You’ve got a good job and you’re settled where you are but it’s thousands of kilometres away from your family.
You’ve done your budgeting, you can afford to pay for flights and MIQ, and you’ve got enough holidays due to have enough time in New Zealand after you’ve done those two weeks.
It’s been more than two years since you’ve been home. Your grandparents are elderly and you know if you don’t get back this summer you might not ever see them again.
You can’t call the trip urgent as it is for so many others, strictly speaking it’s a holiday but are you going to do as Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins asks and let those whose need for MIQ space is far more pressing?
Perhaps some will, but some won’t and people like the family who took their young son to Houston for cancer treatment, the woman whose own health and that of her unborn baby are at risk, and many others whose needs anyone with a heart would consider worthy of emergency spaces in MIQ will have to rely on luck.
There is a better way:
It’s clear Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) is going to be with us for some time, so it’s past time we fixed the festering issues with our current system. National is proposing five sensible improvements to the beleaguered Managed Isolation Allocation System.
“New Zealanders overseas trying to come home are increasingly fed up with the operation of MIQ,” Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says
“Unhappiness is widespread and about the only people prepared to defend the system are those who designed it, those who administer it, and the Government.
“More than 15,000 Kiwis abroad have signed a petition to make changes to the inequitable MIQ allocation but the Government has done nothing.”
National is proposing five sensible changes to improve MIQ:
- A ban on bots and third party providers
- A new prioritisation system to allocate space (a ‘points system’)
- The introduction of a waiting list
- Transparency over room release dates
- The introduction of a Kiwi Expat Advisory Group
“The underlying problem of MIQ is that demand generally massively exceeds the number of spaces in any given period,” Ms Collins says.
“At the moment, with the exception of a 10 per cent quota for critical workers, some contingency rooms, and a very limited number of emergency allocations, spaces in MIQ are simply allocated on a ‘first-in, first-served’ basis.
“Third party booking websites have sprung up, charging people thousands of dollars to secure a room in MIQ, and incredibly this practice is even officially sanctioned by government officials. There is also a strong suspicion that ‘bots’ and other automated booking mechanisms are being used despite MIQ officials saying that has been stopped.
“We need an immediate no tolerance policy on the use of bots and third party providers accessing the MIQ system,” Ms Collins says.
National is proposing that the ‘first-in, first-served’ basis for MIQ should be changed to a prioritisation system based on points, similar to the way in which skilled migrants are assessed for eligibility for New Zealand.
National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says at the moment the MIQ system makes little judgement about the motivations for people coming to New Zealand.
“Everyone is treated the same, and while that has superficial appeal it ultimately leads to unfair outcomes for many people.
“We believe people coming home to farewell dying family members or for urgent medical treatment should not be treated the same as people coming to New Zealand for a holiday. Likewise, Kiwis returning home to live permanently should be prioritised over people returning home for short periods of time.
“We need to be upfront about the fact that there will generally always be a shortage of space in MIQ, and we should therefore be clearer as a country about who should be prioritised for valuable MIQ space over others.
“The system should assign points to particular categories of people who could then be allocated guaranteed spaces in MIQ for a period of time once they meet the threshold for points set by the Government.”
As a starting point, the following groups of people should receive a higher number of points, meaning they get preferential treatment into MIQ:
- Those coming to New Zealand to visit sick or dying family members or for urgent medical treatment. This would essentially be an expansion of the existing emergency allocation, which is currently too narrow.
- People coming to New Zealand to fill skill shortages. This could and should include split migrant families who the Government has callously disregarded.
That would not only be humane, it could also help retain people whose skills we need but who will leave if their families can’t join them.
“Alongside the introduction of a points system, the Government should also introduce a waiting list for spaces, so that the system is not purely based on luck and chance.
“There needs to be greater transparency over when rooms will be released, so people can plan with more certainty. Similar to when tickets go on sale for concerts, the time and date of released rooms should be well signalled in advance.
“Finally, National is proposing the establishment of an Expat Advisory Group that MIQ is required to consult with about the overall MIQ system.
“Many of the problems in the last year have festered for some time, and many were foreseeable. The system has not been designed in a user-friendly way and ongoing consultation with expats abroad would be a valuable thing.
“New Zealanders overseas and here at home have spent more than a year dealing with a broken MIQ system. Unlike the Government, National has come up with a plan to change that.”
Another improvement would be purpose built MIQ facilities, away from the centre of cities, where people could exercise safely without risking exposure to, or spreading of, disease. That would be both safer and more pleasant for people who have to use them and the buildings could be moved or re-purposed in the future if, or when, MIQ is no longer needed.
Hotels were only just alright when the need find somewhere to quarantine people was urgent. They are not an acceptable longer term solution to the problem that will be with us for years.
When most people in New Zealand are vaccinated some arrivals who are also vaccinated and come from countries where Covid isn’t rife, might be able to self-isolate. That will be many months away and there will still be a need for MIQ for people who pose a higher risk for a lot longer, certainly long enough to make purpose-built facilities a far better option than the temporary solution of central city hotels.
They could also provide space for a lot more people, reducing, and possibly ending, the frustration and heartbreak that people now face dealing with a system that can’t cope with the demand.
Oh and purpose built facilities would also have sufficiently tight security that no-one in isolation could escape and roam around in public for 12 hours.