Kiwi UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has been left stranded overseas and will be forced to spend Christmas in quarantine due to New Zealand's new managed isolation travel voucher system.
Adesanya travelled to the United States on 25 October with City Kickboxing teammate Brad Riddell to corner New Zealand's latest UFC signing Carlos Ulberg in Las Vegas.
They were scheduled to arrive back in New Zealand on Monday 9 November, but the recently introduced managed isolation voucher system meant they couldn't secure a place in quarantine until December 15.
The tickets were booked in late September before the new system was introduced while the Kiwi UFC team, including management, were overseas for Adesanya's middleweight title defense against Paulo Costa.
They arrived back in New Zealand and quarantined until mid-October, missing most of the awareness campaign the Government began in late September.
In a statement, City Kickboxing said the athletes received no direct notification from the airline or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that they required a travel voucher to return. The management team became aware of the requirement after they left and the earliest they were able to secure vouchers was December 15.
As a consequence Adesanya will not be able to join in Junior Fa's training camp for the Joseph Parker fight nor take part in several scheduled charity appearances. It's a major blow for Fa, with Adesanya being one of his main sparring partners.
There is also concern that Riddell, whose partner is in the final stages of pregnancy, may not make the birth of his first child.
Ulberg is facing the loss of his employment and must now extend his visa to avoid becoming an illegal alien in the United States when his VISA expires on November 18.
All three athletes now have to move out of the secure the UFC's managed isolation facility and into public accommodation.
"We are taking all precautions to make alternative arrangements and keep them safe in the United States where Covid-19 is rife," the statement said.
City Kickboxing head trainer Eugene Bareman said he understands the need for strict border controls but feels the situation could have been better managed.
"There are people in far worse situations than ourselves and we really feel those with dying or sick relatives or children, people who've lost jobs or homes who are now facing even greater stress due to the lack of capacity in quarantine," Bareman said.
"Clearly there's been an oversight if people like us who booked while overseas, prior [to] the system being introduced weren't informed by either the airlines or immigration as soon as the system went live.
"Given the Government is effectively using airlines to screen people for vouchers before allowing them to board a plane for NZ, it [is] difficult to understand why the airlines weren't also compelled to contact people with pre-existing bookings scheduled to arrive after November 3rd.
"The lack of capacity is also concerning, an influx of people returning home at Christmas is entirely predictable, and you have to question why more focus wasn't put on increasing that capacity.
"I want to be clear that we support the Government's efforts to keep New Zealand Covid-19 free, however it seems there were gaps in communications and capacity planning which will see many New Zealand citizens unable to return and undergoing more anguish in what has already been a difficult year.
"The team is not asking for special treatment, they simply want to draw attention to the plight of many Kiwi citizens in more difficult situations than they are in, and we don't currently believe is being voiced."
"On 3 November using the online Managed Isolation Allocation System (MIAS) to secure a place in managed isolation before coming to New Zealand became compulsory," a Managed Isolation and Quarantine spokesperson said.
"MIAS helps us manage the timing of people entering New Zealand so we can guarantee their place in a managed isolation facility, which is necessary to keep them and all New Zealanders safe. Everyone arriving in New Zealand is now required to present a voucher to airlines in order to board their flight, or have a special exemption from using the system.
"We've worked hard to ensure those travelling knew they needed to book a space in managed isolation and airlines have also been providing this information to their passengers. Thousands of people with existing airline bookings booked their vouchers in the first hours that the Managed Isolation Allocation System went live in the beginning of October.
"An extensive awareness campaign has been underway since September. This has resulted in people from 212 different countries accessing our Managed Isolation Allocation System website. Since the campaign started on 25 September around 95 per cent of passengers arriving at airports have had a voucher.
"Most airfares are fully flexi. However, it is each individual's responsibility to make sure they hold a voucher for MIQ, as they are legally required to do.
"We currently have a spike in the number of people in Managed Isolation facilities and there is very limited availability for the rest of the year. A small number of places do become available from time to time if people cancel their vouchers so we recommend people check in regularly to see if space has opened up on their preferred dates.
"The reality is that there is finite capacity within the MIQ system. New Zealanders can still come home but possibly not on the dates they would prefer. People wanting to come home in the lead up to Christmas holiday period may not be able to come home on their preferred dates due to the high demand, but it's important that everyone is treated equally. We're asking people to be flexible over the period leading into our summer holidays and if there are no available places in managed isolation on their preferred date, to check and see if there are any places available on another nearby date.
"Managed Isolation and Quarantine will not grant returning New Zealanders a voucher just because of who they are or what they do. Everyone is treated equally – that's fundamental to the system. We need to ensure that there is fair and open access to all New Zealanders returning home.
"There is a very restrictive emergency allocation criteria. This is a last resort option and the threshold is extremely high. To apply, you must be a NZ citizen or resident-class visa holder without a voucher who has an imminent threat to your life or serious risk to health, which requires urgent travel to New Zealand. We expect that very few approvals would be granted, and it is important to note that people still need to complete their 14 days Managed Isolation."