At the Cabinet meeting today, the Government should finally make the decision even Chris Hipkins is acknowledging needs to be made. It's time to open the doors of MIQ and let our people come home.
Now, to be clear, I have a vested interest in this decision as I am currently in MIQ at the Four Points Hotel in Auckland and have been for the past six days. But the logic of keeping double-vaccinated returnees in MIQ for 14 days no longer makes sense, especially when on a daily basis people with Covid in the community are given dispensation to isolate at home.
In a recent interview, Hipkins noted there was now a "fundamentally different risk profile" with Covid in the community, and most of the people in MIQ were Covid-free. With the rapid increase in community cases, he also acknowledged MIQ capacity would soon be at breaking point, as those people are moved to MIQ facilities.
As an aside, I would like to think they are being moved to facilities not housing returning Kiwis, but the word "transition" was used when describing the changes being made at the Distinction Hamilton to house community Covid cases.
It would be complete madness to bring community cases into a normal MIQ facility as these are probably the only places on the North Island where it is highly unlikely that Covid is present. Hipkins himself has stated "most of the people in MIQ didn't have the virus, but are taking up rooms that will be needed as more and more people catch Delta".
My case is typical. To fly at the moment, I need to have received a clear PCR test within 72 hours of my flight. I then took another PCR test on arrival in New Zealand – day zero (clear), another on day three (clear) and another on day 6 (result not yet received). In addition, my partner Charlotte and I are both double-vaccinated (Pfizer).
In fact, the biggest risk of my catching Covid is likely to come from the increasingly bureaucratic and inept handling of travellers by government agencies seeking to show they are controlling the process, because they inevitably end up mixing travellers or returnees from different countries either in airports or quarantine facilities.
Ironically, planes feel safe, not least because they are largely empty (27 people on our flight from Singapore and 22 on our flight from London). At Changi we were walked and trained from one end of the terminal to the other, before repeating the journey some 30 minutes later to get back to the departure lounge we had walked past immediately after disembarking the plane from London.
In between we ended up in rows awaiting processing with poor social distancing, whilst other travellers from who knows where walked past with no control or segregation. At all points of the journey, paperwork is checked and rechecked (often within a few metres) thus increasing interactions between people and increasing risk of infection.
Don't get me wrong, returnees should (at the moment) undergo a short period of MIQ. But if you are double-vaccinated and have a clear pre-flight, day zero and day three test, you should be able to go home to complete your isolation.
We could also introduce the traffic light system operated overseas which categorises countries according to their risk profile and testing capabilities, varying the required stay in MIQ.
As an added incentive to getting our people vaccinated, home isolation could also be dependent upon all eligible people at the property having been double-vaccinated themselves. A major incentive to get their loved ones home for Christmas.
This move would instantly free up more spaces in MIQ, potentially increasing the MIQ capacity by 300 per cent - from the current 3800 to more than 11,000 spaces a fortnight. Once Aotearoa New Zealand gets to the 90 per cent double-vaccinated target, these quarantine requirements could be eased further for double vaccinated travellers.
As a first step, this clearly makes sense and preserves controls whilst starting a process to reopen our country and reunite our families and whānau.
These members of the team of five million and their families have played their part, often at great cost to loved ones separated in some cases for years. Many have suffered the pain of missed opportunities to say goodbye and attend funerals, while others have lost the chance to experience the joys of new births and have precious family time.
It's time to follow the science, show leadership, compassion and kindness, and for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister Hipkins to let our people go (and come) home.
• Andrew Barnes is a businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder of Perpetual Guardian and is best known in New Zealand for championing the four-day week.