It is completely understandable that New Zealanders have felt badly let down by this Government with regard to the serious lapses in our quarantine system that have come to light over the past few weeks. Our entire population has made huge sacrifices to get to where we were, having eliminated Covid-19 from our communities by diligently sticking to the requirements of lockdown. Thousands of people have lost job as businesses have failed due to the enforced shutdown and many more are hanging on by a thread, relying on wage subsidies to keep their staff paid for now. During lockdown we sacrificed our freedoms to the extent that close family members were unable to be with their loved ones in their final days or to gather to grieve for them on their passing. We made these sacrifices as individuals and as communities in order to stop the spread of the virus and having done so, there can be absolutely no tolerance for slip-ups at our borders.
A recent review into New Zealand’s managed isolation facilities highlighted a number of shortcomings in the way the system was operating. One of these was a lack of information for those returning to New Zealand about the requirement for them to enter managed isolation for 14 days upon arrival with some returning citizens and residents apparently unaware of what was expected of them until they got off the plane here. The Government needs to ensure that individuals intending to return to New Zealand are given clear instructions beforehand about what is required in terms of managed isolation once they get here.
The Government also appears to be struggling to obtain the data it needs to plan to ensure sufficient places are available and resourcing is in place to adequately manage those returning and needing to be placed in managed isolation or quarantine.
The Immigration Minister Ian Lees-Galloway has admitted under questioning that his department isn’t even keeping track of how many foreign citizens it has allowed to enter New Zealand under the ‘essential other worker’ border closure exemption. The Minister stated that it would take too much effort to find out the exact number, and it was not in the public interest for him to do so.
It is alarming to think that in the current situation Mr Lees-Galloway and the Government don’t have precise figures on the number of people who are entering New Zealand under any type of visa.
Other concerns raised around the management of our border processes include the lack of masks being used on flights, in airports and in buses when new arrivals are being transported to managed isolation, and a lack of consistency in terms of processes across managed isolation facilities.
New Zealand needs strong, secure and competent border procedures to keep us all safe from another Covid-19 outbreak, and to allow us to progressively re-open our tourism and export education industries when it is safe. We cannot afford any further slip-ups that put these things in jeopardy.