COVID-19: Chris Hipkins apologises over stoush with pregnant Kiwi journalist Charlotte Bellis

Former COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has been forced to publicly apologise over a stoush with pregnant journalist Charlotte Bellis.

The apology directly relates to comments he made during Bellis' battle to come back to New Zealand and secure a spot in managed isolation (MIQ) amid the country's COVID-19 lockdowns.

"On January 31, I released a statement regarding Charlotte Bellis and her MIQ application," Hipkins said in a statement. "I stated that emergency allocation criteria includes a requirement to travel to New Zealand within the next 14 days

"Whilst it was generally a requirement for applications to be made within 14 days of travel the MIQ guidelines did have an exception to this requirement.

"In addition, I stated that I also understand she was offered New Zealand consular assistance twice since she returned to Afghanistan in early December but has not responded."

Hipkins said he'd since been made aware both those comments weren't accurate.

"On March 15, I wrote to Ms Bellis apologising for the errors in my comments and the inclusion of personal information in the statement and for the subsequent distress it caused her."

Speaking to the media later on Wednesday morning, Hipkins said he regretted "some things got lost in translation".

"My apology, in that sense, is a very genuine one," he said.

But Hipkins said, as a whole, MIQ was "absolutely justified".

"It's the reason we were able to go as long as we did without having COVID-19 in the community. It's also the reason why... people managed to have a summer break and were able to have that opportunity to get their boosters before Omicron arrived.

"As a result, we haven't seen the degree of hospitalisation, and so-on, that other countries have experienced when they had Omicron in their communities."

Bellis, who received international attention for her reporting of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, said she welcomed Hipkins' apology.

"The inaccurate information the minister released to the media caused widespread confusion amongst the public and resulted in unwarranted verbal abuse towards myself and my partner Jim.

"We stand by our decision to speak out about our experience with MIQ to shine a light on a system that was no longer fit for purpose and negatively affecting so many New Zealand families; as well as hold minister Hipkins to account for his response to our personal case," Bellis said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

The stoush between Bellis and the Government came about when she sought an emergency MIQ spot after discovering she was pregnant while in Qatar - a country that doesn't allow sex outside of marriage.

Charlotte Bellis.
Charlotte Bellis. Photo credit: Newshub.

Her application was ultimately rejected and she was forced to return to war-torn Afghanistan, where she and her partner held a visa.

Bellis' MIQ case also grabbed international headlines and was used by Opposition political parties at home to highlight issues with the system.

She has since returned to New Zealand, having completed a stay in MIQ earlier this year before it was scrapped altogether.

Responding to Hipkins' apology on Wednesday, Bellis said they were looking forward to putting the matter behind them - and enjoying a new chapter with their newborn daughter.

It comes after the Government on Tuesday said it wouldn't appeal a court ruling against MIQ's virtual lobby system. The court said the system was a "lottery" and an unjustified infringement on Kiwis' rights to enter their own country. 

Nearly 230,000 people went through the MIQ system after the pandemic began in 2020.