Length of time arrivals must spend in managed isolation MIQ halved, starting from November 14

The length of time arrivals into New Zealand must spend in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) has been halved to seven days, followed by home isolation and a negative test. 

Starting from November 14, international arrivals will no longer have to spend two weeks in a state-run facility - rules in place for over a year. The reduced seven-day stay means the cost of MIQ will be halved to $1610 per person. 

It's expected to free-up 1500 rooms a month. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says some will be used for local cases while others will be added to next week's MIQ voucher release. 

Arrivals will be tested on day one, day three and day seven of their stay in MIQ, followed by a short period of self-isolation at home. They will need to get a PCR test on day nine and must stay at home until the result comes back negative. 

"When MIQ was introduced we didn't have the vaccine so every arrival posed a high level of risk. With most people returning now fully vaccinated, the risk profile of international arrivals has changed so it is time to start changing our MIQ settings," Hipkins said on Thursday. 

"The vast majority of COVID-19 cases are picked up within the first three days of MIQ. Positive cases from border arrivals are increasingly rare, at two or three per 1000, and there's a 1-in-2000 rate of positive test results in MIQ after day seven."

What about arrivals before November 14?

The starting date for the MIQ changes is still two weeks away. For those who enter MIQ in the weeks prior, they will receive communications about their own facility's plan for releasing people who are on day seven or more, on November 14.

Non-New Zealand travellers will be required to be vaccinated to enter the country from November 1.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Government scrapped the old first-come-first-served MIQ booking framework last month and switched to a lottery system. But the first room release saw tens of thousands sitting in limbo trying to get a room. 

Hipkins on Thursday acknowledged the difficulty Kiwis stuck overseas have faced when trying to get home. 

"Shortened stays in MIQ were part of our international reconnecting plan announced shortly prior to the Auckland Delta outbreak. The move to ensure returnees are vaccinated and additional data on Delta have enabled these changes to be bought forward."

The changes to MIQ were signalled earlier this month after it became evident that the number of local COVID-19 cases were growing faster than the number of new cases found at the border. 

On Wednesday, for example, the Ministry of Health registered 74 community cases in New Zealand, compared to four in MIQ. There are currently almost 300 COVID-19 community cases isolating at home. 

When will MIQ end?

As per the Government's 'reconnecting to the world' plan unveiled in August, a phased easing of border restrictions will see home isolation increasingly used for vaccinated overseas arrivals in the first half of next year. 

"However, our priority at this stage is to safely transition to the new traffic light system first and bed that in before adding the additional risk of international arrivals immediately entering the community," Hipkins said. 

"A phased approach also gives us time to evaluate the technology that'll be used to monitor home isolation compliance in the business home isolation pilot, which starts at the end of this month."

The new COVID-19 Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, to replace the current alert levels, will come into force when 90 percent of the eligible population across all District Health Boards is vaccinated. 

Hipkins said that will give the Government confidence to further change the border settings. 

National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says the MIQ changes announced by the Government don't go far enough. 

"This is about the bare minimum that the Government could have done, and it won't help Kiwis offshore desperate to return home," he said. 

"The stories of human misery and hardship that populate the inboxes of Members of Parliament are harrowing. The sooner we can end this lottery of human misery, the better."

National would drop COVID-19 restrictions once 85 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated, or on December 1 - whichever comes first.