22 Jul 2021

The MIQ nightmare

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 22 July 2021
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No room at any inns, at all Photo: MIQ website

A new word has popped up in news stories about the MIQ booking nightmare - script.

It's the key to getting a highly contested space in managed isolation.

Jon Brewer was offered this kind of high-tech help to get out of Singapore where he has been living with his wife.

But he says it is cheating and he refuses to break the terms and conditions of the MIQ booking system.

He's taking his fight to the Ombudsman and if that doesn't work he'll hire a lawyer.

"I want them to compel MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) to solve the problem. I went to them (the Ombudsman) because I complained to MBIE through their process that I was unable to interact with the site in a way that would allow me to get a booking the way that they have required me to use the site.

"I can show them that I can't do this and actually get a spot while still obeying the terms and conditions, not giving my password and user name to somebody to let them use a robot or an army of call centre workers somewhere in Southeast Asia," Brewer says.

The telecommunications networks designer, who has had New Zealand citizenship since 2009, tells The Detail's Sharon Brettkelly that the system is broken and should be scrapped. He describes a simple fix that he believes will not just get him home to Wellington but solve the problem for everyone.

The Managed Isolation and Quarantine booking system is overwhelmed daily by thousands of New Zealanders trying for a highly contested space. It is exacerbated by the Kiwis caught by Covid-19 outbreaks in parts of Australia who must also isolate when they return.

Spaces in the latest tranche of MIQ rooms released to the end of November were quickly snapped up, leaving a lot of New Zealanders without a space despite spending hours on the computer refreshing their screens.

Many have complained that they are competing with people with technical nous using computer programmes, or who are paying people using bots to nab a place.

Brewer believes no one could get a space in the latest tranche without cheating.

Newsroom's Matthew Scott explains to The Detail how the booking system works and the role of coding scripts in getting people a place.

Currently 4,000 rooms are available in a free-for-all for anyone trying to get into the country, including New Zealanders and critical workers. Another 500 are set aside for New Zealanders on managed flights back from Australia.

However, Scott points out that often hundreds of rooms 'go' unused - and he cannot get an explanation from MIQ.

His recent story highlighted the 12,000 "ghost rooms" that have been unused since the beginning of the year. MIQ's deputy head Megan Main called it a demand and supply issue as opposed to a systems error.

"But of course that doesn't explain why there is this gulf between the amount of rooms and the current rooms allocated."