By Gill Bonnett of RNZ
Managed isolation planning is under fire after figures show there are still more than 1000 empty places - while returning New Zealanders and separated families say they are being told there is no room at the inn.
As of Tuesday this week, there were 1067 vacant spaces in managed isolation.
In the last fortnight, the lowest number of vacancies on any one day was 497. In the next week, projected vacancies based on ticketing sales and vouchers booked, do not fall below 600.
There are 6261 managed isolation places in total and a further 1014 rooms for people are used for quarantine, emergency contingencies, deportees, mariners and aircrew. The average occupancy over the next fortnight is 5190.
The chair of thinktank the New Zealand Initiative, Roger Partridge, said the vacancies were shameful when so many people are crying out for places, including New Zealanders returning for a family Christmas.
"My impression is that officials are more interested in being 'in control' than meeting the needs of New Zealand families, firms and workers. This will have long term adverse effects on jobs and wellbeing," Partridge said.
"Quite apart from the human tragedy behind the empty beds, feedback from the business community is of projects stalling, critical roles being left unfilled, and business activity suffering as a result."
He asked whether officials were being held accountable for the unused capacity.
Just this week, the minister of immigration cited the constraints in managed isolation (MIQ) as a reason for the narrow border exemptions.
Hutt Valley High School teacher Cameron Conradie is apart from his wife Tanya - also a teacher - and 13-year-old son Aidan, as they are still in South Africa and their visas are not being processed during the border closure.
He has used his skills as a maths teacher to analyse the MIQ statistics.
"Every vacancy represents a humanitarian tragedy for split families and people split from their jobs and possessions," Conradie said.
"The facilities should be used to their designed capacity to achieve full efficiency," he said.
"If we have to wait for the border to open and for the processing of visas of offshore applicants to eventually resume in order for us to even know if my family will be one day allowed into New Zealand, the personal costs and mental strain may just be too high.
"If we are not able to be reunited soon in New Zealand there are only two options - to continue living as a split family unit, oceans apart for an indeterminate length of time at great cost financially and to our relationships and family bond. Or to give up on settling in New Zealand and try to pick up the pieces of our damaged lives back in South Africa.
"This means that New Zealand will lose the service of two experienced teachers who have made every possible commitment. It also means that our sacrifices made will have been in vain."
Asked how many people have not used their MIQ vouchers, MBIE said in a written response that it does not collate that figure but it believes it is not significant given arrival numbers remain high.
People who find they do not need to use their MIQ vouchers due to a change in travel plans should return them by cancelling their booking on the MIAS website so they can be used by others, MBIE said.
MBIE said it has transitioned to a new data platform which will allow it to better forecast arrival numbers and manage the flow of retournees.
It said the figure of 600 vacant places is not an accurate reflection of what is occuring in isolation facilities.
MBIE said its room capacity is 4500 - which translates into 6261 people - but the number of places available for individuals will vary depending on factors such as whether families or groups are isolating together (meaning more rooms are available) and exactly how long a person stays which will vary according to their arrival time (for example, a 1am versus a 11pm arrival).
More individuals means less capacity, it said.
"This means we can be operating close to our room capacity but appear to have to have available space based on people numbers."