COVID-19 Omicron: National drops 'now' from 'end MIQ' petition, home-isolation pause 'justified'

The National Party has dropped "now" from its "end MIQ" petition, recognising that "a short pause while Omicron was not in New Zealand was justified". 

"We continue to think New Zealand should end MIQ for fully vaccinated travellers to NZ as soon as possible," a National Party spokesperson from leader Christopher Luxon's office told Newshub.

"The Government said that the border would reopen from mid-January. Now that's been pushed to the end of February, and that may change again. The Government needs a clear plan to end the misery of MIQ and introduce self isolation for vaccinated travellers to NZ."

National's petition, launched in November, called on the Government to scrap its state-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities for vaccinated Kiwis stuck offshore so they could return home for Christmas. 

"Clearly we need quarantine facilities for some community COVID cases, but we must move to a system where fully vaccinated travellers who return negative pre-departure tests can enter New Zealand without spending time in MIQ hotels," COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said at the time. 

The Delta variant was then raging in Auckland and spreading across the country. There were more cases reported in the community than arriving at the border, so National argued it was unfair to expect people to go through MIQ only to potentially be exposed to the virus upon release. 

COVID-19 Omicron: National drops 'now' from 'end MIQ' petition, home-isolation pause 'justified'

The Government took a cautious approach. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stuck to her plan of allowing self-isolation for Kiwis arriving from Australia in early 2022, despite experts highlighting "inconsistent and arbitrary" MIQ requirements

Ardern cited "seeding" as her main concern. 

"The more cases you seed into the community, the greater the risk of large-scale outbreaks, and so our careful consideration is, once you have home isolation, you do still need to have checks and balances around it," she said in an interview with Newshub Nation

Then came the Omicron wave. The new variant, though less severe, was found to be highly contagious, and countries like Australia where quarantine rules for arrivals have been dropped, were quickly inundated with cases. 

National leader Christopher Luxon.
National leader Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub

New South Wales reported 18,512 new cases on Tuesday and 29 deaths, while neighbouring Victoria registered 14,836 new cases and 29 deaths. 

The Government's plan to allow self-isolation for Kiwis arriving from Australia on January 17 was postponed until the end of February, to allow time for people to get their booster vaccination shot. More than a million boosters have been administered to date. 

The delayed reopening was a win for the Government. But there is still huge pressure to allow self-isolation for returnees because too many miss out in the MIQ lottery. 

Ardern said on Tuesday there were no plans to change the indicative dates set out, meaning vaccinated Kiwis arriving from Australia will be able to self-isolate from the end of February, followed by vaccinated Kiwis from other countries, and then other visa holders. 

"We'll likely confirm the specific dates, I believe, in the Cabinet in the following two weeks," Ardern said at her post-Cabinet press conference. 

"Keeping in mind that it is a staged and careful reopening that still requires home-isolation and so that's a really important thing to remember. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

"Many other countries, where they've had reopenings, have allowed people to simply after an initial test on arrival to move into the community. That is not the decision that we have made. Ours will still require self-isolation and a testing regime attached to it. 

"Borders have served us really well. It has enabled us to slow down the entry of Omicron into our community versus what the rest of the world has seen."

National's petition to end MIQ now focuses on the need for a "plan to end it" rather than ending it "now" as it used to suggest. 

"MIQ is a lottery of human misery that is trapping tens of thousands of kiwis offshore, preventing them getting home and reuniting with loved ones," it says. "The sooner we have a plan to end it the better."

Former National leader Simon Bridges.
Former National leader Simon Bridges. Photo credit: Newshub

It's not the first controversial petition for National. In 2019, former leader Simon Bridges blamed an "emotional junior staffer" for deleting an online petition concerning the UN migration pact, which was mentioned in the Christchurch terrorist's manifesto. 

It came after the party told media it had been archived "weeks ago" as part of a routine clean-up, which proved to be false, as cached records made clear the petition had still been live.