COVID-19 Omicron: National returns to 'end MIQ now' campaign after dropping 'now' from petition

National has returned to its original position of wanting MIQ scrapped "now", after last week dropping "now" from its "end MIQ" petition. 

Launched in November, the petition called on the Government to immediately end its state-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) requirement for vaccinated Kiwis stuck offshore so they could return home for Christmas. 

But last week a spokesperson told Newshub the party had dropped "now" from its "end MIQ" petition, in recognition that "a short pause while Omicron was not in New Zealand was justified"

A week later, National has returned to its original position of urging the Government to end MIQ "now", leader Christopher Luxon confirmed on Tuesday. 

"Yes," he told Newshub, when asked if National wanted to end MIQ now. 

"Looking at the situation, we think the opportunity and the time is now," he said, speaking in Queenstown, where National MPs have gathered for their two-day caucus retreat. 

"The reality is, the risk has changed. If you don't have a set of responses that change to the environment you're in... The risk can go up or down, it's about risk management, essentially."

At the time National launched its petition, the Delta variant was raging in Auckland and spreading across the country. There were more cases reported in the community than 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. 

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. 

COVID-19 Omicron: National returns to 'end MIQ now' campaign after dropping 'now' from petition

Ardern cited "seeding" as her main concern. 

"The more cases you seed into the community, the greater the risk of large-scale outbreaks," 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. Australia, where quarantine rules for arrivals have been dropped, has been inundated with thousands of cases. 

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. 

The Government also postponed the last MIQ lottery voucher release for March and April, meaning the only way to get into New Zealand is by applying for an emergency room. 

The implications of this were brought into the spotlight this week by pregnant Kiwi journalist Charlotte Bellis, whose emergency application was rejected by MIQ, despite informing them she would be forced to give birth in war-torn Afghanistan

Luxon said it's time for change. 

National leader Christopher Luxon.
National leader Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We need to end the lottery of human misery that is MIQ. It no longer makes sense. Soon, thousands of people with Omicron will be isolating at home while fully-vaccinated Kiwi citizens who are overseas and don't have COVID are blocked from coming home," he said. 

"It isn't right. We need to reopen to the world - to Kiwis first and then to others who are fully vaccinated and have had a negative rapid test.

"National would ensure we safely navigate our way through Omicron so we can start to restore our freedoms, reunite families, and address the many other long-term problems facing New Zealand."

National would also slash the isolation period for COVID-19 cases and contacts to a week and all schools would get rapid antigen tests for twice-weekly checks. 

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

The exact dates are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.