Saturday, December 4

Stranded traveler calls for older people to be allowed to isolate themselves at home

A New Zealand woman stranded in Queensland due to a lack of MIQ points says she should be able to isolate herself in her own home.

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Being ranked 20,000 in a virtual queue for an MIQ position feels cruel, says Caroline Salisbury, who cannot return home from Queensland.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

If you don’t return soon, you risk having your pension suspended and even having to pay thousands of dollars in penalties.

This comes as the second MIQ lottery last week saw more than 25,000 people join the queue online for just 3,800 rooms.

Caroline Salisbury, 71, is retired and traveled to Queensland to see her son in July, when the trans-Tasman bubble was still open.

“I flew on July 23 and the plane landed on the runway to be told that the bubble was closed for eight weeks.

“We had the option to go on a plane there and then in the next few days or wait eight weeks. Since I hadn’t even seen my son and after talking to him, I decided: OK, I can do it for 8 weeks.”

But, unfortunately for Salisbury, the bubble with Australia has not reopened since then, and is now stagnant until it can secure a spot on MIQ.

He has tried to get a place in the last two lotteries, but has been placed around 19,000 in the queue.

“The backlog from two days before where you’re trying to prepare for it and then the crash when you get a number that could be 20,000 and you know you’re not going that day. I think it’s cruel.”

She is fully vaccinated and more than happy to isolate herself in her own home for two weeks, rather than waiting for a spot to become available at MIQ.

“I think people like me who live alone and are fully vaccinated … It is not difficult to stay home for two weeks.”

He said it is unfair that the government is testing the home isolation pilot only with companies.

“It is quite insulting that the test they are doing is with companies. Why would you trust companies more than older people who live alone? I don’t understand.”

To make matters worse, you now risk having your retirement reduced and even having to pay back thousands of dollars.

Under the law, a person is entitled to the first 26 weeks of their normal retirement rate while abroad, provided they return to New Zealand within 30 weeks.

“The ridiculous thing about this particular policy is that it costs them nothing to keep paying people, it costs nothing, and yet they can find millions to donate to businesses affected by this.

“Yes, we knew there was a risk, that’s true, but I could never have imagined that the risk actually meant that the bubble would be in abeyance for months.”

Queensland has been largely Covid-19 free, but in recent days the state has seen restrictions tighten after a small number of cases were found in the community.

Caution applied on trans-Tasmanian bubble – Deputy Prime Minister

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Grant Robertson.
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the government continues to review the Australian travel bubble every eight weeks.

“I think we just have to look at what happened in the last two or three days. In Queensland, we now see parts of Brisbane, the Gold Coast in lockdown forms … We should be quite careful and cautious about it.”

He said he has great sympathy for the kiwis trying to get home.

“What everyone would have seen in the last two MIQ points where we opened up to apps is that [applicants] they far outnumber the number of seats available, so we’ve tried to create a system that at least injects some fairness into … but that’s obviously still not enough for people. “

Robertson said that if they had to run a criteria-based scheme, it would be challenging and too time consuming.

“You would come up with pretty arbitrary calls,” he said.

Meanwhile, Salisbury said the government should practice what it preaches and “be nice.”

“Put on hold for three months that terrible policy that takes retirement from the elderly. Put it on hold, be nice. We talk about kindness, be nice and put it on hold.”

In a written statement, the Ministry of Social Development said that while they appreciate the current situation facing Salisbury and others in Australia who have similar circumstances, they are severely limited in what they can do.

“Our ability to pay pensions to New Zealanders out of the country beyond 26 weeks is only allowed under certain circumstances, as defined in the New Zealand Retirement and Retirement Income Act 2001.”

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