| 28 February 2024, Wednesday |

New Zealand High Court finds quarantine allocation system infringed on rights

A High Court judge decided that a system used to allocate spots in border quarantine facilities infringed on certain residents’ freedom to return home on Wednesday, putting a damper on New Zealand’s once-heralded COVID-19 response.

New Zealand’s border restrictions have recently been reduced, although it had some of the world’s strictest border controls in 2020 and 2021.

Citizens looking to return had to either make emergency requests to the government or secure a spot in state quarantine facilities, called MIQ. Due to demand outstripping hotel rooms, a type of lottery system was introduced.

It left tens of thousands of expatriate New Zealanders cut off from families back home. Critics called the system unfair, something that the judgement released Wednesday by High Court Justice Jillian Mallon agreed with.

Mallon said restrictions preventing a person from being able to enter their country for three months couldn’t be justified and evidence indicates at least some New Zealanders experienced unreasonable delays.

“The combination of the virtual lobby and the narrow emergency criteria operated in a way that meant New Zealanders’ right to enter their country could be infringed in some instances,” said Mallon.

However, Mallon did find that requiring returning New Zealanders to quarantine was not in itself an unjustified infringement.

The decision is a blow for the government, whose once lauded response to the pandemic has been taking a hit domestically as people push for borders to reopen more quickly and other measures such as mask wearing mandates to be removed.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government welcomed the determination that requiring returnees to quarantine was lawful and acknowledge the court found the quarantine allocation system may have infringed on some New Zealanders rights.

“We are carefully considering the court’s decision,” he said.

New Zealanders and Australians can now enter without quarantine and those from visa waiver countries such as the United States and Singapore will be able to enter from 11.59 pm on May 1.

  • Reuters