The Government is widening the circle of people who can apply to travel urgently to New Zealand, and is freeing up about 75 rooms a week for them.
Previously that door was only open to Kiwis whose health or life was at serious risk, but now critical workers, Kiwis in travel limbo and those with a dying relative in New Zealand can apply.
But the bar for entry remains "extremely high", says Megan Main, deputy chief executive of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
The announcement comes at a time when Kiwis are clamouring to come home for the summer, but MIQ spaces are extremely limited.
The criteria for urgent travel has now been changed to a tiered system, with category 1 applicants being prioritised:
- NZ citizens or residents with a serious risk to their health or their dependant, which requires urgent travel to New Zealand, or where urgent travel is required to ensure a child is provided with appropriate care and protection.
- NZ citizens or residents who are required to provide critical care for a dependant person in New Zealand and need to travel urgently to do so
- A person whose quick entry to New Zealand is needed for a critical public or health service, such as the provision of specialist health services required to prevent serious illness, injury or death, or the maintenance of essential infrastructure whose failure would result in significant harm or disruption to a large number of New Zealanders
- NZ citizens or residents who are unable to legally remain in their current location and have no other option but to return to New Zealand
- New Zealand and non-New Zealand citizens, where urgent travel to New Zealand is required for national security, national interest or law enforcement reasons
- New Zealand citizens or residents entering New Zealand to visit a close relative who is dying, where timely travel is unlikely to be possible if the person books through the MIQ voucher system
Main said anyone meeting this criteria would not necessarily be allowed entry.
"This will depend on the numbers of applicants and available places.
"These decisions are not easy ones to make. We are sympathetic to the distressing situations people applying for an emergency allocation are in.
"We need, however, to balance each individual application with our critical work to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders and the limited available capacity by sequencing beds as they become available."
A criteria for urgent travel to NZ has been widened to include Kiwis who have a close relative who is dying. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The threshold for being allocated a bed for urgent travel was "extremely high".
"To be eligible for an emergency allocation, the travel must be time-critical, the applicant must be legally entitled to enter New Zealand and they must be willing to travel within seven days of making their application."
She said cancelled flights had freed up about five to eight beds each day that were previously allocated to someone with a voucher.
"To date we have released as many of these back into the system as possible by manually checking bookings on a regular basis. From now on these will be kept aside for emergency allocations."
A further seven to eight rooms a day were free because people with vouchers and booked flights didn't arrive in New Zealand.
"Due to these factors, we're confident we can make around 150 rooms available per fortnight for those who need to travel urgently."