Two return flights - one to Christchurch and another to Auckland - were scheduled to bring about 100 stranded New Zealanders home today. They will not be charged for their 14-day stays in MIQ.
When the trans-Tasman bubble was announced in early April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned New Zealanders that they should be prepared for any eventualities.
"Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of 'flyer-beware'. People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak," she said.
Anyone entering MIQ has to pay $3100 for the first or only person in the room, plus $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing that room.
Earlier, MIQ officials said people would have to stay in its facilities at their own cost if there was an outbreak in Australia, but those returning from New South Wales now do not have to pay.
On the streets in Auckland, some people thought it was unfair the taxpayers were picking up the bill for those returning from NSW.
"I think they should have to pay. I mean they went over knowing that if they got stranded there to make their own way home and there are so many other people trying to get home and there's only limited money ... businesses if there's another lockdown will need money, things like that," one woman said.
Another woman agreed.
"I just don't think it's fair that they come in because a lot of people did not go out. A lot of people haven't travelled at all because of the whole paying $3000 thing and I'm one of those people. I haven't seen my family in like two years."
However, some people supported the government's stance, including Christine Shepherd.
"They were given the opportunity to travel by the bubble opening by both governments and it's not their fault that the bubble has closed ... so I don't see why they should have to pay," she said.
Abigail Judson also said it had been hard for people to be apart from the families and a lot of them were perhaps visiting their family in Australia.
"This was supposed to be an isolation free bubble, which is what it was when they left. It's not really their fault that it's not when they come back."
The prime minister said the "flyer beware" message meant people might be stranded, or compelled to comply with isolation or pre-departure test requirements, or even stay in MIQ.
When the bubble was introduced, the government had already decided to cover MIQ costs, and some travellers were already feeling the pinch, she said.
"[It is] very difficult to expect someone, for instance, who's travelled overseas, then get [stuck] for multiple weeks, then to be told that they will be shouldering several thousand dollars to come back when they did not necessarily have any reasonable expectation that might happen.
"This is about us both bearing the brunt of some of what has happened in New South Wales. It is nobody's fault."
Covid-19 Response Minster Chris Hipkins denied there had been a U-turn in government policy.
It was impossible to anticipate every potential scenario and decisions were made based on relevant risk at the time, he said.
"In this instance, anyone who left New Zealand to go to New South Wales in the relevant period would have done so with a reasonable expectation of return under the QFT trans-Tasman arrangements ... They couldn't have reasonably expected a 14-day stay in MIQ, and to pay for it upon arrival in New Zealand," he said in a statement.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the cost of providing MIQ for those returning from Australia depended on how many people were coming back.
"There are certain costs which we have to be regardless - the rooms are there. It doesn't mean particularly whether or not it's a person from New South Wales or a person from anywhere else ... so I would hesitate to make that prediction," he said.
The National Party said they would considering charging MIQ returnees.
Ardern said 1000 rooms were available for them, but she was not sure about demand and believed it could take weeks to get everyone home.