Credit: Original article can be found here
A managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
A Kiwi family in Singapore trying to get home has missed out on their sixth attempt to book a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) spot.
The family of three, including a young child, say they are terrified of overstaying and facing immigration offences in Singapore.
The mother told the Herald they were placed 14,641 in the queue for the release of MIQ spots at 1pm today, but there were only 3700 rooms available.
“We’ve entered six lotteries … That was probably one of my better numbers. My first number was 26,000 something,” said the woman who does not wish to be identified, citing fears of being trolled.
MIQ announces room releases at least 24 to 48 hours beforehand on its websites and social media accounts.
The booking system uses what it calls a virtual lobby, which opens one hour before each room release is due to start.
Once people arrive on the website, the lobby randomises people into a queue, and gradually allow people through the website to secure a room. There is no limit on how many people can wait in the lobby.
“You enter the lobby, you sit there, you enter passport details for passengers … you get a screen that looks a lot like your computer is doing an update, and you get a number spat out at you,” the Kiwi mother said of her experience today.
MIQ says the lobby makes bookings more transparent and creates a more level playing field for people trying to access the booking site.
“Our number was 14,000 and there’re only 3700 rooms so it’s an absolute waste of time as you watch the numbers dwindle,” she said.
Both school teachers, she and her husband have been working in Singapore for six years and have a 2-year-old girl.
Their Singapore work visas, known as Employment Passes (EP), are due to expire on December 7, and they will have 30 days to leave the country.
“After that, legally you’re classified as a tourist, you can’t have a house, you can’t have income, you can’t have a utility bill, all those things go by the wayside once your EP expires.”
But the family will be eligible to apply for an emergency allocation at the MIQ, and her employer will also help with getting their visas extended.
“That’s a real double-edged sword because to apply for emergency allocation we need the [Singapore immigration authority] to deny our application, which is highly likely because we have no job, and no income which is basically our sole stipulation for being allowed to stay in the country.”
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 qualify for emergency MIQ allocation, according to the MIQ website.
She and her husband are fully vaccinated and both have teaching jobs lined up in New Zealand due to start in January.
With five weeks to go before their visas expire and all their belongings due to be shipped back to New Zealand next month, the woman says the uncertainty is taking a toll on their mental health.
“I’m pretty positive but after doing this for six months … I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights.”
Her worries are focused on her little girl.
“If it’s just the two of us it might be easier to couch surf around the world. But with a 2-year-old that does present an extra set of challenges.”
She says she is “gobsmacked” at the thought that NZ citizens are not allowed to come home when they need to.
“It’s taxing, and really hard living with uncertainty. With an international move it’s not something you can just do overnight. It’s really fortunate that none of our family (in NZ) are dying or terminally ill.”
MIQ’s sixth ‘virtual lobby’ room release in numbers
Joint head of MIQ Chris Bunny says 17,665 people were in the queue for today’s release, the lowest they have seen.
One reason is the number of people joining the queue has dropped significantly each week, and groups of travellers can now only enter the lobby once as a group, rather than once per each group member.
The next room release is next Tuesday, and several thousand more rooms will be released through to the end of February.
“There is not an unlimited number of MIQ rooms and we do not release them all at once,” said Bunny.
He said the first 15,925 people in the lobby at 1pm represented 26,580 passengers, and 21 per cent of passengers got a booking.
About 44 per cent of people who tried to book today were based in New Zealand.
“This does not necessarily mean these people were looking to travel overseas and come back, they could be booking on behalf of other people based overseas.”
He says he understands people want to enter MIQ on a date of their choosing, but they have to ensure arrivals in New Zealand occur in a safe, managed way.
“We have already brought over 186,000 people back to New Zealand safely and will continue to focus on the safe return of more Kiwis.”
Rooms released today
- December – 1,103
- January – 1,144
- February – 1,500
Top countries (by departure point)
Number of people not rooms:
- Australia — 1258 passengers
- Great Britain —747 passengers
- India — 589 passengers
- USA — 581 passengers
- China — 235 passengers
- Hong Kong — 141 passengers
- Canada —138 passengers
- United Arab Emirates — 136 passengers
- Philippines — 120 passengers
- Singapore —110 passengers