The Government has broadened the eligibility criteria for an emergency space in managed isolation facilities and made an additional 100 spots available every fortnight.
The most significant change allows someone to apply for an emergency spot if they are returning to visit a close relative living with a terminal illness or end-stage disease, and are unable to quickly get a room through the normal process. The relative must have less than six months to live.
People suffering from a terminal illness themselves and wanting to see a relative in New Zealand are now also eligible to apply, as are citizens or residents of Pacific countries requiring time-critical medical treatment in New Zealand that is unavailable in their own country.
The Emergency Allocation system is in place to support those urgently needing to return to New Zealand and who have been unable to book a spot in MIQ through the voucher system.
Previously, there were 250 rooms available per fortnight. However, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) announced on Thursday this will increase to 350.
The eligibility criteria threshold is extremely high, with returnees' travel needing to be time-critical. There is no guarantee that someone who fulfills the requirements will be allocated a room.
A returnee's circumstances must fall into one of two categories. Here's the criteria for each category, with Thursday's changes in red:
MBIE's deputy secretary and the joint head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) Megan Main said the changes show how the system is being continuously improved.
"As we notice trends in the applications we receive, we fine-tune the criteria to ensure we're meeting the needs of the people applying while keeping our community safe," Main said.
"Over the last few months we've received applications from people who were terminally ill and wanting to return home to see loved ones, from people who were in countries where they were unsafe and from citizens from Pacific island countries who need to receive urgent medical care in New Zealand.
"So we have created categories for these situations so that we can more easily accommodate future applications of this nature."
To date, 3088 emergency allocation applications have been processed, with 1682 approved.
Main said it's always difficult to decide who to give emergency allocations to.
"There are a lot of people who are in really distressing situations overseas," she said. "Brigadier Jim Bliss and I are the people who make the decisions and I know that for both of us, it's one of the hardest parts of our job.
"We need to balance each individual application with our critical work to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders and the limited available capacity in Managed Isolation Facilities. The changes we’re making today will mean that more people who need to get home urgently will be able to."
MBIE has previously made a number of changes to the system, including accepting applications within 14 days of the applicant's intended travel date, up from seven days.
"This change provides more time for approved applicants to secure flights and complete any pre-departure testing requirements," Main said.
The allocations are processed in a tiered system, with those in category 1 prioritised over category 2. Applicants must be legally entitled to enter New Zealand, have time-critical travel, be registered with the normal allocation system and unable to book a spot urgently through that, have their circumstances fall into one of the two categories and be able to provide evidence supporting their application.
Applicants still need to complete their 14 days in MIQ.