Could Hawke's Bay's first Covid-19 quarantine hotel be one used to house a recognised seasonal employer's workers?
Horticultural contractor Thornhill says its Angus Hotel site in Hastings is perfect, and it wants the Government to green-light it.
It's one of the first innovative solutions being proposed for the upcoming harvest season, as Hawke's Bay grapples with how to get 10,000 people to take up fruit-picking roles.
The Hastings District and Hawke's Bay Regional councils say the region needs flexibility from central government to allow the RSE scheme to work, with workers from Covid-free countries allowed to quarantine on site and continue working.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who visited the region on Monday, said the Government was open to ideas, but public health and safety remained paramount.
Thornhill business manager Nick Bibby said the Angus Hotel, a former accommodation provider on Railway Rd acquired by the company two years ago, would make for a perfect quarantine facility.
Incoming workers could be isolated in a newly purchased building next door, and the accommodation facility had 25 security cameras, ample fencing and security guards ready to go.
"If you can get the Rydges in Auckland acknowledged as an isolation facility, I think this has probably got 10 times the ability to serve that need," Bibby said.
Thornhill accommodation manager Ellen Hamlin said managing workers they already know would make a difference.
"They [RSE workers] don't need to escape or go anywhere, this is where they're coming to."
Bibby said Thornhill had received a strong endorsement from the Ministry of Primary Industries for how it operated through Covid alert level 4 earlier in the year:
"That was a really good test for us," he said.
Hamlin noted they even had a store set up on site at the Angus.
"Nobody was going anywhere, they were at work and home and we had everything they needed here," she said.
Thornhill recently applied for the site to be set up as a quarantine facility but was told Hawke's Bay is not an option for such a facility.
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the economic implications of a worker shortage meant every option to support the industry had to be looked at.
"We have written to the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister asking that sufficient RSE workers be allowed back into New Zealand through the extension of the Managed Isolation Quarantine programme and that appropriate RSE accommodation facilities be used as quarantine facilities for RSE workers from Covid-19 free Pacific Island countries.
"Hawke's Bay managed through the last harvest season with a RSE workforce at alert level 4 lockdown operating under the implementation of workplace protocols, with RSE purpose-built accommodation that acted as isolation facilities."
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government was "up for conversations" about how it could provide safe and secure quarantine facilities, but the health and safety of New Zealanders "has to be the No 1 goal".
He noted that New Zealand also needs to redeploy its own citizens to get the work done:
"It is an opportunity right now for someone who has perhaps lost their job to say 'Hey here's a couple of months work for me'."
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi echoed the need for employers to back Kiwi workers.
"But we also know that there needs to be flexibility in our immigration and migrant worker settings," he said.