Frustration for New Zealand returnees as Covid quarantine waiting list hits 30,000

Overseas New Zealanders trying to return home are facing a queue tens of thousands of people long, as the country reopens bookings to cross the border.

The country’s borders have been strictly controlled since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – only citizens, permanent residents and a handful of essential workers can enter, and all of them must make a booking to spend two weeks in government-controlled quarantine (MIQ).

Demand for those spaces has vastly outpaced demand, with some hopeful returnees spending weeks refreshing the site, employing “MIQ assistants” or using bots to assist them secure a space.

The scale of the problem facing those trapped overseas has now been revealed for the first time, as the government opened a “lobby” system for booking quarantine spaces, showing where people are in the queue. Many took to social media to express their frustration posting screenshots showing thousands of people ahead of them.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment confirmed that 31,800 people were in the queue on Monday, e 5,364 of them secured vouchers for rooms. The vouchers were released at 9am and all were gone within two and a half hours.

“I know many thousands of people missed out on vouchers in today’s release,” the joint head of MIQ, Megan Main, said in a statement. “I want to reassure people that there are still several thousand vouchers still to be released through to the end of the year. They will get other chances. There will be another large release of a few thousand vouchers early next week and there may also be another smaller one later this week.”

The government paused all new releases of quarantine rooms during the latest outbreak of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and only began releasing rooms again on Monday.

New Zealand is still battling to crush the Delta variant outbreak. A level 4 lockdown has managed to reduce daily case numbers to about 11-24 a day, but has not yet eliminated community transmission completely. Di lunedi, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland, the centre of the outbreak, would move out of its level 4 confinamento, into level 3 restrictions which allow socially distanced services like takeaway food.

New Zealand announced 22 new cases yesterday, and three more cases were announced overnight in Hauraki, a region of Auckland. The government announced an order restricting movement in, out, and around northern Hauraki “as a precautionary measure”.

“The dispersal of potential contacts across the region increases the potential for wider transmission of Covid-19,” director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said. Anyone who lives or has visited the area is ordered to self isolate and get tested. New daily case numbers for Tuesday will be announced at 1pm.

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