There is nothing special about Alexandra Birt's experience with MIQ, although she is a walking encyclopedia on it.
Compared with some of the anguishing cases that have been making headlines over the Government's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system, her ordinary story has a certain irony.
Birt is the London-based lawyer and spokeswoman of Grounded Kiwis and is back home for a visit. She is five months pregnant and she and her husband James are flying back to Britain at the end of summer and will have the baby there.
Some of the most controversial cases around MIQ involve pregnant women trying to get back to New Zealand to have their babies.
They include Bergen Graham, who was granted a place in MIQ last September the day after filing legal action, and Charlotte Bellis, the pregnant journalist in Afghanistan whose application for an emergency place was initially declined.
Others are about people trapped in various parts of the world and unable to obtain places in managed isolation.
Birt is one of the lucky ones. She is visiting family in Wellington having won a spot in the MIQ lottery for December, after the sixth or seventh go.
She knows the MIQ system and its rules backwards and is the voice of Grounded Kiwis on media interviews, along with Martin Newell in Australia.
The stories are distressing.
"Honestly, the number of emails and messages that we get, particularly over the last month, have just increased dramatically and for a lot of people it is really concerning, of people who are really in severe mental health situations."
Many of the people who go public attract abuse on social media. Vitriol has been directed at Grounded Kiwis as well over publicity which is undoubtedly damaging the reputation of the Government.
"It's horrific some of the commentary that people say, particularly people that have never engaged with us," she said.
"I had this the other day when someone who was quite respected wrote 'the people running Grounded Kiwi are f***ing idiots.' "
Birt said she had never been involved in anything political before and she did not see it as a left vs right issue.
"I got involved because of the people impact, and because I'm a lawyer I'm interested in the legal aspect and people's rights being denied. But some people see it as an extremely political issue."
She believes if New Zealanders abroad were being subjected to the same restrictions under a National Government, the left would be very vocal and active in its condemnation.
"But we get a lot of pro-Government commentators saying really horrific things about us which I just think is completely unfair and ungrounded."
Alexandra and James left New Zealand two years ago after he landed a job in London. She then found a job as an in-house lawyer for a media firm.
She sat next to a DJ on the flight back home (not Dimension, the first Omicron case) and he told her he was "psyched" to be coming to New Zealand.
She did not tell him about how many New Zealanders would also have been psyched to have had his seat.
After being released from The Pullman MIQ in December, she and her husband were able to spend Christmas with family in Wellington, take part in a memorial for Birt's grandfather and attend a family wedding.
"For me personally, I am not an emergency case," Birt said. "I did not have any pressing need to return to New Zealand over the last two years [although] I desperately wanted to see my family."
But Grounded Kiwis is an online organisation providing support and advice - not just for the extreme cases - and it is taking up a legal challenge.
Birt will be in Wellington for the court case set down for February 14 and 15. The group has raised nearly $200,000 to fund the case which claims that the way MIQ has been run is contrary to the Bill of Rights Act, section 18, stating every New Zealand citizen has the right to enter New Zealand.
"It is not just about the emergency cases," she said. "Obviously those are extremely important and we want to get those people back pronto."
But for the right of entry not to be observed for such an extended period of time was problematic and did not sit well with tens of thousands of New Zealanders here and abroad.
She says even those getting spots in MIQ express mixed feelings about it because they know that by getting a spot, someone else has missed out.
"You feel excited in some ways but also one friend messaged me saying it was like she had survivor guilt from being able to come back."
Birt is aged 29. She worked as a litigator for Kensington Swan in Wellington for a couple of years before moving to Auckland to join the in-house legal team with Fisher & Paykel.
Grounded Kiwis was formed in July last year in response to concerns about New Zealanders not being able to get home, and now has a support base of over 15,000 people.
Birt said she initially volunteered to help people with their applications, then found herself on the press statement announcing the group's formation, and her involvement has virtually turned into a second job.
