23 Jun 2020

Cabinet to consider co-payment scheme for new arrivals

5:41 am on 23 June 2020

People travelling to New Zealand may soon have to help cover the cost of their mandatory two-week stay at a quarantine hotel.

The Navy has been posted outside a Novotel being used as a managed isolation facility in Auckland

A Novotel hotel being used as a managed isolation facility in Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Chen Liu

Cabinet will consider a co-payment scheme in a matter of weeks, as the cost of managing people in isolation facilities climbs.

But the government is being warned to think very carefully about such a step.

The border controls are protecting New Zealand from the accelerating Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that came at a cost but "the cost of another outbreak is far, far worse."

The cost of isolation and quarantine is $81 million and counting. Nearly $300m has been budgeted for the rest of the year, to help cover the skyrocketing hotel bill.

Cabinet will soon consider whether those wanting to come back here should help pay for their two-week hotel stay in managed isolation, Ardern said.

"What we need to consider as a government is the fairness of a potential co-payment system, so we need to factor in a whole range of issues and keep in mind we cannot stop New Zealanders from coming back to the country where they are a citizen, and so that will have to underpin all of our decisions," Ardern said.

Australia is the only other country to isolate arrivals at hotels and Queensland is the first state to introduce a co-payment scheme.

From next month, all international arrivals there will need to pay up to $200 a day to help cover the cost of their two-week quarantine.

Hayley Jordan, who is hoping to return to New Zealand in August, said she couldn't pay if the government here wanted the same amount.

"I have no idea how I would pay that. If I have to pay that upfront, I can't come home," Jordan said.

She has been stuck in her London flat for 12 weeks and doctors have warned her not to travel yet because she has chronic health problems.

A co-payment scheme would feel like a punishment from the government, Jordan said.

"I'll be coming back without a job, a lot of things have fallen through here, I've lost a lot of money because of the pandemic. So, I'm really not looking forward to that possibly being a reality," she said.

Human Rights lawyer Michael Bott had this warning:

"I would say, potentially, it's in breach of the Bill of Rights Act, because you have a right of entry in terms of your country and to impose a cost on New Zealand citizens who are overseas and wish to come back home... is something which may be considered disproportionate and severe," Bott said.

Health officials are looking at stricter isolation including keeping people in their hotel rooms until they have had a negative result from their first test at three days.

In Hong Kong, people who have recently returned there can isolate for two weeks at home, instead of hotels, but must wear a tracking bracelet so officials can ensure they are not going outside.

Jacinda Ardern said that would not be happening here.

"Our view is you then can't regulate and enforce who then may visit a property, or visit a home. So this is still the best thing we can do to assure ourselves we're keeping New Zealanders safe," Ardern said.

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