Coronavirus: Judith Collins accuses Jacinda Ardern of saying people are choosing to self-isolate in cars, rather than go into MIQ

Judith Collins says it's "simply unacceptable" people with COVID-19 are self-isolating in emergency accommodation, garden sheds and cars if there are spots in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) available.

About 1200 active cases are fighting off their infections in the community, up nearly 500 since Friday as the Delta outbreak spreads through Auckland - which the Government has previously blamed on people breaking alert level 3 rules. About as many again are self-isolating because they're household contacts of confirmed cases. 

From November 14, the length of a stay in MIQ will drop from 14 to seven days. But no special treatment will be given to double-vaccinated arrivals, despite experts saying statistically they now pose less risk to Kiwis than other Aucklanders. From November 1, all non-New Zealand citizens will have to be vaccinated to enter the country. 

The National Party leader questioned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Parliament on Tuesday, as an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protest raged outside. 

"I said people are being forced to stay in their emergency accommodation with COVID, even in cars, and she said no one's being forced to do that," Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday. "Essentially that's saying they're there by choice, so that's simply wrong."

In Parliament, Ardern told Collins it was "utterly wrong" to say people were being forced to stay in their cars due to a lack of MIQ space.

"The option of being in a facility where we have capacity is available. We have spaces available in MIQ. They are made available for the purpose of caring for individuals."

Ardern said it wasn't acceptable if people were staying in cars - relying on public facilities like toilets, as Newshub reported on Tuesday - and health officials have been asked to look into such cases. 

National has pushed for double-vaccinated travellers to be allowed to self-isolate, rather than take up space in MIQ. 

"If they're coming in double-vaccinated with negative COVID, no COVID in them, why are we not letting them go home? … Have these other spots available for people who do have COVID and don't have suitable accommodation."

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

On Monday, experts from the University of Otago - including Michael Baker, described as the architect of New Zealand's elimination strategy - said the current requirements for MIQ "could… be dropped for most, without increasing the risk for Aucklanders". 

They analysed data from here and overseas, taking into account infection rates and vaccination coverage, and found with pre-departure testing the average double-vaccinated arrival into the country was less likely to pose an infection risk to Kiwis than the average Aucklander. 

"Filling MIQ rooms with arrivals who typically have a lower infection risk than Aucklanders wastes limited MIQ space," the team said. "Public health would be better served by having those rooms available for community cases, when their homes are not suitable for home isolation."

In fact, the biggest risk to Kiwis outside of the super city isn't double-vaccinated arrivals - it's Aucklanders, they said, particularly with very low or even zero rates of COVID-19 in most parts of the country. 

"If... Aucklanders are not required to quarantine on arrival in other parts of NZ, then most vaccinated international travellers should not be required to either."

Collins told The AM Show Kiwis shouldn't be having to do their isolation in emergency accommodation or garden sheds. 

"I thought the Prime Minister didn't do herself any favours yesterday by dismissing it as 'no one's forcing anyone to do anything'."