With the rise in Omicron cases appearing at the border, a decision was made late last night  to delay the next round of MIQ room releases, which was initially set for January 20.

The late announcement was widely criticised, but on Wednesday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins stood by the decision. 

The pause was announced in a statement by head of MIQ, Chris Bunny, who said there was an “unprecedented” number of Omicron cases appearing at the border. This meant more rooms needed to be set aside for them to quarantine. 

January and February MIQ bookings had already been made but rooms available for March and April were paused. 

The information was put online yesterday afternoon and was later taken down. It was then put back online around 8pm with extra information. 

Speaking to the media, Hipkins said this was not at all a stuff-up. 

The Government wanted to get information out to people as soon as possible so the announcement was made online and not communicated directly to journalists, he said. 

"I haven't normally been involved in the announcements around when room releases are made.”

This was an operational matter and the pause would be in place until Cabinet meets to make decisions on the border, Hipkins said.

Hipkins said “we have to recognise that the MIQ is very full”.

"We're dealing with far, far more positive cases at the border every day now ... the system has generally operated with two or three, generally, positive cases at the border. It's now operating at between 40 and 50 positive cases at the border.”

A lot of MIQ rooms were being converted into quarantine facilities and that was putting the system under a lot of strain, he said. 

Hipkins also said it was inevitable that the country will end up moving towards a self-isolation model.

"I think there's a significant number of people who would prefer to isolate at home ... so we've got to finalise those decisions. We'll be working as quickly as we can to do that."

"The question of exactly what the date is, that's the question that's before us at the moment,” Hipkins said.

At this stage the proposed dates in April for reopening the border are still in place but  "everything can change", he said.


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