She is not entirely dismissive of the MIQ system, which since April 2020 has held new arrivals in hotels until they are deemed safe to be released into the community without Covid-19.
MIQ had previously served New Zealand well from a public health perspective "but things are different in the world now".
"As soon as you've got positive cases isolating at home, there is no rationale for why negative returnees from overseas should be required to stay at MIQ.
"I think the whole purpose of MIQ becomes a bit redundant once you have Covid circulating in a community."
The MIQ problem intensified last July when the arrival of the Delta strain in Australia led New Zealand to halt free transtasman travel, and demand outstripped supply.
The introduction of a lottery system laid bare the unfairness of the system which could see someone miss countless attempts to get a place through the lottery and another person get in on their first go.
In November, the Government announced free travel with Australia would resume and the prospect of avoiding the room charges (between $1600 and $5000 depending on the number of people and length of stay) meant some of the lotteries at the end of the year were under-subscribed.
If the Government keeps MIQ in the short term, the group wants to see the criterion for emergency places widened and a waiting system introduced to remove the random factor.
Ideally Birt would like to see it gone.
"It has been really awful and it has had an horrific impact on the people who have had to use it.
"For a lot of them, it has changed their view of New Zealand and their country. It is almost hard to imagine what it feels like until you are required to participate in it.
"[On lottery day] when you are waiting for that circle to wheel around and pop out a number at you that is randomly generated and determines whether or not you can enter your own country, it's a horrific system and I hope we never use it again."
The system has evolved with length of stay and testing requirements changing, as well as cohorting and various categories of approval and exemptions having been developed.
The Government has recognised the weaknesses in the system and, if things had gone to plan, the phase-down of MIQ would have begun already.
Non-quarantine travel was to resume beginning with Australia on January 17 but Omicron set back those plans at least until the end of this month.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to talk about the revised plans in a speech tomorrow.
• April – Govt announces all arrivals will need to go into managed isolation for 14 days in one of 18 hotels (it is now 33) with negative test required for release.
• August - Charges begin for MIQ users staying fewer than 90 days.
• Sept – Weekly testing of staff working in quarantine begins and fortnightly for staff working in isolation.
• Oct – MIQ requires travellers to secure a voucher online before arrival but the system forces many people to camp on keyboards, or use bots.
• Jan – Pre-departure tests and day 0 tests begin for most arrivals.
• April – Travellers from Australia not required to go into MIQ.
• June – Charges for MIQ increase for people staying fewer than 180 days.
• July – Free travel with Australia suspended as it succumbs to Delta.
• August – NZ gets Delta strain and goes into alert level 4.
• Sept – Lottery system (known as virtual lobby) begins for MIQ voucher booking system.
• Nov – Isolation reduced to seven days with three days isolation at home, announcement that MIQ-free travel for fully vaccinated Kiwis to begin Jan 17 and others by April 30. Returnees to self-isolate for seven days with final negative test.
• Dec - Omicron emerges in other countries, seven days isolation replaced with 10 days, plans for MIQ-free travel suspended, start for Australia revised to end of Feb. NZ 90 per cent vaccinated.
• Jan – Omicron emerges in NZ and alert level system is replaced with traffic light system, allowing greater freedoms for people fully vaccinated.
• MIQ room release postponed.
• Special emergency category begins for Kiwis in Australia with severe hardship.
• Feb – Cabinet reviews MIQ and border settings.
• 217,808 people through MIQ, either in isolation or in stricter quarantine for returnees who test positive.
• MIQ facilities at 33 hotels across NZ: Auckland 18; Hamilton 3; Rotorua 3; Wellington 2; and Christchurch 7.
• Around 9000 rooms per 28 days, or 4500 a fortnight in two cycles of 14 days.
• Of those: around 6000 to 6500 are for general vouchers; 1300 for groups, 800 for emergency allocations; 400 for time-sensitive travel; 300 for healthcare workers; 100-400 for reserves.
• 3936 people currently in MIQ isolation rooms and 677 in quarantine.