It’s official. MIQ’s booking system has become so impenetrable the Ombudsman may get called in.
On Monday, the Herald reported telecommunications engineer Jonathan Brewer complained to the watchdog after declaring the booking system unusable for regular folks.
Brewer splits his time between Singapore and New Zealand and is currently on a mission to make it back before Christmas.
A video he made of 100 unsuccessful consecutive attempts at getting a MIQ spot is particularly painful viewing.
Unavailable, refresh, unavailable, refresh. On a near-perfect loop.
For many like Brewer, the most practical answer is to download software which effectively automates the booking process – meaning you’re faster than anyone trying to do it manually. Alternatively, people can pay for a service that monitors spots so they’re first-in.
But, as Brewer and a raft of other ethically-minded people are pointing out, why should this be an acceptable practice for MIQ? More to the point, how is a government-run system allowed to be cannibalised by internet bots and third-party services?
When asked last week, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins talked about the overwhelming demand for MIQ spots, while joint head of MIQ Megan Main rebuffed any system-wide problems, and doubled-down on problems around demand.
“This isn’t a systems problem so much as a demand versus supply problem. Right now, the demand is high,” Main said.
I suppose that’s that then. The system is coping as best as possible, and we’ll just glaze over the fact its poor design has led to gaming and serious issues around fair access. Not to mention the mini-economy that’s sprouted around it.
Let’s be real.
The semi-informed and/or obtuse answers from those at the top of MIQ have worn thin.
Absolutely, sympathy for holidaymakers moving between here and Australia is not at the top of the list for everyone. Similarly, many of us may find it difficult to relate to those going further abroad during a pandemic. Certainly, Hipkins has stated people should’ve returned “several months ago” because demand for MIQ was always expected to peak again.
However, reasons for overseas travel and related timing are myriad, and the whole point of having a functional MIQ booking system is so anyone entitled to get back to NZ has a chance to do that.
Clearly, this is not happening.
More concerning is the lack of insight among those running MIQ about what’s what. So far, there’s been no real acknowledgement of the disconnect between how the system is supposed to function and its reality. While that may seem inconsequential for those without travel plans, it’s an attitude enabling wider problems at MIQ to go unaddressed. In the most severe cases, it’s led to serious repercussions.
Palmerston North woman Glenys Mahoney falls into this category.
In February, Mahoney contacted MIQ to make arrangements for a return trip to the US. Mahoney had been saving for life-changing repair surgery only available overseas. Over the past 15 years, she’d undergone upwards of 10 repair surgeries for severe, debilitating surgical mesh injuries. Supported by NZ specialists, and with acknowledgement from ACC all local options had been exhausted, Mahoney booked a leading mesh-removal specialist in St Louis, Missouri in July.
After a few months, MIQ confirmed she’d be able to re-enter NZ via the “emergency allocation” category after her surgery. According to MIQ, 350 spots are reserved for New Zealanders who’ve had to travel urgently due to health or critical care reasons, and haven’t been able to book a spot in advance. The emergency spots are also only available two weeks out, and a raft of criteria must be met for a “decision maker” to approve them.
Unfortunately, when Mahoney applied for an emergency MIQ spot days before her July 2 operation, it was rejected. She then underwent an eight-hour surgical procedure and tried again – now via an advocate in New Zealand – to get a spot. The debacle led to two weeks of unclear and vague emails with MIQ, and hours on the phone trying to get through to someone who could assist. In the end, Mahoney – who nearly ran out of money – had to cancel her July 15 return flight and pay for extra, unplanned accommodation in the US.
Yesterday, she was finally told by MIQ she’d received a spot. Notably, inquiries from the Herald about the process also showed in the first week Mahoney was applying for a spot (July 5–11), MIQ approved just 53 emergency spots – meaning there were 297 vacancies.
Mahoney’s case may seem extreme, but it proves the same point Brewer and others who’ve struggled with MIQ have made. That is, the current system is not working. Those responsible for it need to face up to that, then find a way to fix it.
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