Anger at the New Zealand border backflip is boiling, with expatriate Kiwis funding a lawsuit against Jacinda Ardern’s government.
Authorities had planned to allow fully vaccinated Australia-based Kiwis to bypass quarantine from Jan. 17, but on Tuesday they put that plan into action.
New Zealand will instead continue to require all citizens to complete the hotel quarantine, known locally as MIQ, upon arrival until the end of February.
This new delay is the latest frustration for those looking to return home.
Air New Zealand has canceled flights carrying 27,000 people following the announcement.
Martin Newell of the Grounded Kiwis lobby group – created for overseas-based Kiwis and similar to Stranded Aussies – said his inbox was full of stories of families separated and bad luck.
“There’s a 77-year-old stuck in Melbourne since the (trans-Tasman) bubble burst in July, who just wants to go home,” he told AAP.
“A 70-year-old couple who have been caravanning will lose their pension because they will not be able to return home to meet the 26 week deadline.
The policy change comes despite repeated assurances from senior ministers that border restrictions will ease on January 17.
When the policy was announced in late November, COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said the government was “very committed” to it.
The following week, Deputy Premier Grant Robertson confirmed that the Kiwis are expected to continue planning for the January 17 changes.
Last week, after Ms Ardern announced that the Jan. 17 opening would be subject to “registration” in early January, Mr Hipkins announced that the opening was still “very likely.”
Mr Newell said many Kiwis were “distressed” because they trusted the commitment to self-isolation.
“People are kicking each other in the foot because they booked MIQ in December which canceled them because they could self-isolate in January,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Hipkins apologized for the change.
“I am sorry that we were not able to meet this particular deadline,” he said.
“One of the realities is that COVID continues to pose new challenges for us… it means that while we can work to provide certainty, we cannot always give certainty to people.”
Difficult border settings lead to legal challenge, as the Bill of Rights gives citizens the right to enter New Zealand.
More than 1,100 donors have contributed more than $ 150,000 to a crowdfunding effort, leaving the campaign about $ 20,000 below its goal before a judicial review hearing that begins on January 25.
“This is an important test for the rights of New Zealanders. What has happened in the last 24 hours shows it, ”Mr. Newell said.