COVID-19: Jacinda Ardern defends use of Managed Isolation and Quarantine

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended the use of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) following her decision to allow returning Kiwis to self-isolate at home. 

Ardern announced on Thursday a five-stage plan to reopen New Zealand's borders to the rest of the world. 

From February 28, fully vaccinated Kiwis in Australia will be able to skip MIQ and instead self-isolate. 

From March 14, self-isolation will apply to Kiwis in other parts of the world, as well as skilled workers earning at least 1.5 times the median wage (NZ$27 an hour), and people with Working Holiday Scheme visas while most international tourists will be able to enter by July. 

COVID-19: Jacinda Ardern defends use of Managed Isolation and Quarantine

Ardern said MIQ had caused the most "heartache" of all the factors of the COVID response but pointed out during her announcement on Thursday, New Zealand's tight border settings had resulted in 53 deaths and just over 17,000 COVID cases - very low numbers compared to the rest of the world.

"MIQ meant not everyone could come home when they wanted to. But it also meant that COVID could not come in when it wanted to, either," she said. 

In an interview with the NZ Herald, Ardern said looking back on the moment they closed the borders makes her "emotional". 

"I've been thinking about this moment for a long time. I remember the moment we closed the borders, thinking about the point at which we would be able to welcome people back," Ardern told NZ Herald. 

"Even back then I used to feel quite emotional about it. 

"I reflect on my own circumstances, and one of the reasons Kiwis have been such comfortable travellers, and comfortable with having periods of our lives where we have lived abroad is because we've had the ability to come home whenever we needed to. 

"For that to have been on pause has been such a shift in our psyche. So this is a really important moment."

Ardern said the announcement on Thursday was "a massive milestone" after MIQ continued to make headlines for the wrong reasons. 

Kiwi Charlotte Bellis, a pregnant former Al Jazeera journalist, has been fighting to return from Afghanistan to New Zealand after an emergency application she submitted for MIQ was rejected. 

Her case attracted intense publicity globally and on Tuesday she was offered a MIQ spot, allowing her to return to New Zealand in March.