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Care in managed isolation

Hotel manager Rene Bennett is on the frontline of the Covid response.

It’s a position he feels very safe in; a sentiment he wants others to hear.

The Distinction Hotel in Christchurch has been operating as a Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facility (MIF) for the last six weeks.

Executive assistant manager Rene Bennett, who works at the hotel with his wife, says his friends aren’t fazed by him working in the hotel’s new environment.

“The reality is we sanitise and wear PPE more than anyone outside so I think we’re more vigilant. If anything, we are probably safer than most people in reality.”

Rene says he had some concerns at the outset, but these were quickly put to rest when the Ministry of Health outlined their procedures and protocols for the hotel.

“We knew there was going to be very little contact between us and the guests and we have high safety precautions.”

For Rene, managing a hotel during a pandemic and the consequent media response is familiar territory. He was working at another hotel in Singapore at the time of the SARS outbreak.

Rene wants people to know hotel staff are doing their very best to keep New Zealanders safe.

“There has to be a level of compassion and understanding that people have a right to come back to New Zealand and a right to return home. If people aren’t willing to work in these facilities, people can’t come back home.”

With Kiwis returning home under all sorts of circumstances, the team are working hard to make the experience an enjoyable one for all guests.

“Nobody wants to be locked up in a hotel for two weeks so we do our best to try to bridge the divide between being an isolation facility but still being hospitality people in our hearts. So we try do our best within the guidelines.”

When one returning Kiwi lost her Dad while she was still in the hotel, guests and staff arranged for 50 guests to stand outside with heart-shaped balloons.

“Everyone released them into the sky for her. She couldn’t get out but the hotel gathered around her and it was a really sweet moment.”

“It’s been interesting to see how people rally round those they don’t know but who are sharing the same situation,” says Rene.

He says his team try to send cards and cakes on birthdays, and leave notes on bags for those who are having a tougher time.

“There is a limit on what we can do from a health and safety perspective but we do try our best to try show empathy and support people in what is a difficult time.”

Rene says he and his team feel well supported in their work, with health representatives on site, and a wellness team, which has allowed staff to focus on their day-to-day roles.

“It means staff don’t get bogged down in difficult situations.”

Outside of work, Rene and his wife, who is from Thailand, face uncertainty around when they can see family next.

“It’s been hard on her, knowing she can’t get out to see them.”

2020 and all its curveballs has made Bennett more aware of the need for connection and supporting loved ones.

“It’s important to keep an eye on yourself and your family and that while COVID-19 is a concern, the emotional side of it is impacting people more.”

“We just need to keep an eye on each other.”

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