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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyDecember 24, 2020

We wish you a merry quarantine: How NZ’s border facilities are celebrating Christmas

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Cases of Covid-19 are being found daily in the country’s border facilities, but that won’t stop them from throwing together a Christmas like none before it, complete with face masks and social distancing.

Following Jacinda Ardern’s decision to give Santa and his reindeer a pass to avoid a stint at a border facility, and presumably clearing them of biosecurity rules as well, Christmas is coming to the country’s managed-isolation hotels.

While most New Zealanders won’t need to think much (knock on wood) about Covid-19 at Christmas, the staff at the 32 MIQ facilities around the country are planning festivities along with the near certainty that some of the 5,724 returnees expected in managed-isolation that day will be carrying the deadly virus.

So what’s in store for returning New Zealanders, first timers and seasonal workers in managed-isolation? Surprisingly, a lot.

Returnees will be waking up on Christmas morning to the usual knock on the door signifying that breakfast is waiting in a brown paper bag, as well as a cup of coffee or tea. However, there will be a surprise as well: Thousands of Christmas stockings filled with treats will also be hanging on hotel doors across the country.

Along with Christmas decorations and lobbies filled with memorable songs about snow that are nonsensical in the country’s climate, there will also be reindeer food stations set up at hotels for kids to put out food for Santa’s speedy Nordic caribou.

A spokesperson for managed-isolation has assured The Spinoff that Santa will be given the protective gear he needs to safely travel our relatively Covid-19 free islands. “When visiting managed-isolation facilities, he will of course strictly follow all health and safety rules,” they said.

There’s also an “in-house Santa” at one MIQ facility on Christmas Day, but the New Zealand government started looking at the floor after they revealed that bit of information and said they couldn’t talk more about it. They promise there will be photos, maybe on the prime minister’s Instagram.

Managed-isolation staff show some Christmas cheer in Rotorua (Image: Managed Isolation and Quarantine NZ)

If you’re passing by an isolation hotel in the next few days, like Auckland’s Pullman where I spent two memorable weeks, look up to see art in the windows. Returnees have been given some craft supplies to throw together some festive window art. Paper snowflakes are a fun way to distract the kids.

Some facilities have been putting on shows outside for returnees to look at from the windows of their rooms. Pictures exist of one such show in Rotorua where a crowd of police officers and soldiers, in uniform but wearing face masks and Santa hats, seemed to be dancing with large paper Christmas trees.

Another Rotorua managed-isolation facility dressed a Christmas tree in a surgical gown, face mask and medical gloves. The tree has arms and gifts at its base. It looks terrifying. Merry Christmas.

Finally, there’s food. During normal times, the kai at different managed-isolation facilities runs the gamut from shockingly good at some hotels to sorta adequate. However, for Christmas everyone is going to try a bit harder with some festive fare.

The food starts on Christmas Eve with special cookies for children, or sugar-starved adults who don’t mind eating cookies made specially for children. Then there will be special Christmas food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some hotels are planning picnic-themed lunches or a “high-tea” style lunch. Finally, there will be bubbles to finish off the day.

Oh yeah, and on New Year’s Eve, there’s going to be dainty French pastries and more bubbles at midnight.

If you’re going to spend the festive season in managed-isolation, the government is planning to throw some food and booze your way. That seems a fitting way to end a horrible year.

Keep going!