A new virtual lottery is on the way for those looking to book a stay in highly sought-after managed isolation, but is on hold for now as it was deemed too risky during the Delta outbreak.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said it would be at least another two weeks before those hoping to return to New Zealand could enter a hotel ‘lobby’ online and wait to reserve a room.
Andrew, a man from Northland, is concerned that he will never see his elderly father again.
His parents live in the UK and his father recently suffered a stroke.
“They’ve installed a stairlift in the house and all that, so I need to be there, but I can’t go when I know I can’t go back. It’s absolutely frustrating and inhuman.”
Before booking a trip to visit his parents, Andrew wants to confirm his return stay in controlled isolation, so he knows he can go home.
“I’d rather they say we have a waiting list, so even if it was two, three or six months, you know you have an appointment, you know when you can come back. At the moment, it’s still up in the air.”
Tim Malone oversees the Kiwis Coming Home group, helping those who return home navigate the system.
He said the prolonged hiatus put many in limbo.
“It’s probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole thing, that the hiatus has lasted so long. When they first paused it, they said it would be a few days and it would definitely turn into a few weeks.”
There has been ongoing criticism about the fairness of the reservation system, where people have to keep updating the page to secure a spot.
Malone said the reservation system must change.
“Currently we have bots that fight people by places, we even have government departments that employ students to be the first to press the button. That situation is completely unfair, so I am in favor of anything that is an improvement.”
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that when the reservation system for managed isolation was resumed, applicants would enter a virtual lobby and wait to be chosen at random.
“Once all the rooms have been occupied, the lobby will be closed and everyone in the queue will be informed that they have unfortunately missed this time,” he said.
“Then we will continue to announce big room launches so people know when to come back.”
Malone said that means that, for the first time, the exact number of people who ran out of rooms will be counted.
But he is waiting for more details on how the virtual lobby will work.
“We don’t even know how many lobbyists people can participate in at once, so will there be a separate lobby for each day? Can people occupy seven lobbies and will they end up reserving multiple spots? Those are the details we need . “
Malone said it was an anxious time for those who hoped to return.
You are helping a woman book flights home for Christmas to see her family. She works as a nurse for the Red Cross.
“They are still an employer and she has to give them some certainty as to whether or not she will return to New Zealand and I think we booked flights for her to arrive on December 5. We will hang out waiting for her to get her space.”
For now, only those returning for emergency reasons can remain in controlled isolation.