Stranded expats abroad could be just weeks away from getting a ticket home for Christmas.
The government is set to announce a shakeup of MIQ, which is expected to free up more capacity for returning New Zealanders, later today.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has downplayed expectations, saying the number of additional MIQ slots will likely be “modest.”
It has been more than a month since the government abandoned an MIQ allocation system of first to be served by a random lottery scheme.
It was supposed to make the old first-come, first-served system that led to reliance on bots and automation more equitable, but it has still left many disappointed.
After months of criticism about the speed at which MIQ has evolved, Hipkins said the time was right for a restructuring.
“We are taking a very close look at MIQ settings in light of the fact that we are seeing fewer and fewer cases crossing the border, more fully vaccinated travelers crossing the border, and an increasing number of community cases.
“So we are looking for a balance to make sure we have the right setup.”
Hipkins said that any increase in the number of MIQ vouchers available would likely be “modest” due to the growing demand for community cases of Covid-19 that cannot be isolated at home.
“We will see more community cases, so it will be necessary to isolate more cases in MIQ from the community, but it will free up some additional capacity for those coming from abroad.”
Born in New Zealand, Katarina, a 21-year-old Queensland resident, has lived in Australia since she was eight years old and now wants to settle in her hometown of Northland.
After she tried and failed to get an MIQ voucher five times, she said she was double vaccinated and desperate to get home by Christmas.
“Even if we only stayed at the MIQ hotel for seven days and then we left and stayed another seven days at home, that would offer twice as many rooms as there are now.”
Katarina was cautiously optimistic: more MIQ space will get her home in time for Christmas.
“If I could get a flight tomorrow, I would. I understand that there are a lot more people who probably need to get home for reasons worse than mine … So I’m happy to sit back and wait for my turn, but ideally I would really like to get home and see everyone before Christmas. “
National Covid-19 Party spokesman Chris Bishop said that people in Katarina’s situation should be able to go home now.
“Fully vaccinated travelers from low-risk jurisdictions, like Queensland, for example, where there is basically no Covid-19 at the moment, should be able to return to New Zealand with a negative test prior to departure and simply enter the community.”
Bishop said the government had lagged behind on MIQ for months, in particular by not collecting data on the vaccination status of returnees, to assess Covid-19 risk, until the end of August.
“We have had tens of thousands of people going through MIQ this whole year. If we had collected this data six months earlier, we could have fixed MIQ six months ago.”
The government is expected to unveil changes, which Chris Hipkins said would be implemented in a matter of weeks, later today.