Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Australia-based family’s last hope for transtasman move

A Kiwi mum desperate to relocate her family back to New Zealand is hopeful new MIQ emergency room allocation criteria will save her family of six from being left without a home to live in.

New Plymouth-born Mel Cook, 32, lives in New South Wales’ Nambucca Heads, about 400km up the coast from Sydney as the crow flies, with her partner Wade and four children.

Having been cut off from New Zealand relatives for the better part of two years, Mel and Wade made the call to move across the ditch, back home to Taranaki.

Flights were booked for January 28 – which would have enabled the fully vaccinated family to self-isolate for seven days instead of going through MIQ.

The pair pulled their kids out of school and daycare, shut down their business and put their house on the market. They packed up almost all their belongings and sent them across the Tasman in a shipping container.

However, their flight was cancelled in late December as Omicron ran riot in their home state. In response to the outbreak, the New Zealand Government postponed its self-isolation plan for Kiwis coming from Australia from January 17 to the end of February.

Facing effective homelessness if their house sold before they secured a flight, it seemed MIQ’s lottery room releases would be the family’s only chance – a lottery Kiwis in Australia were locked out of last week due to a lack of transtasman red flights.

With no guarantee in future releases, the Cooks appear to have one option left – a recent addition to MIQ’s notoriously strict emergency room allocation criteria.

The addition, announced last week, applied to anyone “where a delay in travelling to New Zealand beyond the end of February will result in homelessness or an otherwise unsafe living condition”.

People must have booked travel between November 24 and December 22 to arrive between January 17 and February 28, and have taken significant steps that mean their travel to New Zealand cannot be delayed beyond the end of February.

Applications opened on Thursday and ended on February 13, and would be treated on a case-by-case basis.

Mel was optimistic her family’s circumstances would fit the new criteria, but she wouldn’t let her hopes get too high before their application was presided over.

Mel, who moved across the ditch in 2012 for work, had been critical of the New Zealand Government’s approach to allowing citizens to return home.

The use of a lottery system that gave holiday-makers an equal chance with those looking to return for good didn’t sit right with her.

“I don’t understand how that’s taking priority over these people who are in these positions where they’ve uprooted their entire lives, ready to move back.

“It just seems crazy, that’s my home country and I can’t even get back there.”

Mel did acknowledge many families were in more dire situations and she would be happy to see them given priority over her.

The last two years living in a Covid-struck NSW had taken their toll on the family.

Wade, a 43-year-old builder, said the stress of their situation had been intense.

“There are lots of quiet moments in the dark, cuddling and crying and just reassuring each other that it’ll be alright,” he said.

Should their application be denied, the family had few options for accommodation once their house sold, save the possibility of using a friend’s caravan for a short time.

They would need an income – something complicated by an upcoming surgery for Wade which would see him essentially couch-bound for six weeks, meaning Mel would have to look after their youngest children at 2 and 4 years old.

The motivation to leave Australia came about through Mel and Wade’s desire to be closer to relatives and to give the family a chance to refresh.

“Our mental health was designed around getting home … it was like this final-ditch effort to save [our family],” Wade said.

“Now that’s been whisked away, so we’re sort of hanging on by a thread.”

Following the postponement of the self-isolation framework, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has aided three groups of Kiwis in Australia looking to return home.

1. People who travelled to Australia between November 24 and December 22, with return tickets from January 17 who did not have a MIQ voucher as they expected to self-isolate on return.

2. People due to travel from Australia between January 17 and late February who do hold a voucher, but who have been affected by flight cancellations (work is being done with airlines to match flights to new vouchers).

3. Those travelling from Australia who held a voucher for prior to the end of February and proactively cancelled it, thinking they would be able to self-isolate from January 17.

As of Monday, 430 people had been issued vouchers and MBIE was working with the remainder of eligible travellers.

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