4 Oct 2021

Stranded traveller pleads for seniors to be allowed to isolate at home

6:57 am on 4 October 2021

A New Zealand woman stranded in Queensland due to the lack of MIQ spots says she should be able to self-isolate in her own home.

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Being around 20,000th in a virtual queue for an MIQ spot feels cruel, says Caroline Salisbury who can't get home from Queensland. Photo: RNZ/ Marika Khabazi

If she doesn't get back soon, she risks having her pension being stopped and may even have to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

This comes as the second MIQ lottery last week saw more that 25,000 people join the online queue for only 3800 rooms.

Caroline Salisbury, 71, is retired and travelled to Queensland to see her son in July when the trans-Tasman bubble was still open.

"I flew out on July 23rd and the plane landed on the tarmac to be told that the bubble was shut for eight weeks.

"We had the choice of either going on a plane there and then within the next few days or waiting for eight weeks. As I hadn't even seen my son and after talking with him, I decided: OK I can do 8 weeks."

But unfortunately for Salisbury, the bubble with Australia has not reopened since, and now she is stuck until she can secure a spot in MIQ.

She has tried to get a slot in the last two lotteries but has been placed around 19,000 in the queue.

"The build-up the two days beforehand where you're trying to get yourself psyched up for it and then the crash when you get a number that might be 20,000 and you know you're not going to go that day. I think it's cruel."

She is fully vaccinated and more than happy to self-isolate in her own home for two weeks, instead of waiting for a spot in MIQ to become available.

"I think that people like myself who live alone and are fully vaccinated... It's not hard to stay at home for two weeks."

She said it is unfair that the government is trialling the home-isolation pilot with just businesses.

"It's quite insulting that the trial they are doing is with businesses. Why would you trust businesses more than you trust senior citizens who live alone? I don't get that."

To make matters worse, she now runs the risk of her superannuation being cut, and even having to pay thousands of dollars back.

Under the law, a person is entitled to the first 26 weeks of their normal rate of superannuation while overseas, provided they return to New Zealand within 30 weeks.

"What's ridiculous about this particular policy is it costs them nothing continuing to pay people, it costs nothing, and yet they're able to find millions to give to businesses affected by this.

"Yes, we knew there was a risk, that's true, but I could never have imagined the risk actually meant the bubble being on hold for months."

Queensland has largely been Covid-19 free, but in the past few days, the state has seen restrictions tighten after a small number of cases were found in the community.

Caution being applied over trans-Tasman bubble - Deputy PM

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Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the government is continuing to review the Australian travel bubble every eight weeks.

"I think we only need to look at what's happened in the last two or three days. In Queensland we now see parts of Brisbane, the Gold Coast going into forms of lockdown... We would need to be pretty careful and cautious on that."

He said he has tremendous sympathy for Kiwis trying to get home.

"What everyone would have been able to see in the last two MIQ spots where we opened up for applications is that [applicants] far exceed the number of places that are available, and so we've tried to come up with a system that, at least injects some fairness in ... but that obviously is still not enough for people."

Robertson said that if they were to run a criteria-based scheme, it would be challenging and too slow.

"You would come up with some quite arbitrary calls," he said.

Meanwhile, Salisbury said the government needs to practise what it preaches and 'be kind'.

"Put a three-month hold on that terrible policy that takes away seniors' superannuation. Put it on hold, be kind. We talk about kindness, be kind and put it on hold."

In a written statement, the Ministry of Social Development said while they appreciate the current situation facing Salisbury, and others in Australia who have similar circumstances, they are very limited in what they can do.

"Our ability to pay pensions to New Zealanders outside of the country beyond 26 weeks is only permitted under certain circumstances, as defined in the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001."

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