27 Oct 2021

MIQ shake-up offers hope for stranded expats

7:38 am on 27 October 2021

Stranded overseas expats could be just weeks away from securing a ticket home for Christmas.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The government is poised to announce a shake-up to MIQ, expected to free up more capacity for returning New Zealanders, later today.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has downplayed expectations, saying the number of additional MIQ slots will likely be "modest".

It's been more than a month since the government ditched a first-in-first-served MIQ allocation system for a randomised lottery scheme.

It was supposed to make the old first-come-first-served system, which led to a reliance on bots and automation, more equitable but has still left many disappointed.

After months of criticism over the speed at which MIQ has evolved, Hipkins said it was now the right time for a shake-up.

"We're looking very closely at MIQ settings in light of the fact that we're seeing fewer and fewer cases coming across the border, more fully vaccinated travellers coming across the border and an increased number of community cases.

"So we're looking at a balance to make sure we've got our settings right."

Hipkins said any increase in the number of available MIQ vouchers would likely be "modest" due to increasing demand from community cases of Covid-19 that can't isolate at home.

"We will see more community cases, so more cases needing to isolate in MIQ from the community, but it will free up some additional capacity for those coming in from overseas."

Born in New Zealand, 21-year-old Queensland resident Katarina has lived in Australia since she was eight-years-old and now wants to settle down in her Northland hometown.

After she tried and failed to get an MIQ voucher five times, she said she's double-vaccinated and desperate to get home for Christmas.

"Even if we just do seven days in hotel MIQ and then go off and do another seven days at home - that would offer double the amount of rooms that there are now."

Katarina was cautiously optimistic more MIQ space will get her home in time for Christmas.

"If I could get a flight tomorrow I would. I understand there's way more people that probably need to get home for reasons worse than mine... So I'm happy to sit back and wait for my turn but ideally I'd really like to get home and see everyone before Christmas."

National Party Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said people in Katarina's situation should be able to come home now.

"Fully-vaccinated travellers from low-risk jurisdictions, take Queensland for example where there is basically no Covid-19 at the moment, should be allowed to come back into New Zealand with a negative pre-departure test and just go into the community."

Bishop said the government had been slipping behind on MIQ for months - notably failing to collect data on the vaccination status of returnees - to assess the Covid-19 risk posed - until the end of August.

"We've had tens of thousands of people going through MIQ all this year. If we'd collected this data six months earlier we could have fixed MIQ six months ago."

The government is expected to reveal changes, that Chris Hipkins said would be implemented within a matter of weeks, later today.

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