1 Feb 2022

Cabinet ministers to finalise dates for reopening borders

9:46 am on 1 February 2022

Cabinet ministers are expected to discuss their plan for reopening the borders when they meet today.

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A managed isolation and quarantine facility in Christchurch. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

A staged timeline was outlined late last year, but was quickly pushed back because of the risks posed by the Covid-19 Omicron variant.

The latest plan states that from the end of February, vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia, and possibly elsewhere, will be allowed to skip managed isolation and isolate at home.

The same conditions are set down for most foreigners from the end of April.

Ministers have been reviewing those dates, and RNZ News understands Cabinet will finalise, but not announce them, today.


Former Police Assistant Commissioner David Cliff who has moved to Switzerland for a job, said people overseas needed certainty.

"There seems no logical reason why it can't be announced today.

"I can't understand the hold-up"

Cliff said he had found it impossible to book an MIQ spot to return to see elderly parents and friends, so booked tickets for mid-February, when under the reopening original plan he would have been able to return without having to stay in MIQ. He was now "just sitting in limbo".

"We feel wounded by the faith in the government, ideas of loyalty, care compassion, looking after New Zealanders. All of us who have international roles very much waved the flag for New Zealand every day," he said.

"For us it's not desperate at the moment, but for so many young people who've lost their jobs or visas are expiring, they're desperate to get back home."

"We want the government to do the right thing for the fully vaccinated, those who've had boosters, there's an ability for us to come straight back into the country and free up MIQ for those who need it."

"[MIQ] has had its time, has had its place, but things have moved on."

Pressing need to get people in desperate situations home - Bishop

National Party Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said it was time to allow fully vaccinated New Zealanders around the world to return without going into MIQ.

"The utility and morality of having MIQ at the border, once people with Omicron and Covid-19 in New Zealand are isolating at home, really falls away."

There was an argument for phasing in the changes, but the most pressing need was to get New Zealanders in very desperate situations home, from wherever they are in the world.

"A lot of people have been stranded in Australia for a long time now but there's also people like Charlotte [Bellis and others] who've had their visas expired, for example."

He said the legal obligation and first priority was New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, and April or May would be a reasonable time frame for others, including people moving to New Zealand from other countries

Self-isolation for people returning would be would have to match what was happening in the community, he said.

Quarantine facilities of MIQ would still be needed for arrivals who were unvaccinated and people in the community with Covid-19 who could not isolate at home.

Advocacy group Grounded Kiwis spokesperson Martin Newell said New Zealanders overseas were proud of the country's Covid-19 response, but it should not stand still.

"As we move into the third year of the pandemic what is apparent is that MIQ is a blunt instrument."

MIQ was not needed in its present form now that there are vaccines and treatments, he said.

"We need a more dynamic approach to the border that takes into account risk, takes into account vaccine status, and allows more people to travel across it."

Grounded Kiwis is seeking a judicial review of the MIQ system, alleging the lottery room releases and limited emergency allocations breach the Bill of Rights Act.

Newell said whatever the border decision, the court case was still relevant, to test the power of the executive to make such decisions.

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