Chris Hipkins has thrown a lifeline to Kiwis stranded overseas, unable to secure a place in MIQ - changes are coming.
Tens of thousands of New Zealanders desperate to come home log into the lottery every time new slots are opened up, but few are successful.
While a few rooms are set aside for emergencies they're also difficult to get, and to date no favour has been given to Kiwis who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"The booking system is unfair, the system doesn't have enough supply and it doesn't account for fully vaccinated travellers," Martin Newel of the group Grounded Kiwis told RNZ last week. The National Party has also called for vaccinated travellers to have an easier time getting in, with a mix of home isolation and isolation-free travel on offer, depending on where they came from.
Hipkins said the current system was "designed for a time when we didn't have cases in the community", and the number one goal was to keep it out.
But now we do have cases in the community - and significantly more of them each day than we have arriving at the border. With more spaces in quarantine being taken up by Kiwis already here, Hipkins said the outbreak "does change the dynamic" of how the border should perhaps operate.
"I think you'll see some changes there in the coming weeks. There is a Cabinet process to go through where we make those decisions and I don't want to get ahead of those, but we are absolutely looking at our border settings now in the light of the fact we've got more cases in the community."
Some Aotearoa-based Kiwis who test positive for the virus are already isolating at home. More are expected to do so as the outbreak gathers steam, with an increasing number of cases all but certain under the current restrictions.
Experts have called for a circuit-breaker return to level 4, saying vaccination rates aren't yet high enough to prevent a wave of illness and death. But Hipkins said that would effectively punish people who follow the rules, when the main driver of transmission has been people who don't follow the rules at any alert level.
"One of the things I think we all need to recognise around alert levels is, alert levels work when there is a really high degree of voluntary compliance. We were already seeing at the end of that level 4 period that more and more people were not sticking with that."
Newshub Nation host Tova O'Brien challenged the minister on that, suggesting there was no evidence of this. Hipkins said there was.
"The case numbers were showing us that outside of the family home, the highest increase in cases on a daily basis were people getting together for social gatherings, and that was even at alert level 4."
Case numbers fell rapidly under level 4, and didn't start rising again until after Auckland moved to level 3. Hipkins said while a return to level 4 could "potentially" bring them down again, that would only happen if "everybody went back to following the rules".
"We're seeing that increasingly the tolerance for those levels of restrictions has really waned."
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