COVID-19: Demand for MIQ rooms triples since April, 'forcing' Kiwis to break laws by overstaying

The Government has finally conceded its managed isolation (MIQ) system is basically broken, with booking bots and websites profiteering off desperate Kiwis.

Maynah Goble wants to get back to the US so her family can meet her baby girl Mia - but he can't get a spot back into New Zealand.

"We've been dealing with MIQ for four months now, trying to get a spot," she said.

And Newshub can reveal the extent of the booking problem, with demand for rooms tripling since April - even forcing some Kiwis to break laws.

At the start of April about 5500 people, on average, used the MIQ booking site a day - but that's tripled to almost 19,000 per in the past week.

"We're looking at what we can do to stopping bots [from being able to book spaces]," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said. "We've got a lot of that technology in place. But where you're actually paying someone to sit in front of a computer, it's very hard to stop that."

That's after a month of the Government even denying the existence of booking bots; 120 people have their bookings on hold while how the rooms are being booked is investigated. 

The head of MIQ also admitted they could do better.

"We can definitely be more up-front about what some of the challenges are, for example for maintenance, for ventilation," MIQ boss Megan Main said. "There's more information we can give to explain why we've got the capacity we've got."

Main. Photo credit: The AM Show

And it's not just the MIQ spots Kiwis are battling for - but emergency spots too. Newshub's spoken to a woman stuck in the US because her application to get an emergency room was rejected.

She said coming back to New Zealand is a human right and the Government is "basically forcing me to commit a crime in another country by overstaying which I could be detained for".

"Because it's a high bar for emergency allocation, we do ask people to provide evidence that they've got no other options to New Zealand. So as long as we've got that level of assurance, then I'm confident that the process is working well," Main said.

But Newshub can reveal since December, 190 applications for emergency MIQ spots were declined despite those Kiwis having no other option but to return to New Zealand.

"They're basically stuck in limbo-land but actually potentially subject to prosecution for staying in those countries beyond those visa terms and conditions," National Party COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said.

"They should be able to come back to New Zealand."