Having tried and failed to get home to New Zealand using the old MIQ booking platform, David Farrier gives the new kinder, fairer system a whirl.
This story first appeared on David Farrier’s newsletter Webworm.
This week the New Zealand government launched its new MIQ website, which is now the main way New Zealanders like me can attempt to get back into their country.
I mean, if you’re dying or have lost an arm, you may get lucky and the government may make an exemption. But as I have written about before, it may also ignore you — or give your spot to The Wiggles (not joking). In true New Zealand style, if you are overseas but also an Orc, you may also get easy access to Aotearoa.
But for everyone else — it’s a bit trickier. As I’ve written about before, the old system was a shitshow where you got a spot based on razor-sharp reaction times, blind luck, or the ability to hire a bot or person to do it for you.
Because, in case you missed the memo, the New Zealand border is closely guarded to keep Covid out (which is a good thing to do). If you’re a citizen and overseas, and want to get back into New Zealand, there are a limited number of hotel rooms available for you to isolate in for two weeks. If you don’t get a spot, you don’t get in.
So as someone who does want to get back to New Zealand at some point in the next 100 years, I logged into the new system give it a go.
The system kicked in at 8am Monday New Zealand time. Thanks to the rotation of the earth on its gigantic axis, in Los Angeles it was 1pm on a Sunday.
I went to the website, entered my passport number, and was transported into the virtual lobby. Over the next hour — until 9am New Zealand time — other people arrived to join me in the lobby. It didn’t matter when you joined over that hour — you just had to be in there by 9am.
Like an episode of 24, a clock started counting down to 9am. I was Jack Bauer but instead of fighting terrorism I was fighting my way back to New Zealand.
When my time ran out at 9am there wouldn’t be a nuclear explosion, but the door to the virtual lobby would slam shut, and the system would randomly assign a number to each person in the lobby.
That number would be your place in the queue. If you got “1”, you would be first in line, and the first to choose one of 3000 MIQ spots that were up for grabs. If you got “50” you’d be 50th in line and so on.
That’s the lottery aspect that makes the new system more fair over the old system, which was based solely on reaction times.
The website gave a sobering statement right off the bat:
“Please note: there may be hundreds of people ahead of you in the queue”.
With that warning firmly lodged in my brain, at 9am the door closed. I was no longer in an episode of 24; now it felt like I’d accidentally allowed my laptop to perform a systems update. And so I sat there for what felt like an eternity, watching a status bar scroll and scroll and scroll:
And then BOOM — just like that, I discovered my randomly assigned place in the queue:
I was 14,694th in the queue, with 14,693 people ahead of me.
Suddenly those earlier words seemed tame: “There may be hundreds of people ahead of you in the queue”.
I would have loved mere hundreds. Instead I had 14,693 to contend with.
Just over an hour later, at 10.07am New Zealand time, all the rooms for November and December had gone.
There are no more November or December rooms left. There will be another room release soon with more November and December rooms. If you intend to travel in November or December and do not want a date for any other month, please leave the queue. There are still rooms for September, October available.
As I stared at my number in the queue — now about 7000 (a big improvement) I got to thinking about who was in front of me. Some of them would be just like me: overseas Kiwis looking to come home at some point. Some would be those in dire or emergency situations whose applications for an exemption had been previously rejected.
There would definitely be some journalists in there, just trying the new system on for size. With no intention of actually taking a spot, they’d abandon the queue at some point.
Some of those in the queue would be double ups — couples and families who would end up taking one MIQ room, but would have put all their passports in the ring. More family members vying for a spot, more chances for victory.
Many of those in front of me would be people already in New Zealand, simply looking to book a spot so they can leave New Zealand with the knowledge they could safely get back in.
For all I knew, 5000 of them were sitting in New Zealand wanting to go on an overseas holiday. Maybe the Wānaka couple was in the queue, desperate for a holiday away from all the people who want their still beating hearts on a plate while their carcasses are fed to rabid seagulls.
Look — whoever was in front of me, all power to them (except if they were the Wānaka couple, please don’t let your mum sue me for suggesting that). It was not my lucky day in the queue, and after a few more hours my journey ended with this message:
There will be another release of rooms in a few weeks’ time. Logic says there will be at least 3000 fewer people wanting rooms, so each time may get a little easier.
There’s something else interesting in this: while this system is more fair, it also looks worse. In the old system no-one had any idea how many thousands of people were furiously clicking for a room. Now we know roughly how many people are wanting back into New Zealand — and because that yellow notification is such a visual cue, everyone is taking screenshots and spreading them around:
With transparency, we see what the pressure really is. And it’s not a great look.