20 Apr 2022

Delay in ditching MIQ system 'incredibly frustrating', returnees say

8:45 am on 20 April 2022

Up to 40,000 people could have skipped MIQ from November last year if the government had paid attention to top health officials.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

A Ministry of Health document shows Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield agreed MIQ was no longer justified.

But the system wasn't abandoned until almost four months later, causing stress for thousands of New Zealanders vying to come home for summer.

Tepene Marsden was trying to plan his wedding so his prospective in-laws could make it from Canada.

It had been booked for February, but they abandoned that date, and planned to wed whenever the parents arrived.

They had success with their fourth try in the lottery for an MIQ spot, and then frantically planned the rest of the trip.

"We only had that 15 minute window to basically get, I think it was about three or four connecting flights to get them here, so it was like 15 minutes of ridiculous hell," he said.

Marsden said the thought that this experience could have been avoided was a bitter pill to swallow.

"That makes me very frustrated, that is incredibly frustrating to know that we didn't have to be on edge."

Ella Foreman went to Melbourne for a working holiday last year when the trans-Tasman bubble opened - but then cases started surging there and New Zealand's borders were once again tightened.

She decided to come home as soon as she could, but trying to nab an MIQ spot left her feeling homesick, heartbroken, and kicked in the teeth.

She spent 12 weeks waking up early each day to enter the MIQ lottery, and was upset that stress may not have been necessary.

"It's quite degrading.

"There was a lot of heartache, a lot of mornings where I would wake up and kind of be like 'what the heck am I doing with my life, like, is this really the position I thought I would be in?'"

Richard Lemare wants compensation for those who unnecessarily paid for MIQ, and a meaningful apology for those who suffered emotionally.

He and his wife Ali Payne spent months attempting to book a spot so Ali could visit her mother in the UK who was having a hip operation.

Their six tries all failed, and Ali's mother had to delay the operation by three months.

"The lottery came in and that was just shocking, as they described it themselves it was a lolly scramble."

Richard Lemare has since written to MPs, the Covid-19 Response Minister, and the Ombudsman expressing concern for his own situation and the system in general - but he's had almost no response.

"I got no responses from Chris Hipkins which I thought was disappointing, I got I think one or two replies from Kieran McAnulty who basically said 'hard luck, this is the system.'"

The Ministry of Health says the staged and managed removal of MIQ requirements was delayed by the Omicron outbreak.

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