22 Dec 2021

Omicron threat: Border delays a blow to New Zealanders stuck overseas

7:27 am on 22 December 2021

The decision to delay re-opening the borders has dealt another blow to New Zealanders stuck overseas and desperate to return home.

International arrivals airport sign

Kiwis overseas poised to move back to New Zealand have been left disappointed by the government announcement of border opening dates being pushed back. Photo: 123RF

The threat of Omicron has prompted the government to push back the start of its staged shift from managed isolation in a hotel to self-isolation at home from mid-January to the end of February, and the period in MIQ has increased from seven days to 10.

It's the latest roadblock for Kiwis abroad and the Christmas news no one wanted to hear.

New Zealand citizens Sandra Thomas and her husband have their bags packed, a beachside home to move into and their tickets booked to move home from Western Australia.

"We've resigned from our jobs, we've sold our vehicles, we've packed our house, we've got the movers booked for 14 January and we've got our flights booked out of Perth on the sixth of February."

But Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday announced that managed isolation is going to last a little longer.

"Cabinet has decided to push back the date for self-isolation for those travelling from Australia from the 17 January to the end of February, so that we can accelerate the rollout of that booster program and have as many people boosted with their vaccination before we have people isolating at home across the international border."

That means Sandra and her husband now have to enter the MIQ lottery system - along with hundreds of thousands of other New Zealand citizens locked out of the country - and if they do get a spot, they will have to spend a full 10 days in MIQ, after the government extended it from seven days.

She's worried the goalposts will move again.

"We don't know what to do," she said.

"I don't feel that we can trust the government that they are going to open at the end of February like they say they will well, we just think that that will change.

"We are living in a state where there's no Covid. Western Australia has been locked, everybody knows, for basically two years now. We've not had any Covid in Port Hedland [where they live] at all."

The Grounded Kiwis group said putting blanket border restrictions on all returning New Zealanders isn't fair.

Spokesperson Alexandra Birt said not all people coming into the country pose the same risk of carrying the Omicron variant.

"What we're frustrated to see, yet again, is the fact that MIQ has just been used as a blunt instrument," she said.

"There isn't a risk-based assessment in terms of where people are returning from, if they've received a booster for example, none of that taken into account.

"It's just, a flick a switch, border up and no self-isolation, everyone through MIQ."

Birt said the group understands people from higher-risk countries may need to quarantine in managed isolation, but said the one-size-fits-all approach is unreasonable.

Chris Hipkins acknowledged it wouldn't be "welcome news" for New Zealanders overseas.

"I'm sorry that we haven't been able to meet that particular deadline or that particular target that we were aiming for," he said yesterday.

"One of the realities though is that Covid-19 continues to throw up new challenges for us and that means that while we can work to provide certainty we can't always absolutely give people certainty."

Hipkins said the government will work with airlines to ensure spaces in managed isolation are available for people who have booked flights from Australia from mid-January.

Air New Zealand last night cancelled about 120 flights after the government announcement, affecting an estimated 27,000 passengers.

All existing quarantine-free flights from Australia to New Zealand between 17 January and 28 February 2022 will be cancelled and there will be a limited schedule of quarantine flights available to book.

People still wanting to travel to New Zealand will need to nab a spot in managed isolation before booking a quarantine flight - but yesterday's scheduled MIQ room release was also scrapped.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says at this stage the next room release will occur on 6 January, 2022.

Alexandra Birt said that leaves New Zealanders stranded overseas in limbo.

"People are just expected to wait until the end, to not be able to make any plans or know what's happening next, so it's a very difficult time for a lot of people in our group," she said.

Birt said the group provides as much mental health support as it can but people need financial help too - and that's not available.

  • Air New Zealand cancels about 120 flights after border reopening plan delayed
  • MIQ room release cancelled due to Omicron situation