COVID-19: Kiwis stuck overseas concerned bots snapping up MIQ vouchers

Frustration has reached breaking point for a number of Kiwi expats, many of whom are trying to return home as the pandemic rages overseas.

They're concerned bots are taking over the booking system for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), preventing Kiwis from snapping up coveted accommodation vouchers for their mandatory isolation period - but the head of MIQ is confident that's not the case.

MIQ is an integral part of New Zealand's strategy to stop COVID-19 from getting into the country - but instead, Kiwis stuck overseas say the booking system is stopping them from getting home.

Kiwi expat Chris Ruscoe lives in Nashville, Tennessee - he's an accountant by day, a musician by night.

After more than a year away, he's ready to return to Aotearoa - but there's a problem.

"It's impossible for me to get home and I can't book a managed isolation spot. I've been trying for weeks. My computer's been on for 18 hours a day refreshing the page. It's a nightmare," he told Newshub.

He said he is "constantly disappointed" that the prospect of seeing his family this year is looking more and more unlikely.

Chris believes bots are snapping up the MIQ vouchers. While he already uses a Twitter account run by bots to alert him when a new opening is available, he still has to physically click on the booking.

He suspects computer-savvy people have created virtual bots to do that work for them.

The automated programmes are reserving spots within seconds of them becoming available.  

But it's something joint head of MIQ, Megan Main, doesn't think is an issue.

"I'm confident there are no computer [bots] mass-booking slots and if it did happen, if it could happen, we'd pick it up and we'll deal with that," she said.

"There's a difference between bots letting people know of available spaces and those achieving an actual booking - which it says there is almost no evidence of."

But just in case, enhancements have been added to make sure of that - and IT expert Daniel Ayers said more could be done.

"People want to create an uneven playing field by jumping the queue using the bots. The website has taken some steps to stop that from happening but they haven't done as much as they could and so therefore the problem hasn't been completely eradicated."

In the meantime, the only way around it is to keep clicking on refresh - in the hope of making it home.