During the height of Covid restrictions, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a dystopian zero-Covid policy that resulted in New Zealanders stuck in other countries and unable to return home.
Ardern’s isolation and quarantine policy imposed on travellers meant that thousands of New Zealanders desperate to return home essentially had to roll the dice month after month as they tried to secure a bed in a quarantine hotel run by the military.
Last week a New Zealand court ruled that the Government had breached the rights of its citizens by imposing the lottery-style system on them.
Managed Isolation and Quarantine (“MIQ”)
Ardern announced compulsory MIQ on 9 April 2020 with the system coming into effect for people boarding flights to New Zealand from midnight that day. She explained Government had been considering this measure for some time, but there simply was not the capacity to introduce these measures any earlier as almost 40,000 New Zealanders had returned since 20 March, a number larger than all the country’s hotel rooms. The Government would use up to 18 hotels, Ardern announced. But by early July this increased to 26 hotels and increased again to 32 by early August.
From 5 October 2020, anyone entering New Zealand was forced to book a place at a MIQ facility using the Government’s managed isolation allocation system. On the day of its launch, the website collapsed with numerous people reporting trouble making bookings.
From 5 November 2020, anyone entering New Zealand was legally required to show a voucher proving that they had secured a place in a MIQ facility before flying.
On 10 March 2022, the New Zealand government announced plans to phase out the MIQ system: “By the end of June, 28 of the current 32 facilities will leave the MIQ network and return to being hotels,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
The High Court Case
Grounded Kiwis, a network of Kiwis advocating for those impacted by MIQ, went to the High Court in February. Justice Jill Mallon’s decision was released last week, on 27 April.
The 140-page decision from Justice Mallon concluded: “Although MIQ was a critical component of the government’s elimination strategy that was highly successful in achieving positive health outcomes, the combination of the virtual lobby and the narrow emergency criteria operated in a way that meant New Zealanders’ right to enter their country could be infringed in some instances in a manner that was not demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
Justice Mallon wrote that a lottery might be appropriate for something like a green card or tickets to Wimbledon but not for citizens seeking to exercise a fundamental right.
London-based Grounded Kiwis spokeswoman Alexandra Birt stayed up all night to hear the decision. “To have recognition that the MIQ lottery was not justified, and was a flawed system that breached the rights of New Zealand citizens overseas, was obviously a huge decision, and very emotional,” she said.
For the opposition party, New Zealand National Party’s Covid-19 spokesperson, Chris Bishop responded to the decision saying it was judicial proof of “state-sponsored cruelty”. This language has previously been used to describe the detention of children in immigration centres in the UK and the maltreatment of indigenous children in Canada.
New Zealanders Call for an Apology
Paul Mulally told TVNZ that the Government needs to acknowledge they got something wrong and that an apology needs to come sooner rather than later. “The whole idea of being a citizen is that it is a place you can freely come and go from,” he said.
Mulally had applied for emergency MIQ spots so that his family could go to Ireland and then return to New Zealand after his mother’s condition deteriorated in January. But he said they heard nothing back and even went to the lengths of calling politicians but unfortunately the application was never approved and was still pending at the time his mother died. He had to watch his mum die by video link.
Rachel Bradley, a New Zealand citizen based in France, is also calling on the Government to apologise after applying more than eight times to get back to New Zealand as her dad’s illness deteriorated.
“If any government unjustifiably restricts the rights of its own citizens, an apology is the least they can do,” said Alexander Gillespie, Waikato University law professor.
Gillespie believes not only is an apology required, but a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the country’s entire Covid response is needed.
- Quarantine lottery breached rights, New Zealand court rules, ABC News, 27 April 2022
- High Court win for Grounded Kiwis, The SpinOff, 26 April 2022
- ‘I watched my mother pass away’: Heartbroken Kiwi says MIQ debacle can never happen again, calls for Government to apologise, NZ Herald, 27 April 2022
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