety information and that the group was party to those requests.

“These requests were not considered by the Department under the Official Information Act. In the course of the investigation, the department acknowledged that the process could have benefitted from earlier engagement with the Hotel, to ensure residents and tenants were well informed. The department accepted that the processes surrounding the establishment of the hotel as a MI Facility had not run smoothly. It acknowledged that processes should change, and said that they would.”

Boshier found that the department failed to consult appropriately with the
residents when developing the health and safety plan, and to share information with residents in a timely manner once the plan had been developed. It also omitted to consider the residents’ requests for health and safety information in accordance with the OIA.

Kaye said today: “As a retiring MP I believe some of the important moments are when you fight for constitutes where they feel they have been let down by the Government. I have fought with others for Stamford residents. I complained to the Ombudsman because I believed residents had a right to be properly consulted.”

Yap thanked Kaye.

“Look Nikki Kaye – I’m saddened she’s retiring. She is a fantastic MP for Auckland Central. I can’t believe the amount of work she’s put into helping the residents here in order to get this resolved. She’s worked tirelessly from June 20 till now to get this result and everyone at the Residences are so thankful to her,” Yap said.

So what do Government officials say today about this?

“The All of the Government Response Group accepts the Chief Ombudsman’s findings regarding complaints from permanent residents of the Stamford Plaza. Consultation and communication with the residents was not of the standard they should reasonably have expected and we apologise for that,” a statement out today said.

“We should have communicated directly with the permanent residents and body corporate rather than leaving it to the hotel to keep them informed. Lessons have been taken from this and we are writing to the residents to apologise,” that said.

“MBIE took over managed isolation and quarantine on July 13 and will continue working with the body corporate and permanent residents to help them understand how this managed isolation facility is operating safely.”

Yap’s response to it all today after the long battle?

“This is vindication. This is what we’ve been saying from day one. We wanted to be consulted yet we never were. We still have concerns. This statement doesn’t make it any better because there’s been no action.”

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