Coronavirus: New Zealand teen's plea to PM for exemption to managed isolation charges

A teenager has written an impassioned plea to the Prime Minister to consider waiving managed isolation fees for Kiwis who had already booked overseas travel prior to Wednesday's announcement

Elizabeth Hastings, 16, holds dual citizenship for both New Zealand and Samoa. The 16-year-old, who currently lives in New Zealand with her aunt and uncle, has not seen her parents or siblings - who reside in Samoa - since the beginning of the year.

Hastings had paid for return tickets to Samoa to visit her family on December 6. However, the teen had not accounted for the possibility that she may need to cough up hundreds of dollars for her 14 days of mandatory managed isolation upon her return to New Zealand. 

In an impassioned letter to Jacinda Ardern, Hastings said the charges - outlined in the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill - is "too much to ask" of New Zealand citizens.

"Having to go through a 14-day quarantine in both countries already cuts my precious family time short in Samoa by four weeks," Hastings wrote.

"To add further insult to injury, you are now going to charge me and my family for managed isolation on my return to New Zealand in time for school to start, this being my final NCEA year (Year 13)."

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, providing a legal framework to allow the Government to charge for managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Housing Minister and the minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods, is seeking Cabinet approval to charge $3100 per person for their 14-day stay; $950 for each additional adult to a room; and $475 for each additional child.

Hastings says her family has "sacrificed so much" to allow her to attend school in New Zealand and "get the education every Kiwi kid deserves".

"My time with my family is very scarce and the amount of money that is being spent on my school fees, stationery and other living expenses is already a large sum. To be asked to pay $3100 dollars is a lot of money," she wrote.

Although she plans to travel to Samoa alone, she will be accompanied by an adult - most likely her aunt, who is also her guardian - on her return. The need for a chaperone adds an additional $950 to their bill, increasing the charges to $4050 - not including her aunt's lost wages throughout the 14-day period.

Hastings feels as though her case doesn't fit into the proposed policy.

"Where do I fit into your policy? Will there be an exemption for citizens like me who have already paid for our tickets to COVID-free countries prior to your announcement?" Hastings wrote.

According to Wednesday's announcement, the legislation will allow the Government to set payment terms, exempt certain groups of people and waive charges in cases of financial hardship. If an individual or family can prove they do not have the financial means to cover the charges, they may be issued an exemption on compassionate grounds.

The Bill will be passed next week before the House rises for the parliamentary term, and will enable regulations to be developed, Dr Woods said on Wednesday.

Further details of the charging scheme and when it will come into force will be announced soon.

Who will have to pay?

The Government wants to charge any New Zealander who leaves the country after the regulations come into force, or is visiting New Zealand for less than 90 days.

The same applies to temporary visa holders, unless they were ordinarily a resident in New Zealand as of March 19, and they departed the country on or before that date. They also would be exempt from the charges if they are entering the country as a critical worker.

Will anyone be exempt from paying?

Deportees will not have to pay for managed isolation, nor will diplomats and official Government representatives. Anyone travelling to New Zealand to attend the sentencing of the accused Christchurch terror attack shooter will also be exempt from the charges. 

Refugees and protected persons will also not have to pay for their first entry into the country after the charges come into force.  

The Prime Minister's Office and the Housing Minister have been contacted for comment.

Elizabeth Hastings' letter was published by Newshub with her permission.