MIQ’s Hunger Games begin

Farida Master with daughter Sanaya Master and granddaughter Spenta in Richmond, British Columbia.

Former Times news editor Farida Master shares her experience from Canada of an anxious four-hour wait in the new MIQ Virtual Lobby with 22,909 desperate Kiwis ahead of her trying to get a spot to return home.

It was a heart-stopping moment.

At the stroke of 8am (NZT), Kiwis all over the world, desperate to return home got their passport numbers ready after thoroughly reading the instructions on the MIQ website a hundred times over.

Seconds ticked by in different time zones and all eyes were trained on the clock. It was the beginning of the MIQ Allocation System Hunger Games as tens of thousands logged on, eager to be let into the newly introduced Virtual Lobby by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Anxiety levels were running high as the robust MIQ: NZ Facebook group of stranded Kiwis the world over compared notes supporting each other and reaching out to those who had reached breaking point.

It was the moment of truth after months of waiting to get an MIQ voucher.

Once logged into the website, a message flashed on my laptop screen. It read: ‘Number of users in queue ahead of you is 22910’.

As I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, my mind screamed, “Aren’t there only 3000 rooms to be let out?”

September 20 was meant to be the day MBIE promised to make the MIQ Allocation System more transparent after almost a year of people complaining that the system is broken.

The Virtual Lobby was meant to be the much-anticipated panacea for all those who had patiently waited their turn and said their prayers to be safely delivered to the promised [almost] Covid-free land of hope!

Hope that you could finally book a ticket back home even if it meant paying $3100 (per person) plus your ticket costs, of course! A homecoming of sorts to Godzone, regardless of being locked up in a hotel room for a 14-day isolation period that has often been described as a prison sentence.

Well, it is the price you pay if you dared to travel during a pandemic, whatever the reason.

The MIQ: NZ and the Grounded Kiwis Facebook groups are filled with innumerable heart-wrenching stories of NZ citizens from all over the globe hopelessly waiting to be reunited with their loved ones suffering from life-threatening illnesses; or those whose visas have expired; people who have lost their jobs and don’t have a roof over their heads or money to sustain their overstay in different countries.

Countless stories of people who have lost their dear ones and would give anything to be with family… often made me feel guilty for wanting a spot in the nightmarish MIQ system.

Five-and-a-half months ago when I took the leap of faith and nervously flew half way across the world to reach Canada (35-hour flight) to welcome our first grandchild, I was well aware that the MIQ system was going to be a challenge. However, I was hopeful that persistence would pay off if I devoted sufficient hours a day for the next four months to MIQ.

After months of obsessively checking the MIQ website (starting in February this year) every few hours and minutes, I had reached a stage when I wasn’t quite sure how I would react should I actually get a prized slot in the MIQ Allocation System. Would it feel like I had just won a lotto ticket? Or perhaps a prime seat in Who wants to be a millionaire?

I’d play different scenarios in my mind just to keep those depressing thoughts of not knowing my departure date from the country I am visiting.

Can it be this hard? Not if you are an IT expert or have a special software/malware, various media reports stated about the MIQ backlog. However, if you want to go about it the honest way, you’ve got to wait–endlessly.

Talking of waiting, it’s been almost four hours since I’ve been anxiously watching my number spiral down from 22912 to 15295.

Soon after, the bubble is burst as another message declares the end of the race to the MIQ lottery.

‘The room release has now concluded. Thank you for your patience. Unfortunately, you were not successful in securing a room this time. The date and time of future releases will be made available on the website on a later date.”

Around 25,000 people are upset about being left out…there are plenty of outbursts, wanting to take the government to task for breaches of human rights; there are lessons learnt and advice for the powers-that-be–starting with allowing those with double vaccinations a shorter quarantine time; home isolation for those who live alone so that more hotel rooms are made available for the long line-up of people furiously knocking on the doors to be let in.

Sadly, people have come to a stage where just lip service by politicians is not enough. No one is in the mood of being fatalistic about ‘whatever will be will be…’. It’s time for platitudes to be actioned.