19 Jul 2020

Covid-19: National to charge for quarantine

7:05 pm on 19 July 2020

The National Party has confirmed anyone returning to New Zealand would be charged a fee for the costs of quarantine if it is elected into government, and the government says its own similar announcement will come soon.

Grand Mercure in Wellington is a managed isolation hotel for returning New Zealanders to curb the spread of Covid-19

The Grand Mercure in Wellington is a managed isolation hotel for returning New Zealanders. Photo: RNZ / Denise Garland

National's Covid-19 Border Response spokesman Gerry Brownlee said that under a National government, everyone entering New Zealand from 11.59pm on 3 October 2020 would be charged a fee towards the costs of their quarantine.

The government responded it has been working on its policy for weeks.

The Minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, Megan Woods, says there is some legal delicacy surrrounding imposing a charge.

"One of the things that we have been discussing with Crown Law is in the context of a global pandemic what are reasonable measures that a country can take in terms of the rights of citizens and residents to return home.

"And also what are reasonable timeframes for people to be able to return in, but we'll have more on that later."

Brownlee said taxpayers should not have to shoulder the financial burden.

"New Zealand taxpayers have worked hard to keep the country safe. Now, four months later, we think that it is time that those returning particularly from the 3rd of October meet a big chunk of their own quarantine prices."

"Currently taxpayers are funding a long and very expensive government response to let people come into the country. It's entirely fair that those who benefit pay a share," he said.

The proposed fee would be set at $3000 for one adult, to help cover the costs of managed isolation and quarantining. This would apply to all people entering quarantine, although there would be some exemptions under compassionate consideration.

Additional adults sharing a room would be charged an additional $1000, children over the age of three would see an additional $500, while children under three would have no cost.

Exemptions would only be for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents on compassionate grounds, where they were facing financial hardship.

Brownlee said National accepted there were some legal issues that would need to be addressed under the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and international law.

"Two-week quarantining looks likely to be with us for a while," Brownlee said, "This is a practical solution to a growing problem."

He said the policy was in line with similar systems in the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.

"National's policy is about fairness. Many Kiwis have only one or two overseas holidays in their lives. National won't expect taxpayers to pay for other Kiwis returning from high-paying careers or expensive holidays in Europe.

"Those who need to return to New Zealand have had plenty of time to get home since border restrictions began, including through repatriation flights organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"They will have a further two weeks to get home without facing the charge, after the election of a National Government on 19 September."

According to Brownlee, quarantine was costing the country around $4000 per person.

Woods said the government was looking at hardship exemptions and possibly deferred payments in any costs imposed for quarantining people arriving in the country.

She said charging for isolation was about what is "fair and reasonable", and they were working through policy details.

"We absolutely would have to have measures in pleace to makee ssure people's ability to return home wasn't dependent on their ability to make a one-off payment at their time of arrival.

"There would have to be measures in place for hardship and the ability to pay those back over a longer period of time."

The government had spent $80 million on quarantining by the end of June, with $298 million appropriated for the rest of 2020.

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