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Navy on the frontline

On 19 March 2020, New Zealand closed its borders. On 9 April, the Prime Minister announced that a network of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities (MIQFs) would be established, to bring citizens and residents home.

The New Zealand Defence Force is tasked with supporting the MIQFs, as part of a multi-agency effort run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Even before the creation of the MIFQs, around 120 Defence Force planning and logistics staff were attached to the Government’s COVID-19 response teams.

At our Navy training facility on Whangaparaoa Peninsula, 64 campervans were used to create New Zealand’s first quarantine facility in modern times, handling 157 returnees from Wuhan, China, ranging from children to the elderly.

It’s a very busy job, but if you care about people, it’s easy. You need to have empathy and be a personable person. You use a lot of the leadership tools you learn in the Defence Force, and it’s all transferable to the civilian sector.

Chief Petty Officer Greg Bishell, Manager at an MIQF

This evolves to the concept of hotels being used as isolation centres where returnees are isolated for two weeks. By October 2020 around 1,200 New Zealand Defence Force personnel are rotating through the MIQFs, taking their turn. Personnel typically work seven days on, six days off.

Operation Protect, the name of the NZDF contribution, touches at the heart of what the Navy trains to do. The Navy is on the front line, helping to protect our country and the well-being of our population, and we are doing it in a professional and caring way that is noticed and has a powerful effect on the thousands of people returning to New Zealand.

Navy staff are instrumental in establishing and managing the first Managed Isolation Facilities, and pass their experience on as new facilities come on line. Navy personnel, having lived in confined spaces on ships, away from families, have strong empathy for the difficulties some returnees have with coping during the two-week isolation period.

Elsewhere, the Navy supports the NZ Police with checkpoint duty around Auckland when they are at different alert levels, they also stand beside NZ Customs to provide an increased maritime border presence at commercial ports.

As of July 2021, over 150,000 returnees have been through a MIQF. Responding to COVID-19 is the New Zealand government’s highest priority and we take pride in being able to use our skills to fulfil our duties.  

Travellers and locals from Kaikoura on a landing craft mechanism to HMNZS Canterbury as part of the evacuations following a magnitude 7.5 Earthquake

Considering a career in the Navy?

Together we protect New Zealand’s interests at sea. Our Navy carries out a range of tasks including combat operations, search and rescue, underwater recovery, trade protection and peacekeeping. Whatever the mission, you’ll find that there’s a real tight-knit camaraderie whether you’re at sea, at home or abroad.

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