Government to charge for COVID-19 managed isolation in some cases: Here's what's been proposed

The Government is changing the law to charge for managed isolation and quarantine – but only Kiwis who enter temporarily, or who leave New Zealand after the regulations come into force, would be charged. 

The minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine, Megan Woods, is seeking Cabinet approval to charge $3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill is being introduced to Parliament on Wednesday which will provide a legal framework allow the government to charge for managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

"We have carefully considered how to design a system that is fair on arrivals and not a barrier for returning to New Zealand, especially for those who might already be experiencing financial stress," Dr Woods said.

"We want to share the costs in a way that fairly reflects the benefits to both the New Zealand public of having such a robust system, and those who leave and enter the country."

Temporary visa holders would have to pay unless they were ordinarily a resident in New Zealand before the border closure, and left before the border closure.

The legislation will allow the Government to set payment terms, exempt groups of people and waive charges in cases of financial hardship. It will also ensure that recovered charges do not exceed the actual costs of managed isolation and quarantine.

It will be passed next week before the House rises for the parliamentary term, and will enable regulations to be developed, Dr Woods said, and further details of the charging scheme and when it will come into force, will be announced soon.

The Government has set aside a total of $479 million to pay for the costs of managed isolation facilities until the end of 2020.

Government to charge for COVID-19 managed isolation in some cases: Here's what's been proposed
Photo credit: Supplied

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 wouldn't have to pay if they're entering 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, as well as anyone travelling to New Zealand to attend the sentencing of the accused Christchurch terror attack shooter.

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

Does this breach the Bill of Rights?

Under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, Kiwis have the right to enter New Zealand, meaning anything that prevents or impedes that right to return to New Zealand needs to be justified.

The Government believes it's struck the right balance by not charging any more than the actual cost and reasonable costs of managed isolation, and adding the ability to waive fees in cases of financial hardship.

There is also no upfront payment required and there will be flexibility in how people can pay for their managed isolation and quarantine.

"We are carefully balancing the rights of New Zealand citizens and residents to return home and the charges structure will be designed to maintain this right," Dr Woods said.

There has been pushback from groups who say charging people to come home is unfair.

The Team of Six Million, a group established to oppose the charges, wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urging her not to go through with it.

"Maintaining a no-fee model for quarantine is the best way for this Government to reinforce its commitment to governing with kindness and in the interests of New Zealanders' wellbeing," said Max Harris, a UK-based spokesperson for the group.

Why is this important?

Since March, more than 30,000 people completed their stay at a managed isolation facility or quarantine, and so far it has all been funded by the taxpayer.

The Government has covered the costs of accommodation, food, basic laundry and airport transfers, and has committed a further $418 million towards costs for the next six months.

But current forecasts indicate more money will be required by October, with an estimated 600,000 to 900,000 New Zealand citizens are living overseas, with around 400,000 to 600,000 living in Australia.

It is unknown how many are intending to return.

The Government will not allow returnees to self-isolate at home - like we did during lockdown - because it is not reliable enough and a slipup could see New Zealand become like the Australian state of Victoria, which is under a second lockdown.

In Australia, several states have announced quarantine charges in the last few weeks.

New South Wales charges all international passengers, including Australian citizens and permanent residents, AU$3,000 (NZ$3,200) with lower rates for additional children and adults sharing accommodation.