Adrian Littlewood has been a study in diplomacy for his public stance on border settings but his patience has run out - much like the more than 230,000 who have missed out on MIQ spots in what's been described as "a lottery of human misery".
The outgoing Auckland Airport boss says it makes little sense to deprive Kiwis of a chance to get home by Christmas and skip quarantine providing they are fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19.
He says there was no longer any logic qualifying New Zealanders, "as the science no longer supported it" and called on the Government to decide on MIQ now, giving the aviation industry time to prepare.
Covid is now spreading in the community in parts of the upper North Island and epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the Auckland MIQ system was "absurd" just as local Covid-19 transmission was placing contact tracing systems under massive strain.
He said low-risk foreign visitors arriving in Auckland must be allowed to isolate outside of the MIQ hotel network.
What does Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins think?
"The Government continues to make decisions that balance health, the economy and making progress towards a greater sense of normality. These decisions are based on risk and advice from a range of experts, including Te Pūnaha Matatini Covid-19 modellers, who say it's not yet time to stop compulsory MIQ for international arrivals.''
The minister says the Government continued to work closely with airlines and airport companies to strengthen the border and provide certainty for planning. It would be "problematic" if New Zealanders were only able to fly into Auckland Airport.
What work is under way to review it for returning Kiwis?
"We are always reviewing the settings at MIQ. This includes halving the time returnees stay in MIQ to seven days, which will initially free up more than 1500 rooms a month. These spaces will enable two things; they'll allow rooms to continue to support the Auckland outbreak and some additional rooms will be available and will add to the vouchers being released – 500 so far."
Views on home isolation
So far three people isolating at home are known to have died and Associate Professor Collin Tukuitonga said home isolation was unsatisfactory and surging case numbers meant more deaths were likely.
Some people have been isolating in tents, cars and caravans and Tukuitonga understood a "halfway house" type of model between hospital care and home isolation had been discussed but had not advanced and was concerned.
He was concerned about domestic overcrowding and low vaccination rates in some communities.
Asked whether more MIQ space needs to be made available for vulnerable Aucklanders needing to isolate, Hipkins said: "In some cases people are indicating they prefer to isolate in the community and they are reluctant to go and isolate in an MIQ facility."
When will the Government set a date for changes to MIQ?
"We've said we're moving towards having more vaccinated people able to self-isolate at home instead of in MIQ in the first quarter of 2022. Our priority at this stage is to safely transition to the new traffic light system first and bed that in before adding the additional risk of international arrivals immediately entering the community," said Hipkins.
Certainty for airlines
Littlewood has said airlines need certainty in order to return to New Zealand in pre-pandemic numbers.
Asked if he was concerned the lack of certainty for airlines will damage further the tourism and outbound travel industries, Hipkins said: "We are working very closely with the sector to give them certainty through our Reconnecting NZ strategy, and to make sure New Zealand is well prepared to take up the opportunities once border restrictions are lifted. We are currently keeping international airlines and routes connected to New Zealand through our aviation support package, which ensures businesses have the capability required to tap into international markets.''
Without this package, there was a real risk that New Zealand could have been cut off from regular air services to the rest of the world, the minister said.
Littlewood acknowledged the role of the support package in keeping under half of the pre-pandemic 29 airlines flying here but they will go elsewhere if there were more profitable operations to pursue.
The Board of Airline Representatives backs Littlewood's call.
"The vaccine has been a game-changer, vaccinated international travellers aren't the risk anymore. Over the last week we had 1083 Covid cases in community transmission in Auckland, and only 15 across the border," said executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers.
"Imagine being that Kiwi stuck overseas, desperate to visit family or a dying relative, no MIQ available and seeing over 700 people with Covid self-isolating. It's inhumane, and it's time to let them come home."
Airlines are already cutting planned capacity to New Zealand and reducing flights because they can't see a way out of this.
"Letting vaccinated Kiwis return home would send a clear signal to airlines that New Zealand is serious about opening our border, and that we will be catching up to the rest of the world in the near future," said Tighe-Umbers.
Thousands of Kiwis working at airlines and airports had given their all over the last 18 months, over 5000 of them have lost their jobs.
"We owe it to them to get the system moving again, so they can get back to work now it is safe to do so," he said.