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Source: University of Canterbury

01 June 2021

Nurses working in New Zealand’s Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities are going above and beyond the requirements of their roles, despite challenging working conditions and being ostracised by their communities, non-MIQ colleagues and friends.

University of Canterbury (UC) researchers Associate Professor Cathy Andrew and Dr Isabel Jamieson, and Jacinda King, Nursing Manager at Canterbury District Health Board, conducted in-depth interviews with 14 MIQ nurses during the summer of 2020-2021.

 The researchers were impressed by the MIQ nurses’ commitment to keeping New Zealand safe from Covid-19, including exceeding safety standards, coping with daily risk and adapting to sudden changes in their workplace.

 “They are working in challenging circumstances and have had to make daily adjustment to evolving policies and expectations. Some have had to undergo additional periods of 14 days isolation and disruption to their daily routine due to virus exposure at work,” Associate Professor Andrew says.

 The disruption continued into the nurses’ personal lives. “They had made multiple adjustments in their personal lives. For example, many do not socialise with others on days off until they receive notice that their swabs are clear, and they proactively perform additional swabbing before attending social events.”

 Despite exceeding the requirements, however, the nurses in the UC study felt ostracised by the wider community, by other health professionals and sometimes by their own families.

 “They interface with the consequences of Covid-19 every day and, despite their strict adherence to evolving protocols, there have been clinical situations where they have been at risk. Some did catch Covid-19. At the time of the research there had been a lot of negative publicity, fear and criticism about MIQ workers spreading Covid-19 into the community and this was clearly affecting their morale. The negative impact also extended to their family members.”

 Participants pointed out that positive cases being identified and managed in MIQ, shows the strategy to prevent the virus infiltrating the community is working. They felt confident in their use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the reduction of their personal risk with regard to the virus.

 “They don’t understand how seriously we take it and how we manage it, what we do to keep ourselves safe at work,” one participant stated.  

 Vigilance increased whenever there was an outbreak. “I did decide that I was not going to see people outside of work for that period of time. That means changing appointments; not seeing my parents, [or] my brother with special needs. You do end up limiting what you do out of work. I don’t think I even went to a supermarket during that time,” another participant said.

 Despite these measures, family members and flatmates of MIQ nurses had been asked by employers to produce written evidence that the nurse they lived with was Covid-19-free. In some cases the impact of self-isolation or discrimination towards family members was of such significance that it led to MIQ nurses resigning.

 The researchers, who are experienced nurses and nursing education leaders, wanted to capture the contribution and nature of the nursing role during the pandemic and the impact on nurses professionally and personally.

 “The MIQ nurses have been at the frontier of keeping our borders safe and play a significant role in enabling the rest of us to maintain our daily lives relatively unaffected by the pandemic,” Associate Professor Andrew says.

 “These nurses, and their families, are not asking to be treated as heroes. They are not paid more than they would earn in other nursing roles. As members of the community who benefit from the roles they have performed, the least we can do is offer our thanks to all those working at the borders and in MIQs.”

 A paper from the study will be published in the journal Nursing Praxis in Aotearoa New Zealand later this year.