2 Sep 2021

Hope of fairer MIQ system, but booking pause puts people in limbo

8:25 am on 2 September 2021

A new virtual lottery is on its way for those seeking to book a stay in highly sought after managed isolation, but it's on hold for now, deemed too risky during the Delta outbreak.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said it would be at least another two weeks before those hoping to return to New Zealand can enter an online hotel 'lobby' and wait to book a room.

Northland man Andrew is worried he won't see his elderly father again.

His parents live in the UK, and his dad recently had a stroke.

"They've had a stairlift installed in the house and everything like that so I need to be there but I can't go when I know I can't get back. It's absolutely frustrating and inhumane."

Before he books a trip to visit his parents, Andrew wants to confirm his return stay in managed isolation, so he knows he can come home.

"I'd much prefer them to say let's have a waiting list so even if it was two or three or six months' time you know you have a date, you know when you can come back. At the moment it's still up in the air."

Tim Malone oversees the Kiwis Coming Home group, helping those returning home to navigate the system.

He said the extended pause put many in limbo.

"It's probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole thing, that the pause has gone on for so long. When they first paused it they said it would be a few days and it's definitely going to be turning into a few weeks."

There's been ongoing criticism of the fairness of the booking system, where people have to keep refreshing the page to secure a place.

Malone said the booking system needs to change.

"Currently we have bots fighting people for spots, we even have government departments employing students to be first on the button. That situation is just completely unfair so anything that's an improvement on that, I'm for."

The Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said when the booking system resumed for managed isolation, applicants would enter a virtual lobby and wait to be randomly chosen.

"Once all the rooms have been taken the lobby will be closed and anybody in the queue will be informed that they have unfortunately missed out this time," he said.

"We will then continue to announce large room releases so that people will know when to come back."

Malone said that mean't for the first time the exact number of those who missed out on rooms would be counted.

But he is waiting for more detail about how the virtual lobby will operate.

"We don't even know how many lobbies people can stand in at once, so will there be a separate lobby for each day? Can people stand in seven lobbies and will they end up booking multiple spots? Those are details that we need."

Malone said it was an anxious time for those hoping to return.

He's helping one woman book flights home for Christmas to see her family. She works as a nurse for the Red Cross.

"They're still an employer that she has to give them some certainty as to will she be going back to NZ or not and I think we booked flights for her to arrive on 5 December. We'll be hanging out hoping she gets her space."

For now, only those returning for emergency reasons can stay in managed isolation.

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