Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Queue for ‘virtual lobby’ MIQ booking system tops 22,000
Kiwis abroad who are desperate to get home found themselves waiting in a queue of more than 23,000 others in the new managed isolation (MIQ) booking system described as a “cruel game”.
The new “virtual lobby” system launched at 8am for people to book for around 3000 new room releases in MIQ across September, October, November and December.
But screenshots taken from New Zealanders living overseas show the number of people waiting in the randomised queue topped 22,000 at just 9.02am – with others reporting they were positioned 24,189 in the line.
Regan Collins stayed up late in London to get in the online queue. He was positioned 12,500 in the queue after logging into the system at 8.01am.
“It does feel like some sort of cruel game to enter a lottery for a flight back home, surely there should be some form of priority to those with special circumstances such as critically ill loved ones,” Collins told the Herald.
“I have had two vaccines which in the UK lessens my level of quarantine time when travelling back into the UK. New Zealand must look at some alternatives to a 14-day hotel quarantine otherwise what is the long-term strategy?”
Wellington telco engineer Jonathan Brewer, who has been stuck in Singapore for months trying to book an MIQ room, told the Herald: “This system is designed for selling concert tickets, not for helping people get home. I don’t think anyone involved in this project is going to be putting it on their CV. I know I wouldn’t.”
Brewer said he woke up at 4am local time to get a position in the queue and headed back to sleep two hours later.
Marlene Stephenson is trying to get back to New Zealand with her son to see her terminally ill father. She said the overwhelming queue shows the huge issue of undersupply of MIQ rooms.
Her position of 22,168 in the line made her feel “desperately disappointed” and the thought of not returning “quite sobering”.
“I’ve come to an anxious resignation realising I’ve done as much as I can do … it’s almost like an acceptance, but it’s a very frustrating, anxious acceptance and you just keep hoping you’ll be lucky.
“There is no priority. People who got through might have wanted to come home to see family but there’s nothing about if your relatives are ill, or if your visa has run out, or if you haven’t got a job, there’s nothing like that. It’s massively frustrating for us.”
Meanwhile, parents who tried to book a spot for their son have posted a video of the process to YouTube, revealing they had logged into two computers at one time at 8am, and were still positioned behind thousands of people in the line.
The lobby was designed to “make booking more transparent and will create a more level playing field for people trying to access the booking site” because there is no limit on how many people can wait in the lobby.
But it seems authorities under-estimated demand for MIQ spots, with a note to users waiting in the virtual line saying “they may not secure a room this time” because “hundreds” of people may be ahead of them.
Stephenson said the new system is a big improvement, but the real issue is a shortage of MIQ beds.
“It’s good that there’s an announcement so you know when it’s going to be released, and they’re doing it in bulk, and therefore you’re not going to have to sit there for days, weeks, completely uncertain.
“Kudos for actually making a change…but the reality is that there’s just a massive amount of under supply.”
Further room releases will be announced at least 24 to 48 hours in advance so people will know when to come back, the MIQ website states.
MIQ and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins have been approached for comment.
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