Paihia businesswoman Robyn Stent and her husband found MIQ spots but could not get flights out of Perth.
Photo / Jenny Ling
Whangārei couple Jim and Sue Fernie haven't had any luck so far securing MIQ spots from Hong Kong.
Photo / Supplied
By Imran Ali
Home isolation and the re-release of last-minute travel cancellation spots at managed isolation facilities would help bring Kiwis home faster, Northlanders stranded overseas have suggested.
Retired pilot Jim Fernie and his wife Sue, of Whangārei, are stuck in Hong Kong while they are finalising the sale of a property, while Paihia businesswoman Robyn Stent cannot get a direct flight from Perth to Auckland.
The Fernies were in isolation for seven days only, which they believe New Zealand should adopt as one of three ways of clearing the MIQ capacity bottleneck.
Fernie said New Zealand's MIQ system ignored the vaccination status of travellers, and it didn't even ask.
In Hong Kong, he said travellers from low-risk countries like New Zealand underwent a pre-travel test, another on arrival, two more in an MIQ hotel, and four tests after release.
Another way he said was to re-release the MIQ slots of travellers who cancelled their plans at the last minute.
"Under the old system, one or two dozen short-notice 72-hour cancellations would be re-released every day, and we expected to be able to make use of one of those.
"However, this immediate re-release has stopped under the new lobby system, wasting the rooms that would have been made available before the next lobby 'event'.
"The three lobby 'events' held so far have been about a week apart. Why not make them more frequent, now that the system has been tested?"
The third round of the MIQ virtual lobby system opened yesterday, with about 3700 rooms released.
Fernie said once fully vaccinated returning Kiwis arrive in New Zealand, they should be allowed to self-isolate at home.
Stent is being forced to run her business from across the ditch and fears she may lose her pension if she doesn't get back home on time.
The owner of souvenir shop the Cabbage Tree New Zealand creations in Paihia is questioning the Government's strategy on getting stranded Kiwis back home, particularly those flying in from Covid-free areas overseas.
Stent and her husband flew into Perth when the transtasman bubble was open in July to see their grandsons for a four-week holiday but couldn't return when positive Delta variant cases were discovered in New Zealand.
The Government halted the transtasman bubble for eight weeks through to November but signalled the re-opening of borders would rely on vaccination rates.
Stent's problem is compounded by the fact that although she managed to secure managed isolation spots in New Zealand in November, she couldn't find flights out of Perth.
"It's been close to 11 weeks for us and we don't know how long before we can come home. The Government will cut pensions for Kiwis who are out of the country for 26 weeks, and I doubt I'll be home before the year's out," Stent said.
"I managed to secure MIQ spots three to four days into November but couldn't get the flights. All MIQ spots for December have been taken up. The fact is there are people like me in Covid-free places that can fly home and self-isolate," she said.
Tens of thousands of overseas-based Kiwis are trying to secure bookings since the Government released managed isolation spots online three weeks ago.
More than 25,000 people tried to secure 3000 spots during the first release of MIQ spots. The new system randomly assigns rooms.
Stent closed her shop in Russell over winter last year due to a lack of sales and is managing her Paihia-based business with the help of staff.
Up to 90 per cent of her customers are foreign tourists, and with international borders shut Stent said business has been tough.
She and her husband are travelling throughout Australia by road, avoiding the Covid hotspots of Melbourne and Sydney, and are currently holidaying in North Queensland.
Stent wrote to the Government from Australia and said she received a standard reply.
"The Government has started a strategy of bringing Kiwis home and the whole Covid response but they don't know how to change it. Initially, we were allowed to go home in quarantine but that's no longer the case."
They both have had two doses of the Covid vaccine.
A spokesman for Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the risks to travellers who flew to Australia under the quarantine-free travel were clearly signalled by the Government, but since its suspension a number of red flights have been put on to bring Kiwis back home.
He said Air New Zealand has recently announced a further 25 red or quarantine flights out of Australia in January.
"The Government's Reconnecting New Zealand strategy, outlined in August, is a plan to transition New Zealand back to as normal a life as possible as soon as possible. It set out that there will be different approaches to countries and regions, depending on a range of Covid-19 risk factors.
"As part of the plan, the Government is piloting self-isolation for a small number of fully vaccinated returnees starting in the next month, and is looking to extend this wider, along with shorter stays in MIQ," he said.
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said this month and in November, the airline would operate a select number of direct flights between Perth and Auckland, known as "red flights" for those who have a confirmed place in MIQ.
There are no direct Air NZ red flights scheduled between Perth and Auckland in December and January.
"We do not currently have any direct MIQ (red) flights scheduled between Perth and Auckland in December or January. Customers in Western Australia who do wish to return to New Zealand would therefore need to travel to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne to connect with one of the red flights available from these ports."
About 25,000 Kiwis around the world are vying for 3700 MIQ rooms in New Zealand.