It could be the beginning of the end of the closed border. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Self-isolation trial to start next month

Up to 150 business people will try home isolation after an overseas trip, as government looks at ways to reopen, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

A first step to reopening the country’s border. A self-isolation pilot, allowing 150 travellers to leave the country on a short business trip and return with only self-isolation at home will debut next month. First proposed in August, the trial will allow returnees to avoid managed isolation, where bookings have been exceedingly difficult to obtain. The pilot will be limited to fully vaccinated business people who have the full backing of their employers and will return by December. The prime minister has promised to name and shame any returnees and businesses that break the rules. And those rules are pretty strict; they’ll need to be isolated in a private dwelling, without shared ventilation, but with cellular coverage to ensure frequent checks.

The pilot is a sign of the opening possible with high vaccination levels. The country’s border facilities have been the frontline in the Covid fight since last year, but Jacinda Ardern confirmed yesterday that changes are coming as vaccination rates climb. “There has been no room for error with this virus, it has been very tightly run,” the prime minister said of managed isolation. “The only reason that we are running this self-isolation pilot now is in preparation for a highly vaccinated population.” Stuff has written an explainer with more details on the pilot programme.

It’s a trial for three big changes proposed to MIQ in the coming months. So what else is coming? Shorter stints at border facilities are being contemplated, self-isolation at home for returning residents could start in the first quarter of 2022 and more rapid testing could be rolled out at work places and at the border, Ardern said after cabinet yesterday. The changes would be a relief for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders overseas looking to come home. As well as the frankly unknowable number within the country who haven’t been able to leave in nearly two years to see family, study or work abroad with confidence they can come home. Another release of 3,000 MIQ rooms is planned for this evening.

It’s not as significant as the change some have been calling for. The MIQ system is under a heavy level of scrutiny at the moment, especially from the one million strong diaspora. According to The Guardian, the closed border has led to questions abroad about what it means to be a New Zealander. While Sir John Key can write about a “hermit kingdom,” Ardern has been carefully dismissive of concerns. There was little subtlety when she noted last Monday that many of the thousands who queued in the MIQ lottery were only interested in spots around Christmas. Polling for the NZ Herald (paywalled) found that 64% of respondents don’t want changes to MIQ until at least 90% of the population has been fully vaccinated. One unpopular proposal in the poll was to allow for private MIQ. The NZ Herald also reported that Amazon had unsuccessfully pitched such a facility before scrapping its massive Lord of the Rings project.


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