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Judge Slams New Zealand’s Pandemic Quarantine System That Locked Kiwis Out Of Their Own Country

Judge Slams New Zealand’s Pandemic Quarantine System That Locked Kiwis Out Of Their Own Country

a person in a mask standing behind a fence with signs

A judge has criticised New Zealand’s pandemic quarantine system in a sprawling 140-page judgement because the government failed to take account of personal circumstances, concluding that the right for Kiwis to enter their own country as enshrined in New Zealand’s Bill of Rights had been infringed.

New Zealand imposed its strict ‘managed isolation and quarantine’ system (MIQ) on 26th March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic.  The system is credited with keeping Aotearoa largely free of COVID-19 for most of the last two years but Kiwis who were overseas at the time it was introduced found it incredibly hard to secure a room in MIQ in order to return home.

To manage demand the New Zealand government set up a ‘virtual lobby’ which acted as a waiting room for Kiwis to snap up MIQ rooms as soon as they were released.  The judge said in her judgement that this operated as a lottery and that criteria to secure a room through an emergency allocation system were interpreted too narrowly.

As a result, New Zealanders who had faced an unreasonable delay in returning home weren’t prioritised.  The judge ruled that the government failed to show why an online system that prioritised citizens who had faced an unreasonable delay couldn’t have been created.

The case was brought by a group of overseas Kiwis who claimed the government had breached New Zealand’s Bill of Rights which guarantees citizens a right of return.

The judge agreed that MIQ was justified in keeping COVID-19 out of New Zealand and maintaining public health but slammed the government for failing to take account of individual circumstances.

“The emergency allocation process as it operated was an inadequate method of seeking to ensure that New Zealanders could return if they were facing unreasonable delays or had a need to return that warranted priority,” Justice Mallon said.

“It was inevitable that the system would operate unjustly in some individual cases because of this.”

Since its inception, 229,787 have passed through MIQ but the system has been almost completely wound down as New Zealand reopens its borders to the world.  At its height, 12,600 people in 9000 rooms passed through MIQ every 28 days.

As of Wednesday, there are just 56 people in isolation spread across 46 isolation rooms.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins, defended MIQ following the ruling, saying it was the “least worst option”.

“We have long acknowledged the difficult trade-offs we’ve had to make in our Covid-19 response to save lives and the effects of those decisions on all New Zealanders, particularly those living abroad,” Hipkins said.

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