Vaccinated NZers overseas demand access to home isolation

The Government are considering home isolation for low-risk positive Covid-19 cases as early as next week.
The Government are considering home isolation for low-risk positive Covid-19 cases as early as next week. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

RNZ by Ella Stewart

Home isolation for low-risk positive Covid-19 cases could become available as early as next week, as high case numbers threaten to overwhelm the country's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities. 

A question this raises is: why let Covid-positive people self-isolate at home when fully vaccinated and tested New Zealanders who are stranded overseas due to the lack of MIQ spots cannot? 

Yesterday there were 71 new cases of Covid-19 reported yesterday, all of them in Auckland. 

So what do the public think about home isolation as an option? 

In Takapuna, one woman said it was a good idea, given the government put in place strict protocols. 

"I guess the devil is in the detail and it depends on the technology that's going to be used and the process that's going to be followed and how well it's implemented. But this is probably a much cheaper and better way of making sure people are isolated. On one hand, yes, of course, you've got to the risk of people breaking the rules. 

"On the other hand, it might encourage more people to go and get tested because I think now there is a lot of anxiety about being put in MIQ." 

Others were concerned about people breaking the rules if they were able to isolate at home.

"No, I don't think it's a good thing. I don't think that people would be serious enough about it. It would be too tempting for them to flout the rules. It's got to be more stringent conditions."

"Although that might seem like an attractive option you have to have a level of trust and you have to trust that the people isolating will stay in the house and not have contact and just be absolutely responsible. And I'm not sure that we have that level of trust." 

Grounded Kiwis Facebook group spokesperson Alexandra Birt said vaccinated New Zealanders stranded abroad were low risk. 

"For a lot of people who are overseas, they are both fully vaccinated and they may have had Covid, which essentially means they have hybrid immunity and are very, very unlikely to get the virus again. 

"So for someone in that situation who then tests negative to not be able to self-isolate at home, while people who may be testing positive in New Zealand, these people are looking at those situations and thinking 'well, I am lower risk than that, why can't I return home and why can't I self-isolate?'" 

She said Kiwis stuck overseas are becoming increasingly desperate and frustrated. 

"It's absolutely devastating for a lot of people. We had the fourth lottery on Tuesday night and we had a number of people who missed out for the fourth time in a row, and some of those people have really pressing needs to return, and some of them from extremely low-risk places who are fully vaccinated.

"It's just extremely frustrating, heartbreaking and demoralising. A lot of people have even said they've given up, they just can't face entering the lottery again." 

Grounded Kiwis is currently working on an in-depth proposal on home isolation for returning Kiwis, which they will present to the government. 

"We've got a committee of scientific experts who are helping us put that proposal together. There's obviously a lot of other countries in the world who've implemented various home isolation approaches. New Zealand is in a very privileged position in that it can look to other countries in the world and see what has been done successfully. 

"There's a range of solutions that the government could be looking at implementing, and we hope that they are doing that because to date we haven't been seeing any of that." 

Immunologist professor Graham le Gros said he supported the idea of home isolation. 

"It's a measure that we have to undertake because it's getting to the point with the spread of the virus, it's going to overwhelm the system, and actually having poorly operating, densely packed institutional kind of groups is not going to be as effective as actual home isolation where people are comfortable, could live within a framework and probably isolate better, so actually I'm in favour of it." 

He said it would rely on a great deal of trust and understanding from people on how to stop the spread. 

"It requires a well-educated and a well thought through home process, but I think it's what we have to do to deal with what is an expanding outbreak and the unstoppable Delta spread around the country. There's no choice." 

He said it could be effective at stopping the spread of Covid-19 until more people got vaccinated. 

"The power is in all of our hands, and understanding how the virus does spread is actually limiting the spread. If you have to home isolate, there's plenty of good websites, like the Ministry of Health, not all of the dodgy ones, that actually can make it clear what you have to do in terms of contacting people, coughing, the face masks and all of that really does restrict it."