John Key calls MIQ booking system a 'failure'

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

The MIQ booking system has come under fire again today with former Prime Minister John Key calling it a “failure” and National floating the idea of a points-based system for returnees.

The Government is set to outline its plan to relax the borders on Thursday. Speaking at National’s AGM, former Prime Minister Sir John Key said the Government has “completely failed to provide a system that works”, and called for different solutions for managing returnees.

“The reality is, your only hope is to pay some computer and even when you do that - that fails to get you the spot as well.”

“It’s not fair, ultimately there’s no dexterity or creativity from the Government. They should put some incentives in and say, get two vaccinations and you can MIQ effectively in your own home.”

National’s floated the idea of a points-based system, with those who need to return more urgently given more points, and therefore higher priority for an MIQ slot.

“We think where there are limited spots and there needs to be some sort of fairness quotient, certainly there needs to be an ability for people to get through when there are places that are empty in MIQ,” National leader Judith Collins says.

Speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A today, Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said he’d like to see New Zealand introduce purpose-built MIQ facilities, like the Howard Springs Centre in Darwin.

“We really need to have a look at whether we need purpose-built facilities, we've seen The Wiggles, the Wallabies and now people being able to return through MIQ who are going to Expo 2021. Those are all actually good things, we know we can manage people coming across the border, but what does that look like in a much more open set of settings?”

University of Otago Epidemiologist Dr Amanda Kvalsvig says any relaxing of the border “will have to be managed very carefully”.

“I think we are definitely going to move towards a system that doesn't include an MIQ stay, that is very clear, the question is how to do that safely? When people are vaccinated that doesn’t mean they are 100 per cent protected from infection or from infecting others, so we need to build that into our calculations.”

Kvalsvig says repurposing MIQ hotel staff roles to work in a purpose-built quarantine facility would be “an excellent idea”.

“That is a really efficient way of making sure that people who already know how to work in a facility like that can still be employed and can still be working.”

Kvalsvig say any relaxation of the border needs to be thoroughly tested before it goes live.

“It's very difficult to deliver a complex system in a short deadline. All the risks assessments must be done, key elements must be tested, we must know it's safe. My concern is external pressure on that system will drive a decision to open up the border before everything is in place.”

MIQ cancelling 50 vouchers

The debate comes as MIQ continues to cancel the vouchers of Kiwis who’ve turned to third parties to try and get a spot.

Kiwi couple Kanjanee Yakhet and Tom Hodgkinson travelled back to Yakhet’s family home in rural North Thailand earlier this year to seek family support. Yakhet was suffering from Hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy-induced nausea so severe it can lead to hospitalisation.

Their baby Tyler was born, but Yakhet’s illness has continued and she’s been hospitalised multiple times. With Hodgkinson’s visa expiring and a poor internet connection, they enlisted the help of a friend in New Zealand who booked a voucher on their behalf. They spent $4000 on flights, but this week received an email from MBIE saying their voucher will be cancelled.

“This email is to notify you that your Managed Isolation Allocation System (MIAS) account has been suspended” the email reads.

“This is because we have identified that the Terms of Use have been breached as your account details have been shared with a third party.”

“You will be unable to log in to your account, and any dates reserved or vouchers secured will be cancelled.”

Kanjanee Yakhet, Tom Hodgkinson and Tyler Yakhet Hodgkinson.

The email gave a 48-hour window to dispute the decision, which has now lapsed. Yakhet and Hodgkinson haven’t received a response to their calls and emails to MIQ.

“I had no idea we were breaking the rules because so many other people are using third parties” Hodgkinson says.

“I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do, it's almost like they've gone out of their way to inflict harm.”

Hodgkinson says his visa runs out in two weeks. He’s been told that after that point he’ll be charged $50NZD every day he overstays, and will be arrested if he can’t leave the country within three months.

Yakhet says the situation has been incredibly stressful.

“It’s been hard, I couldn’t get time to sleep because I was sick for a few times and I’ve been in hospital and I’ve got a new-born baby.”

Hodgkinson says he can’t understand why his family is losing a voucher when third parties that are instructing users to share their details are still operating.

A booking screen for New Zealand's MIQ system

Nearly 200 MIQ accounts are under investigation or have been suspended in the last month because users shared their login details.

MIQ Associate Deputy Secretary Andy Milne says 49 vouchers associated with suspended accounts are being considered for cancellation.

“Any cancellation has been because we are satisfied that there has been a breach of the Terms of Use, and we have explained that to the users in an email. The email sets out what they can do to register again and look for a voucher in accordance with the Terms of Use.

“The email also contains information about how to apply for an emergency allocation if the person’s situation meets that high threshold” Milne says.

Milne wouldn’t say how MIQ officials are able to tell if there’s been a breach in the terms of use.

“We are unable to share further details because revealing our methods could result in people intent on breaching the Terms of Use gaining an advantage which could compromise our ability to ensure the system is as fair as possible for all users.”