By 1News

The Government is establishing an award to recognise people who have contributed to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, with MIQ staff to be the first recipients, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

“The award provides a formal opportunity to acknowledge those who have played a critical role in our Covid-19 response,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Our MIQ workforce has demonstrated care and professionalism, often at considerable personal risk and sacrifice and are worthy recipients of this award and our gratitude.

“MIQ workers have welcomed home over 230,000 Kiwis and supported more than 4,400 people from within our community who have had Covid-19. They have been a core part of our wall of defence against Covid-19," she said.

It comes as Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced on Thursday that MIQ "is beginning to scale down its operations as international travel starts back up".

“With New Zealand now reopening to the world without the requirement to isolate for most, there is a significantly reduced demand for MIQ. This of course means that we no longer need the number of facilities we currently have,” Hipkins said.

“By the end of June, 28 of the current 32 facilities will leave the MIQ network and return to being hotels.

“Many staff, who have done an incredible and tireless job over the last two years, have already begun going back to their roles in the health, defence and police workforces.

“Already over 300 healthcare workers and nurses and over 230 police have returned to frontline duties, and over 600 defence personnel involved in the MIQ response will now return to their units.

“MBIE is working with the remainder of its workforce and with employers, to help staff as we work through this period. With many sectors experiencing workforce shortages we are confident there are opportunities for people to be redeployed into work elsewhere," Hipkins said.

Ardern acknowledged that MIQ, while protecting the country, had also brought pain.

“It’s easy to hear the word MIQ and immediately associate it with heartache. There is no question, that for New Zealand it has been one of the hardest parts of the pandemic. But the staff who worked in the facilities did so selflessly and deserve our thanks," she said.

“MIQ staff have been at the front line of Covid-19 from the start. Prior to the vaccine they had no way to protect themselves from the virus other than PPE.

“Working in MIQ often meant giving up on normal lives to protect others. I’ve heard stories of staff being ostracised through fear of infection and isolating and changing their normal routines to reduce the risk of passing on the virus to others.

“I can’t imagine the burden they have carried and this recognition is the least we can do to thank them for their service and sacrifice.

“The award will take the form of a lapel pin. Officials are working on design, eligibility and criteria with further details to come as the work progresses.

“This award to the MIQ workforce is the first to be announced. Recognition will be extended to other groups who have contributed to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, with further announcements to be made in due course.

“Our Covid-19 response has and continues to be a true team effort that is not over, but the Government wants to ensure those on the frontline get the recognition they deserve for what they helped achieve,” Ardern said.

Hipkins said on Thursday that MIQ facility, Rydges in Auckland, will be the first facility to leave the network.

"Its contract comes to a natural end on April 30 and it will begin operating as a hotel again from mid-May. Conversations with other facilities are ongoing, and further details will be made public in due course.

“A small number of hotels will remain part of the system while the Government works through what might be needed in terms of a national quarantine capacity in the future. This could include retaining hotels or purpose-built facilities,” Hipkins said.

“I expect to receive formal advice on this later in 2022.”

Top Image: A woman walks past the barriers outside an MIQ facility in Auckland. (File photo) Photo: Getty Images

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