The number of MIQ rooms available to regular New Zealanders desperate to enter the country has been declining since the beginning of this year, as hundreds are empty at a time due to a “cohort” system.
Figures provided by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins show the number of rooms booked on the MIQ website in July it had fallen by more than a third compared to the beginning of the year.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which administers Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ), said that this year there have been a number of policy and allocation changes that help keep the country safe from Covid- 19 and support the country’s economic recovery.
In February and March of this year, the general public filled 6,800 and 7,600 rooms, booked through the Managed Isolation Allocation system website. This number excludes all special assignments.
There was less demand in April and May, and many rooms were left unfilled.
But in June and July, the demand was higher. However, the number of rooms occupied by the general public had dropped to 5177 (June) and 4,723 (July). The peak in rooms from March to July’s figure represents a 38 percent drop.
“That is absolutely unacceptable from our point of view,” said Alexandra Birt, spokeswoman for the Grounded Kiwis group, those who are trapped abroad and struggling to secure an MIQ room due to competitiveness.
“When you consider that many of these returnees are vaccinated … it is extremely difficult to see how the government justifies the position that the supply of those rooms should have decreased.”
In early August, MBIE said there were nearly 20,000 unique users on the website every day. Even at this year’s peak in March, on average, only 245 rooms were available per day – more than 70 times more people may be searching for rooms than available spaces per day.
One of the changes in managed isolation is what MIQ calls a “cohort.” A managed isolation facility is open for new returnees for up to 96 hours, then closed, with no other returnees entering for the 14 days. This is so that new entrants do not infect people who are about to leave.
“The cohort was introduced by public health council in April / May to eliminate the risk that people early in their stay with undetected Covid-19 will transmit the virus to people later in their stay who subsequently leave MIQ, as we saw in January, “MBIE’s said MIQ Joint Chief Megan Main.
But it also leaves desperately wanted rooms empty: MBIE said 15 percent of all rooms are lost due to cohort, which is equivalent to hundreds of spaces each month.
“They need to be creating more spaces, or at least using the ones they have. The cohort – doing that and then leaving 15 percent of the rooms unused for fifteen days is completely contributing to the problem,” said another. A foreign New Zealander, who has been helping dozens of people book rooms when they have had problems. He does not want to be named.
Another reason is preferential treatment. The government usually grants spaces to athletes. Some have been in and out of the country several times.
Earlier this year briefings to Sports Minister Grant Robertson show that the government approved 60 MIQ rooms for foreign skiers to attend the Winter Games in Wānaka.
Not only were the rooms granted to the athletes, but the allocation included spaces for support personnel, including ski technicians, doctors and foreign media.
“I mean it’s a real kick in the stomach for those who have really heartbreaking reasons and difficult situations. [from] they are trying to get home. “
He said the ski technician and the media are jobs New Zealanders could easily do, freeing up an MIQ room.
“Kiwis abroad who see things like that are furious at the whole situation. Either you have to be an athlete or be rich or else you don’t put your foot in the door and you have to sit there cooling off for 18 hours a day.”
These rooms were never used by overseas Winter Games athletes, who decided that two weeks at MIQ was unsustainable anyway. Finally, the stains were returned to the pool.
Robertson said the allocation for the Winter Games was approved by a group of ministers and that the bar for approving athletes, especially non-New Zealanders, is very high.
“Throughout Covid-19, we have allocated a small percentage of spaces in MIQ for cultural and sporting activities or events. Applications for these events are evaluated for the economic, social or cultural benefits they bring,” he said in a statement.
“It is important to note that at the time of the application, there were spaces available at MIQ and the Government had publicly stated that it would be a good time for New Zealanders to seize the opportunity and return home. Since then, the demand for MIQ venues has been High and the bar for consideration of applications to secure large MIQ site allocations, particularly non-New Zealanders, is very high. “
Main said the travel bubble has also been a factor.
“MIQ room allocation has changed since April, with the introduction of non-quarantine travel and an increased focus on bringing in skilled and critical workers through group allocations, to support the country’s economic recovery,” Main said in a statement. .
“The cohort was introduced by Public Health council in April / May to eliminate the risk that people early in their stay with undetected COVID-19 will transmit the virus to people later in their stay who subsequently leave MIQ, such as we saw in January “.
The deal with Australia increased contingency needs by 500 rooms as of April, in addition to the previous contingency of 400 rooms, Main said.
Between 350 and 500 rooms are reserved every fortnight for large groups such as sports teams, seasonal and construction workers and refugees.
Maintenance also takes some rooms out of service, and in April the number of assigned emergency rooms increased from 250 to 350.
About one in 20 rooms is empty due to people booking but simply not showing up, which MBIE tries to counteract.