Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins beginning to give details on what next for MIQ

The Government is on the brink of bringing forward some elements of the “Reconnecting New Zealand” plan it announced in August.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said yesterday that he hoped to be able to announce details, probably next week.

But at the very least, the new plan is likely to involve less time for overseas arrivals in Managed Isolation and Quarantine. (MIQ)

At the same time, Auckland business is resigning itself to not fully re-opening until December 1.

Auckland business groups  have written to the Government asking for confirmation that this will happen

There were clues to the new MIQ plan in Question Time in Parliament yesterday.

“The border settings will be changing, and that will include looking at the duration of MIQ, and it will see greater use of home isolation,” Hipkins told Parliament.

He said the current business self-isolation trial would give the Government valuable lessons on how a broader self-isolation system might work.

“The Government is looking at expanding home isolation when it is safe to do so, including considering shortened MIQ stays and potentially a mixture of both of them,” he said.

“Vaccination will play a role.

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“One of the things that we have already announced is a requirement for all those coming into New Zealand who are not New Zealand citizens to be fully vaccinated from November 1.

“That was important to signal that early because that will certainly be a requirement for home isolation for people coming into the country.

“We wanted to give people plenty of notice so that they can be ready for that.

“Things will be changing at the border as a result of the overall change in the risk profile that we’re seeing across the country.”

And he elaborated further at the daily Covid media press conference.

“It’ll be a progressive series of changes,” he said.

“One of the complicating factors that we have to work through is that at the moment, our Covid community cases are confined to Auckland, but MIQ operates right the way through the country.

“And of course, people coming across the border want to be able to go right the way across the country and not just be in Auckland.

“And so that means the risk assessment is different in different parts of New Zealand at the moment, and that is one of the complexities.

“So we’ve got to work our way through so.

“So  we will have more to say on this, and it will be soon.”

Hipkins also announced that 284 rooms had been allocated under the Time-Sensitive Travel criteria for the health sector, agricultural sector engineers and technicians, military and diplomatic personnelfrom the end of November, along with an ongoing allocation of 300 rooms for critical health workers.

Hipkins statements yesterday will take some pressure off the Government over MIQ with the likelihood that those who have missed out on room allocations are possibly able to make it back to the country sooner if they can self isolate.

But they come as the Ombudsman has announced an investigation into MIQ.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is launching a broad investigation into the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) booking system after receiving hundreds of complaints.

Mr Boshier says he has identified some common themes in about 200 complaints relating to the booking system.

Many of the complaints come from people who are having difficulties around the world obtaining vouchers for places in managed isolation or have concerns about the booking system overall.

“The complaints fit into four broad categories – they claim the allocation system is unlawful, unfit for purpose, unfair, and poorly managed. I have decided to do my own independent investigation into them all.”

“One of the specific complaints is that disabled people are being disadvantaged. I have concerns about whether the online booking system is accessible and whether suitable alternatives are being offered for those who have difficulty using this digital platform.”

Mr Boshier says his aim is to report to Parliament on his substantive findings early next year.

“However, my investigation will need to be responsive. I may make statements on my findings at different stages rather than waiting to publish them at the very end.”

But National stole a march on the Government yesterday by unveiling its “Back in Business” plan, which was a package of measures they are proposing to assist businesses, including $100 vouchers for people who have been double vaccinated to spend in restaurants or on accommodation or tourism.

Other moves include a proposal to lower small business tax to 17.5 per cent for two years and to lift the 10.5 per cent personal income tax threshold from $14,000 to $17,000.

Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse has also asked the Government to reconfirm a commitment to the 15–25% range for debt-to-GDP “and be clear about how and when this is likely to be achieved.”

Treasury’s recent long term fiscal statement shows debt peaking in the short term at 48% of GDP in 2023, falling to 41% through to 2029 and then starting to rise steadily.

Those projections are based on long term historical trends for spending.

Thus National would have to make substantial spending cuts or raise significant amounts of new revenue itself if it wanted to meet the targets itself.

The party’s shadow Treasurer, Andrew Bayly, told POLITIK last night that how quickly National could get to the target it proposed would depend on how much debt the next National Government inherited from Labour.

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson is also fudging his figures by basing the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update deficit projections on a heroic assumption that there will be no real increase in Government spending aside from health and welfare.

However, Robertson will on Friday unveil his response to the Auckland business community’s call for action as their lockdown is now 64 days old.

The city’s various business groups have written to the Government asking for the Business finance guarantee scheme reinstated to underwrite 80% of bank loans to December 2022, and they want confirmation that Auckland will re-open on December 1.

“This will ensure urgency for vaccination and give business certainty for planning,” they say in the letter.

And they have proposed reactivation funding of $10 million to reactivate the city centre and region.

Other proposals include fast track legislation to enable alcohol to be served outdoors while trading restrictions are in place.

These requests will be answered on Friday, along with the Government’s new “traffic light” framework to deal with Covid outbreaks.

That will contain critical detail on vaccination “trigger” levels. They will define how and when the government moves in the future on restrictions and issues like MIQ.