Government considering making returnees pay part of the cost of managed isolation

coronavirus 23/06/2020

As the costs of New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine processes mount, the Government is considering making returnees pay part of the cost, but says it's not a straightforward policy.

There are currently nine active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, but all are imported cases, meaning they originated overseas and not from community transmission. It's highlighted the importance of tight border controls in containing the virus and ensuring New Zealand doesn't suffer a second outbreak.

Those border measures have been put to the test over the last month as the number of Kiwis returning home has doubled, likely due to a combination of factors, including more air routes opening up and Aoteaora's lack of domestic restrictions enticing people back.

Overall, more than 20,000 people have entered facilities upon returning to New Zealand, with their stay costing around $4000 each.

Megan Woods, the minister in charge of the facilities, says about $81 million will likely be spent on facilities by June 30, with $298 million appropriated for the rest of 2020. 

But the Government is also looking at introducing a co-payment scheme which could see returning Kiwis partly pay for their stay in a facility. 

"That's something I am working on. It's a complicated policy but we are moving through that with pace. I want to take that to Cabinet in the reasonably short order," Woods told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

"It is an incredibly complex operation which means it's incredibly expensive."

One of the challenges with requiring Kiwis to pay for their mandatory stay is that legally New Zealanders have a right to return to their home country.

"What we have to make sure is we have got a good legal basis to do this balanced against people's rights to return to their country. That is just a simple fact of law.

"In terms of what the regime that will be put in place around charging, it won't be 'would you like to pay', there will be rules and that will have a system set up. We won't just be asking people to make a donation, we will have a scheme in place that is fair and balances the right of New Zealanders to return home."

So what happens if a Kiwi wanting to return to their home nation refuses to pay? Woods says that is being worked through.

"I am not going to get into the details. We are working through the details of that. We will have to have provisions in place to make sure we are not stopping New Zealanders from their lawful right to enter their country. That is something that all countries around the world have to ensure otherwise we would have stateless people.

"That is work that we are picking through. It is a complicated policy, but we have got some good momentum around that policy work."

In Queensland, from July, the state government will require international travellers entering the state to pay $200 a day towards their facility costs. 

Currently, anyone entering New Zealand must spend at least 14 days in a managed isolation facility. If they have COVID-19 symptoms or the virus itself, they will spend time in a stricter quarantine facility. The accommodation, food and other basic resources are provided for free. No one can leave the facilities until they test negative.