Kiwis stranded overseas to learn about self-isolation scheme soon

Photo: RNZ
Photo: RNZ
Overseas New Zealanders desperate to return home will soon learn when they can travel here without booking a stay in a managed isolation (MIQ) facility.

They have been waiting for an exact date ever since the government delayed the start of its gradual border re-opening plan to the end of February because of Omicron.

Sandra Thomas and her husband were ready to move back to New Zealand from Western Australia at the start of this year.

But the government's decision to delay the border reopening in order to stave off the arrival of Omicron left them stranded.

"We resigned from our jobs. Our house comes with my husband's job so that leaves us with nowhere to live."

Now there is hope on the horizon with the prime minister confirming New Zealanders stuck overseas will learn when they can bypass MIQ and isolate at home in a matter of weeks.

"Hopefully this is it for us, for all of us stranded. There are so many sad cases out there."

The reopening plan will allow fully-vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents in Australia to return first, followed by those based elsewhere in the world.

Allowing foreign nationals to travel to New Zealand is the final step.

The plan was still due to begin at the end of February and Cabinet would confirm the exact date in the next two weeks, Ardern said.

"We still will have a self-isolation requirement though. Because while we're dealing with Omicron, and while there is still the potential for other variants in the world, we want to make sure that we reduce the number of new cases that are being seeded, because it's our view that that's what's seen a large and significant scale of outbreaks overseas."

National Party Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the re-opening should happen sooner because Omicron was already spreading in the community.

Once we get to a situation where there are thousands of people isolating at home with Omicron in New Zealand, I think most fair-minded Kiwis would say 'Well, hang on a minute. How is it fair to say to triple-vaccinated New Zealanders overseas 'you can't come home to your country of citizenship and isolate at home in the same way people who have Omicron are doing in the community'," Bishop said.

But the government did not appear to be considering an earlier date.

"What we want to make sure is that whilst we're dealing with Omicron, we are still being cautious in our re-opening plans to make sure that ... we are making progress, but we're doing it in a staged way that doesn't lead to an overwhelming of our health services or exponential increase in cases in a way that jeopardises the access to health care we want New Zealanders to have," Ardern said

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said testing overseas arrivals while they were in self-isolation could help inform future border decisions.

"At a certain point, travellers arriving in New Zealand will have lower rates of infection than people in New Zealand. That would be the time to then look at whether we could move away from self-isolation requirements all together," Baker said.

But Baker warned the end of MIQ for overseas arrivals might be temporary.

The government must maintain the ability to reopen isolation facilities in case a more dangerous variant of Covid-19 emerged, he said.

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