New Zealanders wanting to come home from Australia won’t be in the running to get into one of the 1250 MIQ rooms released on Thursday because there aren’t any appropriate flights for them across March and April.
Instead, travellers from across the ditch will have to wait for the next MIQ lottery or await news about whether they’ll be able to self-isolate from the end of February instead of staying at a facility.
MIQ facility-free travel from Australia was meant to begin on January 17. But, in late December, the Government decided to postpone making a decision about it to keep the Omicron variant out and buy time to roll out vaccine boosters.
The delay meant there are no "red" flights - trips that keep passengers that need to stay in MIQ separate from those who don’t - scheduled from Australia in either March or April.
Grounded Kiwis, a Facebook group of about 11,000 Kiwis stuck outside of New Zealand, said excluding Australian travellers from the MIQ lottery was “messed up”.
ACT leader David Seymour said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins owed people stuck in Australia an apology.
“Four Air New Zealand A320s could carry 720 people across the ditch. If the Government could have persuaded Air New Zealand to fly them, half the slots could have been for Kiwis stranded in Oz,” Seymour said.
“Better still, they should have been realistic about the fact that Omicron is going to get here, started four-month boosters immediately last month, and not delayed the end of MIQ for all.”
Australian travellers’ exclusion from Thursday’s MIQ lottery comes after a previous room release, which was meant to be on December 21 last year, was cancelled for everyone amid concerns over Omicron.
Meanwhile, National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop called the situation “appalling”.
In response to the criticisms, a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told 1News rooms would be available for travellers from Australia in the next MIQ room release.
The MIQ website states: “There are further rooms available for March and April that will be released in future lobbies.”
The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), who runs the MIQ facilities, said it was “working with airlines” on its schedule and future room releases.
Even without Australian travellers, more than 10,000 people were vying for the 1250 rooms on Thursday.
Prior to Omicron’s emergence, MBIE said it had 10,000 MIQ slots each month.
But on December 16, only 3300 rooms were released. Thursday's release will bring that total to 4500.
The ministry said capacity was greatly reduced when MIQ stays were extended to 10 days to try and keep Omicron out of the community.