Probe lashes NZ’s COVID quarantine lottery

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New Zealand’s chief ombudsman has found the ballot system for its COVID-era hotel quarantine regime had a “significant harmful impact” on Kiwis, recommending personal apologies be given to hard luck stories denied entry to their own country.

Ombudsman Peter Boshier has lashed Jacinda Ardern’s government for its allocation of spaces in its now-infamous MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine), in a scathing report released on Monday.

The lottery system, known as MIAS, saw Kiwis log on and attempt to secure a place in a hotel for the mandatory fortnight of isolation for all arrivals.

There were no exemptions to isolation, and few accommodations made to those with difficult circumstances, like dying relatives, who needed to enter the country.

It was also enormously oversubscribed. At times, there were 10 people for every available spot in quarantine.

Mr Boshier said the government acted unreasonably in running the ballot, which became known as the “lottery of human misery”, and particularly, failed to meet obligations to disabled people or to consult with Maori.

“it is apparent that MIQ, and the operation of MIAS in particular, caused immense stress and frustration for tens of thousands of people seeking to enter New Zealand. I received hundreds of complaints,” Mr Boshier wrote.

“We ended up with a lottery – a system that did not fully allow for the consideration and prioritisation of individual circumstances of people trying to come home during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Shayne Gray, an executive at the relevant government department, MBIE, responded to the report by acknowledging the ballot system was “not perfect” amid the difficulty of the time.

Mr Boshier said he had sympathy to bureaucrats working under the unprecedented pandemic, but said the final design fell short of offering “sympathy and honour” to Kiwis.

“I will be following up with the complainants in this investigation … and if a personal apology from MBIE is appropriate.”

Opposition parties National and ACT went further, calling on the prime minister to apologise.

“It separated families and meant people were unable to return to New Zealand to see loved ones and couldn’t be there when family members were in the final stages of life,” opposition COVID-19 spokesman Shane Reti said.

“It was cruel and the prime minister needs to accept responsibility for her government’s actions and apologise.”

New Zealand began quarantining international arrivals in March 2020, changing formats and systems at many stages through the pandemic, expanding to hotel facilities in several cities.

More than 229,000 people spent time in MIQ before its closure in June 2022.

MIQ will form a part of the government’s Royal Commission into COVID-19, which Ms Ardern announced last week.

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